Healthy Children - April 2019

Children’s Cereal

Children’s cereal, it’s everywhere! Kids get it from home, from daycare, from school and so on. It makes sense – cereal is easy to serve and to eat, it’s popular with the kids, and it’s healthy, right? Well, that depends. Cereals that are rich in whole grains and low in sugar can be a great choice. But, not all cereals make the cut.

Cereals can be a major source of added sugars in children’s diets. According to a 2014 report, a child who eats an average amount of typical children’s cereal every day would eat more than 10 pounds of sugar per year! That’s from the cereal alone, it doesn’t include the soft drinks, desserts and other sweet things kids may like to eat.

But what’s the problem with sugar, anyway? Added sugars, which are sugars that are added to foods rather than occurring naturally, add calories to kids’ diets without adding any of the healthy nutrients their bodies, need to grow and thrive. Plus, added sugar can increase kids’ risk for obesity, type two diabetes, high cholesterol, and dental cavities.

You may be thinking – parents, daycare facilities, and schools shouldn’t feed kids sugary cereals. That would be great, but it isn’t the whole story. Advertising has a role to play. A 2019 study found that advertising for sugary cereals directed at children increased consumption of those sugary cereals amount preschoolers. Companies know that advertising to kids will encourage those kids to ask their parents for the products they are trying to sell. If advertising to kids didn’t work, companies wouldn’t spend so much money on it. In just one year (2009), companies spent $173 million advertising breakfast cereals to children ages 2-11 years!

What can YOU do?

  • Choose cereals that are high in whole grains, and low in sugar.
    • You can use the Nutrition Facts label on the back of cereal boxes to figure out which ones are the best options. Look for options that have “whole grains (like whole wheat) as the first item in the ingredients list. Another strategy is checking the fiber. If a cereal has at least 20% Daily Value of fiber, chances are it has plenty of whole grains.
    • The American Heart Association recommends children over age two consume no more than six teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugars per day, from all sources (not just cereal). How much (or little) sugar to look for in cereal depends on the serving size of that cereal. But, if the serving size is about 28 grams (1 ounce), make sure it has no more than 6 grams of sugar in it.
  • Make sure childcare facilities are serving healthy cereal.
    • If a childcare facility is receiving federal funds through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the cereals they serve must have no more than 6 grams of sugar per ounce of dry cereal (½ cup to 1 cup, depending on the cereal).
  • Be an advocate!
    • If you’re a parent, try to reduce the amount of advertising for unhealthy foods your child is exposed to. You can do this in your own home by 
    • reducing screen time online and from the television, and ask your childcare providers to do it, too.
    • If you’re a childcare provider, reduce the number of advertising children are exposed to in your institution. Think about all the sources they may receive this advertising from – printed messages, television, online and more!