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cereal ne-go-tia-tor!

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in Blog Posts | 28 comments

It’s on. My daughter and I are locked in a struggle over sugary cereals. Mostly now it’s in my head. I don’t make a big deal of it in front of her, but I’m sliding further down that slippery, soggy slope.

My daughter eats a great variety of foods, self-regulates well and is largely pleasant at meals. But, she is 5. She senses my weakness. You may have been following my Frosted Flakes saga, well, yesterday we upped the stakes. (What is so funny to me is that I had this war with my father over Sugar Smacks. I remember it so well, even to the point where he bought plain “puffed wheat” and filled the empty box with it thinking I wouldn’t notice-Hello!)

So, it’s the last day of 2 weeks of break, no chld-care basically and I strained my neck. So, I was in pain, tired and trying to grocery shop after a trip to the zoo. I’d already backed my husband up on a
“no” to Chocolate Teddy Grahams and a few other things, caved on the individual plastic cups of apple-sauce that she begs for because her friends have them (I usually buy a jar and put it in reusable tupperware) – when we hit the cereal aisle (unfamiliar store to boot.)

So after much whining, begging, negotoating (she is drawn to bright colors and tiny marshmallows- see our recent cookie decorating efforts to see what color palate she finds appetizing…)

So, I am looking on the backs of boxes, Frosted Flakes has 11 grams of sugar per serving, Raisin Bran has 13 (but most of the sugar would be from raisins, and the serving size is almost twice as big.) Fruit loops and other rainbow-hued cereals have less sugar than Frosted Flakes, but a thousand ingredients, most of which I can’t pronounce. So, we got the Frosted Flakes again (after having run out only a few days earlier) and I bought a small pack of assorted cereals my Dad would refer to as “crap.” I caved, I couldn’t fight any more. She wore me down. She sensed my weakness and I caved. The guilt that I will be leaving her next weekend for a few days was certainly part of it, as was my thinking that I can’t make this into a big deal. I can’t make this cereal the forbidden fruit.Heck, I grew out of my preference for Sugar Smacks, I trust that she will too. (There’s that word again– trust.)

So she had Frosted Flakes this morning, said “no thank you” to the banana, grapefruit and toast. We had a pleasant breakfast, and this too shall pass. (Her lunch was ham and tortilla with Miracle Whip, bean noodle Thai salad with sugar snap peas, and apple-sauce.) I will get back on my horse, she will get her colored cereal when the sitter is here, and I will do my best not to get sucked into negotiations. (This morning she was already asking if she could have the cereal when Gramma and Grampa visit in a few weeks. Ho, that would send my father over the edge-Apple Jax! Ha!) but, I just said, “We’ll see, I’m not talking about that now.” It’s something I need to practice. She’s gotten good at negotiating, too good. My husband and I have started to sing that Priceline song, you might know it, the “Priceline Negotiator!” Just sub in whatever you want (not in front of the kids though.) It helps us diffuse the situation. So when I say “no” to one thing, and she starts instantly negotiating for something else, I need to stay calm, remember it’s her job to do this, and it’s my job to decide and not get pushed around (too much.)

No one said it would be easy, though!

Is your child a skillful negotiator? When are you likely to cave? Is it balanced? (Sometimes caving is just fine!)

addendum 12 noon, from a mom in the comments section, I loved this…:

My daughter is also a born negotiator. I can tell you it doesn’t get better with age (she’s now 13). I never had to deal with a lot of cereal negotiations, though, because I let price be the ultimate determinant. I’m a bargain-shopper coupon-queen, and I included her in on the hunt for a deal from the time she was very little. So she knew that we’d buy whatever cereal we got the best deal on. Usually, that meant something like Frosted Mini Wheats, Cheerios or Raisin Bran, because those have coupons and go on sale in regular cycles. But on rare occasions, there would be a fantastic deal on sugary kids cereal, and I think she felt like she’d hit the lottery. She’s now lost most of her taste for the kiddie stuff, and often doesn’t want it even when I offer. “Do you want Chocolate Sugar Bombs or Earthy Healthy Crunchies?” “Which one do we have a coupon for? Well, if they’re both the same price, I’ll take the Earthy Healthy Crunchies. They fill me up longer.”


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  1. Kicking Carbs

    I have just found your blog. I am inflexible about junk, we don’t buy it. There is no cereal. That’s it.

    If my daughter wants it, I suppose she can earn her own money and buy it herself. Health is too precious and there is no negotiation on health in my house.

    But she’s 3, we’ll see what happens when she’s 5.

    She already whines like a tween.


    • katja

      I have a problem with calling food “junk.” I think food is food, and there is a place for all foods, and I often see kids drawn like moths to a flame to the food their parents deride as “junk” or “crap.” (Then the sneaking, hoarding, and bingeing at friends begins…) I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are after reading some of the other comments from readers who were tightly controlled and didn’t learn how to manage these foods?
      Many of my clients who do the no carb, no refined sugar/flour route are locked in horrible battles with their children. It’s the whole forbidden food thing. we “ran out” of sugary cereal this week and it’s not been a big deal, we’re just eating porridge, fruit, bread, eggs, turkey etc.
      I wish you luck!

  2. Michellers

    Oh boy, the sugar crisis is ON at our house, too. Too many sweets every day over the holidays has turned my normally pretty balanced kid into a sugar monster. Plus Santa got her an Easy Bake oven for Christmas–what was I thinking?! Last night we made a batch of cookies (not the horrible mixes that came with the oven, but some leftover Christmas cookie dough I had in the freezer) but by the time they were cool it was too late to have one. So my 4 year old negotiated to have a cookie with her breakfast this morning and I caved. I guess I have now opened the door to dessert at breakfast-not a trend I intend to continue! On the other hand, she ate all of her oatmeal and drank a glass of milk as well, so I’m just going to chalk it up to experience and move on.

    • katja

      That sounded perfectly reasonable, butter, sugar, flour, your covering carbs and fat, right? I wouldn’t feel bad about that at all. As my friend says, if you’re consistent and say “not now” or “we’ll have that another time” it’s really great to be able to say “OK” once in awhile. In fact, it’s part of what defines a healthy feeding relationship in my book! The Holidays will take some recovery I think. M already started trying to negotiate her after-school snack, and I felt good to be back with, “if you’re still hungry you can have more avocado or a banana. I’m not popping more popcorn, and we’ll have cookies another time…” We both did OK with that and enjoyed the snack!

  3. Amanda

    I’ve had some success explaining to my son (who is only 4) that the chocolate cereals, those with marshmallows, cookie cereals, etc. aren’t for breakfast or a meal at all–they’re for snacks or desserts. So we can buy them, but they’re a snack or dessert food. So far he hasn’t questioned that, and hasn’t asked for the cereals as a snack or dessert, either. So that’s shelved for now. 🙂

    I occasionally buy generic Lucky Charms (I prefer the generic…especially “Marshmallow Mateys”!) and have a bowl after dinner…yum.

    • katja

      i like how you figured out what works for your family. Every family and child is unique, and you are tuned in and it’s not an issue. Good for you 🙂

  4. Jess

    My Mom never allowed “junk” cereal (as she called it) into the house– I could have Cheerios or grown up cereal (e.g. bran flakes, raisin bran, etc). Once in a blue moon I could get Honey Nut Cheerios. Of course, I ate junky cereal at all my friends houses. The first year of college, I bought and ate a ton of Captain Crunch and that seemed to get it out of my system.

    So far, this hasn’t been an issue for my 3.75 y.o., but I’m sure that’ll change as he gets older. He tried Fruit Loops on vacation this summer (they were on the breakfast bar at the inn we were staying at) but he said they tasted weird and didn’t finish them. I hope that aversion continues, but I doubt it. The only thing we have going for us is that most of his peers aren’t getting sugary cereals either and we also don’t watch t.v. (lots of videos, but he hasn’t even seen a cereal commercial yet). I, on the other hand, knew the tune to every jingle on the airwaves between 1979 and 1990 and even parroted the commercials to my Mom in the grocery store (“Mom, it’s part of a complete breakfast!”)… alas, she was made of iron.

    • katja

      wonder if his aversion will last? M didn’t like fries until she was into her 4s… If it’s not an issue, feel free to hold off as long as you can! M doesn’t know the songs or the particular characters, but they are brilliant marketers and product placers. Avoiding the cereal aisle is in my future. It wasn’t a big deal when we ran out. It’s amazing how seeing something creates the desire. i stored a box of Ghirardelli brownie mix in with the cereal, every time we opened it for cereal she asked when we were making brownies…

  5. Cheryl Fuller

    We dealt with the sugary cereals issue with my kids by letting them pick one box of whatever cereal they wanted on their birthdays. They would confer and decide together what each would get — one has a birthday in July, the other in September. And that was the only time we would buy those cereals. It worked pretty well and we acceded the whole begging and attempted negotiating in the supermarket. They are now 31 and 34″ btw.

    • Christine

      I have a good friend (an addiction therapist who also teaches a fitness class, no less) who still binges on sugary cereal because her mother only allowed it on Christmas morning. She’s still resentful that her mother refused to make Rice Krispie Treats because they weren’t “healthy enough” – instead, she made her kids “Total Balls” (because the Total cereal couldn’t be spread into bars). I made my friend Rice Krispie Treats for Christmas this year and you’d have thought I’d handed her gold bars.

  6. Christine

    My daughter is also a born negotiator. I can tell you it doesn’t get better with age (she’s now 13). I never had to deal with a lot of cereal negotiations, though, because I let price be the ultimate determinant. I’m a bargain-shopper coupon-queen, and I included her in on the hunt for a deal from the time she was very little. So she knew that we’d buy whatever cereal we got the best deal on. Usually, that meant something like Frosted Mini Wheats, Cheerios or Raisin Bran, because those have coupons and go on sale in regular cycles. But on rare occasions, there would be a fantastic deal on sugary kids cereal, and I think she felt like she’d hit the lottery. She’s now lost most of her taste for the kiddie stuff, and often doesn’t want it even when I offer. “Do you want Chocolate Sugar Bombs or Earthy Healthy Crunchies?” “Which one do we have a coupon for? Well, if they’re both the same price, I’ll take the Earthy Healthy Crunchies. They fill me up longer.”

    • katja

      LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your daughter’s. I think the less we fight and make a big deal of it, and the more we trust their maturation with eating, the better off we would all be. It’s so important for moms to hear your story. I’m going to paste it to the body of the post… hearing it from me is one thing, hearing it from another mom is that much more helpful. thank you!

      • Christine

        Katja – Middle school has made a huge difference, I think. In elementary school, they’d eat lunch so early, and then get a snack to boot. So staying full was never really a problem. But now that she gets on the bus at 7am and doesn’t get to eat lunch until noon – with no snacks in between – finding a breakfast with real “staying power” has become very important to her. (On the other hand, I wish her school allowed them to snack in class if they’re quiet and neat about it, because 5 hours is an awful long time to go without food during puberty. Hopefully the rules will relax a little when she hits high school next year.)

        • katja

          yes, 5 hours is a LONG time! Makes sense to me what you’re saying. M will make those connections as she gets older too I know!

        • KellyK

          School lunch schedules tend to be really rough. I agree with you, allowing a snack if they’re neat and quiet would be awesome. Heck, carving out an afternoon recess period for middle and high school students, even a short one, would be fabulous. Let them eat a snack or play outside or read something fun, or whatever.

          My high school was 7-12 in one building (pretty common for the rural area), so the 7th and 8th graders ate lunch before 11, and the 11th and 12th graders ate around 12:30. It was either a very long time between breakfast and lunch or a very long time between lunch and dinner.

          • katja

            this is a big issue. Timing is so important! Also, kids around here often have to eat in their snow suits and lunch/recess is combined so if you eat slow, you lose out on recess… I sense another blog post coming on…

  7. KellyK

    Using the division of responsibility, you would often serve a single portion of something sweet with the meal (and it’s the only thing whose quantity is limited), right? So would it make sense to have sugary cereals be the “dessert” with breakfast some days?

    • katja

      Hmm, yes that could be an idea. It gets sticky. I don’t want to introduce the idea of “dessert” at breakfast. perhaps it’s weekend breakfast when I have more control over timing and offerings for the rest of the day. She did fine when it wasn’t in the house, so for now I think I will let it run out and never take her shopping with me again. (Just kidding.) I will tell her in advance next time what cereal we are getting, and how sometimes we have Frosted Flakes and sometimes we have Honey Sunshine or oatmeal. I’ll keep you posted! Maybe a “no cereal” breakfast. “TOday we’re having toast or oatmeal.” As you can see, it’s causing me friction because I’ve let her take over my job of deciding what she gets to chose from!

      • Dana

        We have a sugar cereal problem in our house, big time. My husband loves them and buys them so I don’t have any hope in keeping them out of the house. 5 year old’s current favorite is generic Fruit Loops. Worse, he doesn’t even want milk on his sugar cereal anymore so I can’t even rationalize that he’s getting some protein and calcium. Trying to restrict him from these cereals directly failed utterly. I don’t think a “no cereal” day would work well for us. My son would see right through that one. Instead, I let him have whatever sugar cereal he wants and also serve it with toast, fruit, or oatmeal without a comment. At least half of the time, he’ll actually eat the “healthier” offering along with a few bites of sugar cereal. Not commenting is key, though. If I talk it about it, I just make it worse with Mr. Independent.

        • katja

          I like your solution. Sounds like it’s working pretty well, and trust that they will mature with their eating-wait… Your husband still likes them 🙂
          I still like Doritos and Coke on occasion, but it sounds like you are doing a great, balanced job. I love how you have picked up that any comments backfire. Keep us posted! I wonder if sugary cereals were a big deal in your husband’s home growing up? It’s funny where we chose to draw the line. I can accept Frosted flakes, and Cheetos now and then with snacks or lunch, but Lucky Charms or other rainbow/marshmallow cereals would be tough for me!

      • KellyK

        Yeah, I can see not wanting to create an expectation of breakfast including dessert. I guess it’s a trade-off between limiting the quantity of sugar cereal and introducing other issues. Though if you didn’t call it dessert so much as treat it that way without using the word–“This is something you only get one serving of because it’s easy to fill up on and short yourself on other foods.”

        It’s too bad they don’t make healthier cereals in those radioactive kid-colors she likes.

        • katja

          I just need to “mom-up” and not buy it for awhile and not make a big deal about that either, I think. She’s a little young for the rationalizing (I tried it out of desperation one day-see my original post about how it doesn’t give “long-lasting energy!”) I’d love to see Frosted flakes with a little less sugar, and raisin bran with less raisins… My husband was teasing me this morning as I was talking about how I would make cereal if I was in charge> (I LOVE one raisin per bite of raisin bran, but any more than that spoils it for me…)

          • KellyK

            Hehe, “mom-up”! I love that. Good luck with it!

          • katja

            thanks kelly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of that, I was going to write,”man-up” but I hate that expression. Mom-up sounded perfect! i need to do that a lot!

    • Lisa

      You know, that was my thought too! My daughter is not interested in cereals in general or breakfast for that matter – most days I am feeling good if I get some milk or juice in her before we leave the house – but I am imagining that should she somehow discover Fruit Loops, I would tell her that that cereal has so much sugar in it it’s really more like a dessert and she is welcome to have a half-cup as dessert with dinner.

  8. Becky Henry

    I’m smiling mostly because it does my heart good to see that I wasn’t the only parent who lived through all of this messy self-doubt and frustration. As my children are now grown and making most of their own decisions it is easier, much easier. At times I didn’t think I’d live through it. I’m smiling because I know you are a very smart, very educated parent on these feeding dynamics and you still find it challenging…that tells me I wasn’t such a loser at the whole game – it’s tough for everyone.

    And my heart goes out to you – I had/have? two very skillful negotiators…we still think one may become a lawyer she is sooooooo skillful at negotiation! Serves her very well now – as a college student she got the landlord to replace all the windows in the trashy house she and other college students share! She went up against the credit card company that took away her “points” as she doesn’t carry a balance! You are teaching her great life skills.

    As to when did I cave? When I was: TIRED, in pain, not taking good enough care of myself, sick, etc. And my kids now tend to try and guilt me for not having much of that stuff in the house and having to get it at friend’s and relative’s homes…nothing like a little guilt for trying to keep them healthy. But that is their job and ours is to do the best we can. Nobody gets perfect parents – although I have to say mine came pretty darn close and set the bar high…I won’t take that guilt either. 🙂

    Take care and thanks for all you do to help parents and families!
    Hope Network

  9. Erin

    My older son has been negotiating since he could talk in complete sentences (about 18 months) and he has gotten better every day since. He’s 5 now and some days I have to get really psyched in my own mind to not let him win just because I’m tired of playing the negotiating game. All is fair to him, bedtimes, eating, baths, having friends over, behavior towards his brother, etc. Stay strong.

    • katja

      It’s crazy, right? And some kids with the right temperament will push more. M is pretty easy-going for the most part, bedtimes, a little whining about hair and tooth hygiene, but the food thing is her interest. (Likely because it’s my work I’m also more tuned in to it.) She’s a larger than average kid who loves food, has always been interested in it. I thank my stars every day that I have this system so I know how to deal with it all. It’s amazing how persistent they can be! Thanks for the words of encouragement. That is the main job we have it feels like, just to be consistent as much as possible. (Don’t hold the cat that way, dinner is in thirty minutes, we had ice-cream yesterday, it’s time to brush your teeth, no you can’t go out in a sundress alone when its 5 degrees out…) Of course I try to say it in more positive ways “why don’t you chose either the pink or yellow cardigan!” but we still seem to say lots of “no’s!”


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