It’s all too easy for health conscious parents to get confused when shopping for breakfast cereal. With all the bright colors and distracting slogans, the cereal aisle looks more like the Las Vegas strip than your local grocery store.
Instead of taking a gamble on your kids’ breakfast, make more confident choices using these guidelines.
What to Look For
Hot and cold breakfast cereals can be a good vehicle for a healthy and fast morning meal. Some cereals can offer whole grains, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and tummy-pleasing fiber. Pour in a few splashes of calcium-rich liquid and a complete, satisfying meal can begin to take shape. But this process also invites the opportunity for a breakfast that is filled with sugar and artificial colors if you aren’t careful.
As a general rule, if the cereal has a cartoon character as a mascot, it probably has more sugar than you want your kids to have. While there are a few exceptions to this, beware of cute and cuddly characters promising good nutrition. Scan the numbers on nutrition facts panels and peruse the ingredient list to find out what is really in that box.
Aim for cereals with four grams of sugar or less per serving, unless they contain dried fruit. Raisins, cranberries, and other dried fruits will increase the grams of sugar on the label but since these sugars are coming from natural sources they have much more to offer. Instead of empty calories from highly processed sugar, dried fruit contains nutrients like fiber, iron, and vitamins.
When reading ingredient lists it is also important to question unfamiliar ingredients. It is common for cereals to be fortified with numerous amounts of vitamins and minerals, including folate, thiamin, and iron. These added vitamins and minerals will be listed as ingredients and should cause no alarm. Instead, skip the cereals that include hard to pronounce preservatives and artificial colors.
Healthiest Cereal Brands
There is such a thing as a healthy cereal if you know where to look. These five brands are big winners for taste, ingredient quality, and nutrition. Servings listed on these boxes range from three-fourths to one cup, which is standard for most cereals.
While the needs of your child may vary, any of these options could make for a sensible and kid-friendly breakfast when paired up with milk or yogurt and a serving of fresh fruit.
This certified gluten-free cereal has only 100 calories and two grams of sugar per serving. Adding a handful of berries or a few slices of banana to the bowl or on the side can complete the meal, adding fiber and some natural sweetness.
This cereal offers numerous gluten-free flavors that vary in fiber and sugar content, so scan the boxes to find the best fit for your child.
Cascadian Farms Organic Raisin Bran
Don’t be alarmed by the grams of sugar on this label—this brand of Raisin Bran still contains five grams less sugar than other popular cereal varieties. Even though there are 13 grams of sugar per serving, much of it comes from naturally sweet raisins. The impressive six grams of fiber per serving will help keep kids satisfied and energized all morning long.
Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins
Peanut butter lovers will swoon for these crunchy spoonfuls of goodness. The sugar count for this cereal comes in slightly higher than the other brands featured here, with six grams of sugar per serving, but it’s still a much better choice than the leading cartoon adorned peanut butter cereal coming in at 10 grams per serving.
This classic cereal remains king of the healthy hill. With just 100 calories and a tiny 1 gram of sugar per serving, it is a great choice for little ones to slurp for breakfast, with milk and fruit. For an escape from the bowl, try munching on this cereal dry, as part of a snack mix.
Along with the confusion of cereal comes the conundrum of what to eat along with it. Milk seems like the obvious choice, but there are many types to choose from.
Since many cereals are fairly low in protein, choose a milk or milk alternative that packs in the protein to keep little ones satisfied all morning long. Lactose free Fairlife Superkids is 50 percent higher in protein than similar milk options and is fortified with DHA omega-3 fats. If you prefer a dairy free milk variety, soy milk is the highest protein option next to cow’s milk. Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk is a good option for breakfast.
Ultimately, your milk choice depends on what your child likes and is willing to drink. There are numerous options available to accommodate allergies and finicky eaters. Experiment with other alternative varieties such as coconut milk, rice milk, or almond milk—but check labels, as the nutrient content of these vary significantly. Consider mixing it up and going with a higher protein option with breakfast and sipping on other types later in the day.
Instead of stumbling through the cereal aisle, consider making your own winning breakfast option with a batch of homemade granola. Since granola tends to be somewhat higher in calories, downsize the portions.
Sprinkle your homespun granola over a bowl of fresh fruit, cottage cheese, or yogurt or mix a few tablespoons in with one cup of a low-sugar cereal.
(Makes about 4½ cups)
2 ½ cups rolled oats
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup honey or agave nectar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup dried cranberries
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- Combine oats, almonds, shredded coconut, salt, honey (or agave), and canola oil in a large bowl. Toss well with a rubber spatula and transfer mixture to prepared baking sheet.
- Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (about 15 to 20 minutes). Remove from oven.
- Once cool, mix in dried cranberries. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.