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sugary cereal

Do Kids Like Low-Sugar Cereal?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Linda Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

The cereal aisle in the grocery store can be a tempting place for young children—full of fun characters, bright colors, and sugary promises. Many parents do end up purchasing highly sweetened cereals for their children, at least sometimes. After all, they may reason, their kids will definitely eat them. And as the manufacturers like to point out, they’re fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Battle of the Cereals

But do we really have to offer children these highly sweetened foods to get them to eat and enjoy breakfast? A small study of 91 children ages 5 through 12 suggests that we don’t. The children were offered a breakfast of cereal, fruit, orange juice, and milk. Some were allowed to choose from 3 sugary cereals, while others were given a choice of 3 low-sugar cereals. Sugar packets were freely available, and the children could add as much as they liked to their bowls.

Low-Sugar Choices Succeeded

You might assume that the kids who got the lower-sugar choices would pour on enough added sugar to make up for the healthier choice they started with. But this just wasn’t the case. Children who were given the sugary cereal actually consumed nearly twice as much refined sugar as children who ate the low-sugar types. This was true even though some children who got the low-sugar cereals did indeed add quite a bit of sugar to their bowls.

Though the groups consumed about the same amount of calories, the children in the low-sugar group got more of their calories from fruit. Therefore, they ate a healthier meal overall. Most importantly, both groups of children were equally happy with their meals.

Be Confident in Choosing Healthy Cereal

This study suggests that children can be quite content with low-sugar cereal for breakfast. Even if they put sugar on top (a choice you could offer if they’re resisting a switch), they’re unlikely to consume anywhere near as much as they would if they ate a sugary brand. (For more info on the amount of sugar in various cereals, see Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound.) Including fresh fruit makes breakfast an even more nutritious and delicious choice.

Of course, there are lots of ways to “think outside the cereal box” when it comes to kids and breakfast. Check out the links in Further Reading for some ideas.

(Photo credit: cereal colors by frankieleon. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound–Info on the most and least sugary children’s cereals

Raising Healthy Children: Begin with Breakfast–from UF-IFAS EDIS

Power Up with Breakfast–Healthy kids’ breakfast ideas from Kids Eat Right

Best Breakfasts for Your School Crew–New breakfast ideas from Kids Eat Right

Kid-Friendly Healthy Breakfast Ideas–from the Dairy Council of California

References:

Harris, J. L., Schwartz, M. B., Ustjanauskas, A., Ohri-Vachaspati, P., & Brownell, K. D. (2011). Effects of serving high-sugar cereals on children’s breakfast-eating behavior. Pediatrics, 127(1), 71-76. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2010-0864

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Sweetened cereals not necessary to get kids to eat breakfast. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)