Your Kids’ Cereal – Part of a Nutritious Breakfast? Nah.

I am old enough to remember when Honey Smacks cereal was called Sugar Smacks. So it’s no surprise to me that a serving of the cereal has more sugar than a Twinkie.

Honey Nut Cheerios though? I was annoyed when I learned from a new report by the Environmental Working Group that the cereal I used to feed my picky eater for breakfast has more sugar per cup than three Chips Ahoy cookies (see http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/cereals/pdf/2011-EWG-Cereals-Report.pdf).

If I wanted to feed my kids cookies for breakfast, I’d just get them Sprinkle Cookie Crisp “cereal,” which, along with a long list of other cereals either marketed at kids or clearly made for kids, has an awful lot of sugar in it.

In fact, says the report, 56 children’s cereals contain more than 24-26% sugar by weight. The grand champion of them all, Honey (nee Sugar) Smacks, is nearly 56% sugar by weight.

The problem for cereal makers is that they’re reaching the point where removing any more sugar makes their cereals too yucky to eat. The Wall Street Journal reported this fall that cereal companies have been quietly lowering sugar levels, hoping to teach “consumers to get used to a lower sweetness level a little at a time.” But there’s a point where kids just won’t want to eat them anymore.

Yet parents want healthier (or at least, deemed healthier by a government agency or clever marketing) food selections for their kids. Maybe some parents actually deluded themselves into thinking Froot Loops really were part of a nutritious breakfast back in 2009, when the Smart Choices food labeling system set out to help shoppers choose foods that meet nutritional criteria set by the Dietary Guidelines for America.

The LA Times reported back then that even Lucky Charms got the Smart Choices seal of approval. Yet Lucky Charms, the colorful marshmallow-laden cereal, has 30% of the total amount of added sugar recommended by the USDA for adults.

So what’s the answer? Don’t buy sugary cereals. Your kids will get used to less sugar – even the cereal makers say so. Feed them an actual “nutritious breakfast,” not a bowl of mostly sugar, a glass of OJ, some milk and white toast with a slab of butter, like parents who were kids in the ’70s and ’80s were raised to believe was the way to go.

Jen Singer
About Jen Singer

Jen Singer is the author of five books and the mother of two teenage boys who empty cereal boxes for a “light snack.”

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