Kids breakfast cereals – healthy or unhealthy
Amanda McCredie – Dietitian
Breakfast is important – really important – so it’s generally a good idea to fit it into your morning routine. And if you’re going to make time for the most important meal of the day, then breakfast cereals can be a good option. They can be a good source of carbohydrates, fibre, antioxidants and added vitamins and minerals, but they can also be high in sugars and salt. So how do you choose one that will set you and your kids up perfectly for the day?
Cereal is an extremely popular breakfast food. It is easy and convenient for those who live busy lifestyles, but is often loaded with added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.
Additionally, cereal can be easy to overeat since many brands lack fiber and protein, which are essential for promoting fullness.
Cereals are often made with refined grains and excess amounts of sugar, which are unhealthy and should be avoided.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of healthy cereal options on the market that are nutritious and contain lots of fiber and protein without the added sugar.
The key is to double-check the ingredient list and nutritional panel before buying cereal to ensure it is a healthy option. You can also make your own cereal, which is a great way to increase the nutrition content and avoid unhealthy ingredients.
Tips for choosing the right breakfast cereal
It’s all in the ingredients list and nutrition information panel.
Look for the minimally processed or refined cereals, such as rolled oats or whole grain cereals, that are high in fibre and have minimal sugars added. Here are my top 4 tips on purchasing a healthy breakfast cereal.
Look for fibre
Dietary fibre helps maintain a healthy digestive system and cereals are a good start to getting your fibre intake in for the day. Kids need on average 13g of fibre a day so choosing a high fibre cereal will set your kids on their way of meeting their fibre intake. Read the back of the box and look for 10 per cent or more (run your eye down the Per 100g column). 10 per cent is equivalent to 3 grams of fibre per 30g bowl – generally the serving size recommended. Just remember that manufacturer-recommended serving sizes can vary greatly between brands and products, making it difficult to compare like with like so always use the 100g column.
Look for whole grains
The words ‘whole’ or ‘wholegrain’ in the first ingredient or two usually means the cereal is less processed and will contain more vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Look for a cereal that contains 50 per cent whole grains or more. It’s usually splashed all over the front of the box by clever marketing. In fact the more whole grains , the better as it generally means the cereal is minimally processed and is close to its natural form! Rolled oats are 100% whole grain and Weet Bix are 97% wholegrain.
Go easy on added sugar
It’s hard to eat a cereal that has no sweetness but avoiding the added sugar is the way to go. As many of the wholegrain cereals also contain fruit, we do need a little flexibility when it comes to the sugar content. A good rule of thumb is to look for less than 15g sugar per 100g or 25g sugar per 100g if the cereal contains dried fruit. It’s useful for identifying sources of added sugars as many food manufactures will use many different forms of sugar to make up the sweetness so it is good to know the many different types and names for sugar (such as glucose syrup, honey, agave, cane sugar, fruit sugar, high fructose corn syrups and malt to name a few!)
The content of sugars varies from a tiny one per cent for oats, Vita Brits or Weet Bix to almost a hefty 40 per cent in Frosties, Froot Loops, Coco Pops or Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes.
Watch the sodium (salt) intake
Ideally you want as little sodium as possible. Technically a low-salt cereal must have less than 120mg per 100g and companies today have been gradually reducing their salt content which is a great improvement. Compare brands and buy the lowest sodium content you can. Ideally the product you choose should have 400mg sodium per 100g or less but if you are worried about your salt intake then aim for even lower.
My top picks for kids breakfast cereals
These are my top picks for breakfast cereals for kids (and adults alike!) that are tasty, healthy and available at most supermarkets. There are other brands and new ones that come onto the shelves all the time so this list is not extensive but does focuses on ones that follow my top 4 tips plus ones that kids are more inclined to eat!. I haven’t included mueslis, as there are a lot more things to consider when buying muesli. In short you should still follow the top 4 tips but really looking out for the sugar and fat content as many muesli are toasted in unhealthy saturated fat and the sugar content can also be a bit misleading with addition of lots of dried fruit and sweetness. Making your own cereal is also a great way to monitor the ingredients and know exactly what you and your kids are eating. Overnight Oats are a great way to get kids enjoying the healthy benefits of oats and then using their favourite ingredients to make it their own special recipe. Some great flavours include, banana, blueberries, yoghurt, small dash of honey or sweetener and a sprinkle of nuts for added crunch!
- Sanitarium Weet-Bix/ Uncle Toby’s Vita-Brits2
- Traditional oats (Uncle Toby’s, Lowan)
- Kellogg’s Sultana Bran
- Kellogg’s Mini Wheats, Plain or Apricot or Blackcurrant
- Kellogg’s Sustain
Basic overnight oats recipe
- 1 ½ cups traditional oats
- 1 ½ cups milk of choice
- 1 ½ cups plain or Greek yoghurt
Combine all ingredients in a jar and mix well. Leave in the fridge overnight and add your toppings of choice prior to serving.