Even if you weren’t much of a cereal person before becoming a parent, having kids inevitably changes your relationship to that aisle of the grocery store.
We talked to parents for tips on navigating the slippery slope to the cereal bowl, and then we checked in with nutritionists for recommendations. The ideas might reduce a few morning tantrums, but if you make them wear that sweater with the itchy label, then you’re on your own.
Advice from nutritionists
If you’re seeking a cereal you can feel good about serving, put on your reading glasses and start reading labels. “Sugar in your cereal bowl can add up quickly, so keep in mind that there are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon,” Registered dietician nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny told HuffPost. “If you pick up a box and see 16 grams of added sugar per serving, that’s 4 teaspoons.”
For portion size, “stick with 200 calories or less per serving,” RDN Amanda Frankeny told HuffPost. “Read the box to determine the calories and proper serving size for your child, because serving sizes can vary drastically. The same calorie level can be found in 1/2 cup of one type of cereal and more than one cup of another. Also aim for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Along with a well-rounded diet, that will help kids get the recommended daily value of 25 grams of fiber.”
Other suggestions came from RDN Sara Haas, who told HuffPost: “Pick one day each week when ‘fun’ cereal is allowed. Maybe it’s a weekend when you know kids will be having an active day. Be sure to supplement the meal with fruit, yogurt and other nourishing goodies.” Another suggestion she had was to try a simple switch of crockery. “Try serving the ‘healthier’ cereal in a cup or mug, or serve it dry on a plate. You can treat it like trail mix, so kids can eat it dry and have milk on the side.”
This might be the day you decide to put down that box of Frooty Tooty KidZ Korny Puffs and start from scratch. If so, consider plain old oatmeal. “Hands down, oatmeal rules as a best breakfast cereal for not only kids, but also adults,” Toby Smithson, registered dietitian, told HuffPost. She cited a 2019 study in which children who ate oatmeal at breakfast scored better in overall diet quality and had a higher intake of nutrients like fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A and E. “Nutritionally speaking, oats are the breakfast of champions,” she said.
Set up guardrails for the cereal aisle
Many parents, road-weary after too many punishing trips down the cereal aisle, have established hard-and-fast shopping rules. Jessie Carlson, fitness teacher and mother of three, told HuffPost: “First, it has come from the co-op, Whole Foods or the natural/organic section at the grocery store. Second, it has to have a minimum of 5 grams of protein. Finally, it can’t cost more than $3, which usually means it has to be on sale.” With this philosophy in mind, Carlson’s kids usually get Kashi, Barbara’s Puffins or Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed and Flax Granola.
Maggie Sonnek, a writer and mother of three kids, sidesteps the issue entirely. “Cereal causes fights between our kids, and I hate hearing, ‘He got more than me!’ Plus, it’s expensive, at upwards of 5 bucks a box. And then our kids are hungry again soon after they eat it. Our compromise is to serve toast, oatmeal or eggs for breakfast and let them feast on cereal at my parents’ house when they stay over there. For one or two days, they can eat all the coco crispies or raisin crunch they want. Then, it’s back to the breakfast basics.”
A “variable reinforcement” approach is favored by author and mother of twoDana Raidt. “We seem to have found a happy medium with Cheerios, Chex and Special K Red Berries. Adding sliced bananas or strawberries to a healthy, less-fun cereal seems to boost morale a bit, too.” That works for most days, but she does also treat the kids to an every-few-months splurge on Lucky Charms,Cap’n Crunch or Cocoa Puffs. “And the grandmas always seem to have those at their houses when we visit,” she observed.
Then there are parents who let their cereal flag fly. Andrea Lahouze, a mother of three who is currently writing a children’s chapter book, told HuffPost: “Nothing is off limits, and as a result, they don’t crave it, sneak it or binge on it. Madeleine, who’s 9, is health conscious and likes Crispix and Smart Start. Rosalie, who’s 5, loves Cocoa Krispies, but she also enjoys different granolas. Even baby Amélie, who just turned 1, enjoys cereal, which is great, because many varieties are an excellent source of iron, which babies really need. One of her faves is Cinnamon Life.
“When I want to incorporate cereal into a meal for the girls, I either top it with fruit or make it into parfaits with layers of yogurt, fruit and cereal. It’s also something they can help to make, like a make-your-own-sundae station but healthier.”
Here are some brands that just might please kids and parents alike.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.