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ask our pediatric nutritionist #1: sugared cereals

Posted by on Aug 16, 2011 in Blog Posts | 15 comments

reader question: “I’d love to rid my house of the sugary cereal, but they go on sale and we buy them in limited quantities. My struggle is some mornings I  make oatmeal or malt-o-meal. My 3 year old son wants sugary cereal.  I’d love him to have healthy, yummy oatmeal. Is the DOR the same for  breakfast? I think he has a texture issue with the oatmeal. Maybe. Or it might just be he knows there’s a box of goodness in the cupboard.  Of course I want him to eat breakfast or else he’s whining for a snack for the next 2 hours. Any experiences and/or suggestions?”

Here is Hydee’s (FFD’s  awesome pediatric nutritionist) response on one way to handle sugary cereal.

From Hydee:  “A child’s love of “sugar cereal” seems to drive most parents nuts.  I can’t even count the number of times I have heard parents discussing strategies of how to serve or not to serve the stuff.  One mom I know limits this breakfast entree to weekend mornings only.  When her kids ask for it in the morning, she replies with “Is it the weekend?”  If so, then they are allowed to eat as much as they want.  This works out for her and her children.  She is employing the division of responsibility in feeding.  She decides what (pre-sweetened breakfast cereal), when (only on Saturday and Sunday mornings), and where (only in the kitchen at the table with the TV off).  And the kids decide how much.  When I hear this mom tell other moms about her tactic, the other moms squirm.  They don’t seem to like that she lets them eat it twice a week and that she allows them to get their fill of it.  What about their nutrition?  Don’t they “crash” by 10:00 am?
So what about their nutrition?  Well, for one, it’s highly fortified!  That means many types are an excellent source of iron, a mineral most babies, toddlers and some preschoolers need more of.  Also General Mills has been in the news lately for reducing the amount of added sugar and increasing the amount of whole grains.  And do kids get overly hungry and cranky just a couple of hours after breakfast?  Probably.  That is why you might want to serve this type of cereal with a food high in protein and fiber.  Perhaps offer yogurt or whole wheat toast with peanut butter.  Will they eat the accompaniments?  Maybe or maybe not.  If not, plan on offering the planned, sit-down, mid-morning snack slightly earlier.  At snack time, offer something that will fill in the nutritional gap left at breakfast like fresh fruit and cheese.
After your child knows he can enjoy this type of food occasionally and get enough to be satisfied, it will lose it’s novelty.  In the meantime, relax and enjoy breakfast time together. ”

(Here are some of my own musings on this issue which has been one of our few “flash-points” around food, though pretty much a non-issue now…) What do you think? What are your cereal strategies?

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  1. Stephanie

    Everyones comments and suggestions have been very helpful! It’s been a few weeks since I expressed my distress about breakfast. Taking others ideas and thoughts into account, I’ve decided to relax a little and let my son eat as many bowls of dry cereal as he’d like on the mornings I offer it. Granted, they are little bowls. Sometimes I thinks he asks for a refill just to see if I will do it. He often leaves some in his bowl when, I suppose, he’s filled himself up enough to be distracted by other things. I did breath a HUGH sigh of relief though when he happily scarffed his bowl of cream of wheat. He actually ASKED for dried cranberries to be mixed in, among the marshmallows. The no milk in the cereal is showing to be a dislike for soggy foods. We are going to continue to offer a variety of breakfast foods, and just like any other meal, if you don’t want to eat it, you don’t have to. Just don’t expect a snack 15 minutes later. Katja – You are an answer to many prayers! Thanks for the support everyone!

  2. Snowth

    Every year on April 1 we have a sugar cereal holiday. Everyone gets to choose 2 boxes of cereal of any type, then we eat ourselves silly until the cereal runs out. We’re not the cereal-est family, so it lasts a reasonably long time. We have fun with it and this plan seems to hit the right balance for us.

  3. Emerald

    Whups, sorry, I skimmed through the original post and just spotted that part…

  4. Emerald

    Just a thought..could it be a texture issue rather than taste? I ask because I, personally, have – and always have had, since I was a kid – an issue with foods of a ‘mushy’ texture. I never liked porridge (oatmeal) either, but it’s not the oats – I love oatcakes, and I always had a similar dislike of mushed-up Weetabix, the cereal of choice in my parents’ house. Wonder if the reader’s child would be happier with something not so sweet if it were something that stays crunchy in milk? This may not be the issue in this case, but I figured it might be worth a mention.

    • ako

      I could not, and can not stand mushy breakfast cereals like oatmeal. But even as a kid, I would happily eat a bowl of Grape-Nuts or other unsweetened breakfast cereals (only without milk, though, so they wouldn’t go soft and mushy). Getting a few different unsweetened cereals of different textures and having them around the house available to try might be worth a shot.

  5. Heidi

    Another possible solution for some families is blending sugared and less-sugary cereals. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have Honeycomb on their own, for example, but could mix Honeycomb and Cheerios half and half in our bowls. That worked very well for us, as we didn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

    This wouldn’t work with all kids, obviously (my son fights cereal mixing, although I usually mix his sweetened/plain Cheerios into big plastic canisters, and he’s never asked for sweeter cereals than that) but it made us feel like we were getting the “good” stuff without my parents feeling like they were giving way completely on sugar.

  6. Elizabeth

    No one in our household really likes cereal of any type. We generally have fruit and toast for breakfast, sometimes with sausage or bacon. (On weekends, the kids – 3 and 7 – are allowed to get themselves up and eat a Pop Tart and watch cartoons while the parents sleep in. Last week, we ran out of Pop Tarts, so my daughter rummaged in the freezer and microwaved frozen sausage for herself and her brother – I was impressed, even though it was a technical violation of the DOR.)

    But when I was growing up, we weren’t allowed “sugar” cereals, but we were allowed to sprinkle sugar on top of our regular cereals. Eventually, my mother noticed that my brother was putting a 1/4″ layer of sugar (or more!) on top of his cereal every day. They then negotiated a deal where she would buy the sugary cereal for him, but he wasn’t allowed to augment the sugar any further. He could eat four bowls of it at a sitting if he wanted, though. My brother was painfully thin for our whole childhood, which may have made it easier for her to “give in”. (At one point in high school, the poor kid was 6’3″ and 140 pounds – he grew tall so fast he couldn’t eat enough to keep up with it. He has stretch marks on his back from the summer that he grew five inches in three months.)

  7. Kate

    My comment isn’t quite on point, but I’m adding it anyway. I love, love, love sugar cereal and back when fat the culprit of weight gain, I think I had cereal for 2 of my three meals in a day, and not just a little cereal, but a lot of cereal. With skim milk, it was zero grams of fat, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight. Well, now I just feel foolish.

    I still like cereal, though not quite as much, which might have to do with my efforts to eat more for fiber than for taste. For fellow cereal lovers, I have found that mixing bran flakes and bran buds, adding just a little sugar and a lot of cinnamon makes for a cereal that is close enough to Cinnamon Toast Crunch to make me happy. I don’t know if it would work for kids (I would not have embraced it as a child), but a cereal loving adult might want to try it. The bran buds have way more fiber than the flakes, but I like the texture of the flakes better, thus the mix.

    • Hydee

      This reminds me of something my three year old does. Some mornings breakfast is “cold cereal.” Our intention is that the children will choose one of two or three types of cereal on hand to fill their bowl. Right now we have Cherrios, Frosted Mini Wheats, and Corn Chex. Today (and usually) Theo choose to mix the three rather than eat the most sugary kind.

  8. Michellers

    We treat the super-sugared cereals as dessert. Literally, as in I serve them with or after dinner and control portion size. However, I am not very strict about cereals we choose for breakfast–some of them are over the 7 gr of sugar per serving guideline (I think that is what Satter recommends) and I buy them anyway. Cinnamon Life, for instance.

    For the record I eat cereal about 3 times a year but my husband is a cereal fiend and is always bringing the sugar-choco-bits into the house, so this is the best way I’ve found to cope with it. He prefers his cereal as dessert, so that is how we treat it for our child.

  9. Dawn

    This is how my mom did it BUT the result was that we would binge on the cereal. And when I say BINGE I mean BINGE. We would eat ourselves sick every. single. weekend. I think this is an important point to bring up re., the division of responsibility. How do siblings factor into it? Because in my family growing up, you wanted to wake up first and eat as much as possible or else you wouldn’t get your share. I’d think one solution to this might be to get each kid their own box so they could truly eat as much as they truly wanted (versus shoveling a third bowl in even though they are already sick) without that feeling of limited resources. Any mom with siblings knows the competitiveness that naturally goes along (“He got more ice cream than I did!”) and this can screw things up sometimes when we’re trying to live the division of responsibility. I see this in our kids now although not as much as when we were kids likely because there are only two of them and there were three of us growing up.

  10. Slyjinks

    I think a lot of those sugar-cereals, particularly the General Mills ones, have a worse rep than they deserve. For one thing, they were never intended to be an entire breakfast so yes, adding in a bit of extra protein and fiber is a good idea. But if you look at the ingredients list for your typical General Mills cereal, not only is some sort of whole grain typically the top of the list, but you don’t usually see any of the modern ‘bad guy’ ingredients that tend to make people freak out, like HFCS or partially hydrogenated oils (Kelloggs is a bit worse about this one, Quaker is usually pretty good, while Post seems a bit more middle of the road).

    Sure, not exactly ‘health food,’ but I think they’re better than a lot of people give them credit for. I occasionally induldge in a bowl as a sweet snack myself. 🙂

    • katja

      Yup, but it seems sugar is on the very naughty list right now. All great points. It is about balance, isn’t it?