Cereal can be a confusing food ! It’s convenient, your kids love it, and it gets everyone out the door on time. But there’s a million to choose from and you’re worried about all the sugar! Plus, it doesn’t seem to keep your child full and they’re asking for a snack 15 minutes after breakfast!
What’s the verdict!? Should we serve our kids cereal? What should we look for on the cereal box? And can we please just have a list of exact cereal for kids to check out!? You’ve come to the right place for the answers to all these questions and more!
Table of Contents
Should I Serve My Child Cereal?
First things first, YES, cereal is absolutely fine for your child to eat – even every day.
You can’t beat the convenience factor of a bowl of cold cereal, especially when rounded out with milk or yogurt and a fruit or veggie! It makes a great breakfast on a busy weekday and an equally good dinner on a night filled with activities when you don’t want to hit the drive through for fast food (cause sometimes that’s just real life).
It also makes a great snack when served dry, as part of a trail mix or sprinkled on top of yogurt.
On top of the convenience factor, cereals can contain loads of nutrients, thanks to fortification, which is especially helpful for picky eaters.
Cereal also can have plenty of fiber and protein, keeping kids full until their next eating time. You just need to find the right ones!
What Should I Look for When Shopping for Cereal for Kids?
In general, there are four things you should focus on when looking at the Nutrition Facts Panel:
- Added Sugars
- Serving Size
Fiber in Cereal for Kids
Why is Fiber Important for Kids?
Fiber helps kids feel satisfied and keeps blood sugar stable (instead of a peak and crash). These are especially important if you’re serving cereal for breakfast before school.
Additionally, fiber is important for kids with a limited diet (picky eaters) because they often aren’t getting enough. Selective eaters often prefer the predictability of more processed grains (meaning less fiber) and find the inconsistencies of vegetables and fruits challenging.
Less than adequate fiber for kids means a higher risk for constipation. Unfortunately, constipation for a picky eater can start a vicious cycle of a decreased and more selective appetite, eating even less fiber and then worse constipation.
How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?
Adequate Intake for Fiber in Children Ages 1-18 (1)
|1-3 years||19 grams/day|
|4-8 years||25 grams/day|
|9-13 years (boys)||31 grams/day|
|9-13 years (girls)||26 grams/day|
|14-18 years (boys)||38 grams/day|
|14-18 years (girls)||26 grams/day|
Cereal can be a great way to add fiber in a familiar and appealing way for kids! A goal of 2 grams of fiber (or more) per serving is a good place to start with cereal. You’ll likely see whole grains (whole wheat, whole oats, whole grain rice, etc.) within the first few ingredients.
Over time you can add cereals with more grams of fiber per serving or even mix multiple cereals together to maximize flavor, enjoyment, and fiber!
Added Sugar in Cereal for Kids
First we must make an important distinction between total sugar and added sugar, because you’ll find both on the Nutrition Facts Panel. It can be confusing to know the difference between each, which to focus on, and why.
What is Added Sugar?
Total sugar on a food label includes both naturally occurring sugars and sugars that have been added. Sugar that is naturally found in vegetables, fruits and milk is one part of the grams of total sugar. These include fructose and lactose. (2)
Added sugars are those that are added to food and beverages in forms such as table sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, maple syrup, fruit/vegetable juice concentrates, and processed, refined fruit juice added as a sweetener. (2, 3, 4)
Added sugars are also part of the grams of total sugar and you’ll find them listed right under it. Sometimes you’ll find added sugars on the label with the word “includes” since they are a part of the total sugar. (5)
How Much Added Sugar Can Kids Have?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that children over the age of 2 have no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. That’s equal to 6.25 tablespoons. They also recommend that added sugars should not be habitually part of the diet of children under 2 years old. (2)
The World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend that less than 10% of total calories be from added sugars. (2)
Consuming 10% or less of total calories from added sugars is a much more difficult goal to put into practice compared to the goal of 25 grams or less per day. It involves knowing how many calories your child is eating on average – something that is unnecessary to track for an overall healthy and growing child.
For this reason, the more real-life goal to keep in mind as you consider cereal options is 25 grams per sugar a day or less for children over the age of 2.
Why is it Important to Be Aware of Added Sugar for Kids?
Some studies show that eating and drinking too many added sugars is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. (4, 6) This is likely because large amounts of added sugar in food makes it difficult to meet nutrient needs for growth and development without an excess of calories.
If your child eats cereal, it is likely they are getting some added sugar from it. There’s no need to panic – remember the goal is not zero and this added sugar can come with many other nutrients!
But, because keeping added sugar in a child’s diet in the modern developed society can be challenging (especially for selective eaters) it can be helpful to take a look at the added sugar in the cereals you buy.
A goal of 8 grams of added sugar or less in a cereal is a great place to start for a child over the age of 2. For reference, that’s about one third of the total grams of sugar per day (25 grams) recommended by AHA.
Protein in Cereal for Kids
Why is Protein Important for Kids?
Protein is essential for growing kids and helps them stay full until their next eating time. Most children are getting enough protein, because it can be found in such a wide variety of foods. Even small amounts add up over the course of a full day of eating.
How Much Protein Do Kids Need?
Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein in Children Ages 1-18 (7)
|1-3 years||0.48 grams/pound body weight/day|
|4-13 years||0.43 grams/pound body weight/day|
|14-18 years||0.39 grams/pound body weight/day|
It’s helpful for cereal to have some protein of its own to contribute to a child’s daily total, but also remember that the addition of milk, yogurt, or even a drizzle of peanut butter can add even more. A good amount of protein to aim for in the cereal itself is 2 grams or more per serving.
Cereal Serving Sizes
When considering fiber, added sugar and protein in cereal, it’s also important to be aware that serving sizes for cereal vary greatly!
A single serving of one type of cereal could be ¾ cup, while another could be 1 ¼ cup. Plus, your child may eat a totally different serving size than what’s on the box. Different portion sizes make a difference in the amount of nutrients consumed.
It can feel impossible to compare and feel confident in making an informed choice! So, let’s take a look at this handy chart with the consistent serving size of one cup! In no time you’ll be finding the best fit for your child.
What specific cereal should I buy for my kids?
Buying choices can and should depend on what’s available at your local grocery store, what fits into your budget, and what your child will actually eat. These very well may not fit into these suggested goals for fiber, added sugars and protein. That’s OK!
Cereal is just one tiny part of a child’s overall diet. It’s easy to become obsessed (and very often worried) about each gram of added sugar and if a food is “healthy” or not. But the more important thing to keep in mind is the big picture.
Cereal can be balanced with other foods in that meal or snack. Cereal can be served only occasionally. Cereal can be a part of an overall well rounded diet. Don’t let it be something that causes you stress!
Top 25 Cereal for Kids Picked By a Registered Dietitian
How These Cereal for Kids Were Picked
Every attempt was made to review a mix of brands to compile a list of cereals that includes very accessible mainstream brands that are affordable as well as more niche brands that may not typically be available at many grocery stores or be cost effective for some families.
Additionally, it’s important to note that there may be cereals not on this list that are a perfect option for your family and situation. You may even find that purchasing a similar type of cereal of a different brand provides the same nutrient profile.
Always remember that you are the expert on your child and family situation.
How These Cereal for Kids Were Ranked*
You may also note that the cereals are not listed in order of most fiber, lowest added sugar or most protein. This is because the whole picture needs to be considered, especially your child’s unique nutrition needs.
The grams of fiber, added sugar, and protein have all been adjusted from the serving size on the box to a 1 cup serving for every cereal on this list, making it easy to compare. This is not necessarily a recommended serving as every child eats different amounts that are right for them on any given day.
Cereals are listed from most “well-rounded” to least “well-rounded” based on highest priority being given to high fiber and low added sugar. Protein was considered second with a weight of half the importance.
This is not a perfect or scientific system, but helps to give the order of the list some meaning as you take a look.
What About Sugary Cereals Marketed for Kids?
There is an abundance of colorfully packaged cereals, with fun characters calling your child’s name as they move through the cereal aisle. Even if you avoid the aisle for a while, there typically comes a time that your child is made aware of these options through friends, school or a hotel breakfast.
So you might be wondering, “Can these kids’ cereals fit into a healthy diet?” The answer is YES! No food is ever off limits, unless of course your child has an allergy or intolerance – or the food is actually spoiled!
Serving “kid cereals” routinely as part of what you offer or even mixed in with other cereals that are higher in fiber and/or protein, contributes to your child’s positive relationship with all foods. Heavy restrictions simply make them more desirable!
You can find the frequency of offering them that works for your family. Then, when they’re served, simply enjoy them! There’s no need to educate your child on which is a “healthier” choice and why. Kids learn appropriate choices through the frequency you offer foods.
Focus on variety, family meals, modeling and a positive relationship with food and their eating habits will fall in place as they grow.
Takeaway on Cereal for Kids
Congratulations! You’ve taken the time to learn about the nitty gritty of selecting cereals that have the best bang for their bowl! Hopefully this investment in some thought now will save you as you stand in the cereal aisle.
But a word of caution – Don’t obsess! It’s easy to overanalyze each gram of fiber, added sugar and protein when you’re taking a microscopic view. Ultimately, a bowl of cereal is just one small part of your child’s overall diet.
They are meeting their needs through multiple meals and snacks each day!
Keep the goals in mind:
- 2 grams fiber or more per serving
- 8 grams added sugar or less per serving
- 2 grams protein or more per serving
Then make your selection and move on! Take comfort in the fact that cereal can be a great option for your child and you’ve made the best choice for them. The next step is to simply sit down and enjoy it together with your child.
If you’re still worried that your child is missing out on important nutrients, get started with a FREE Fiber Check-Up! This mini course walks you through doing an audit of your child’s fiber intake now AND helps you address how to boost fiber in their diet for the future!
Kim Slack is a Registered Dietitian, Quality Improvement Professional, Parent Coach and founder of On Your Table, LLC. She coaches parents inside the Mastering Mealtimes Membership on feeding strategies and parenting styles that support children to learn to eat a varied diet. Kim has helped countless families have happier, calmer mealtimes and grow competent eaters. Kim also has 2 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her from her about page.