Kids’ Cereal: “Nutritious Breakfast”–or Dessert in Disguise?

Food manufacturers pledged to improve nutritional value of kids’ cereal and reduce ad spending through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Introduced several years ago, the initiative is a self-regulation program among large food and drink companies. It prompted them to reformulate many children‘s cereals to contain fewer than 12 grams of sugar per serving, rather than 15 to 16 grams per serving.

Yet even with some changes, most kids’ cereal products still contain 56 percent more sugar, 50 percent more sodium and half as much fiber as those marketed to adults. Many contain about 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving. If your children eat more than that—for instance, a large bowlful–they consume about 6 teaspoons of sugar before their day even begins. No wonder it can be so hard to establish healthy eating habits.

Marketing Ploys for Kids’ Cereal

Some cereals with the lowest nutritional value include misleading claims on their boxes. Front-of-the-box claims may give them a “health halo,” but these products are about as nutritious as a junk food dessert. If a 30-gram serving contains 10 grams of sugar, it is one-third sugar. Even if a cereal is a “good source of fiber,” it isn’t healthy if a third of it is refined sugar. For example, the front of Froot Loops boxes say “made with whole grain” and “good source of fiber,” but a serving contains more sugar than three Chips Ahoy cookies.

Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day, especially for children. There are healthy, kid-friendly cereals–regular Cheerios, for example. When searching for the best choice, check the Nutrition Facts label and:

  • find one with fewer than 4 grams of sugar per serving;
  • choose cereal with 3 grams of fiber per serving or more; and
  • look for those that list “100 percent whole grain” as the first ingredient.

Also, avoid cereal with bogus fruit and “yogurt” clusters, which are mainly refined sugar and fat with no nutritional value.

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