I feel really confused about which breakfast cereals I should choose for my children, there are just so many to choose from all with different messages printed on the front telling me they are good for them. Which ones should I choose ?
Cereal can be an excellent choice for breakfast, but there are many to choose from and some are healthier than others.
Ideally you are looking for wholegrain cereals, with no or very little in the way of added sugar or salt.
Nutrition labels are a good place to start to find out how much sugar and salt a cereal contains; you can browse these at home using supermarket online shopping websites.
A breakfast cereal with less than 5g of added sugar per 100g is low in sugar and one with 3g or more of fibre per 100g is high fibre. Salt should be 0.3g or less per 100g.
Also take a look at the ingredients list. If sugar is listed as one of the first three ingredients then the cereal is probably high in sugar. There are many different names for sugar, these include sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose, honey and fructose.
The NHS Choices website provides useful information on labelling if you would like more information.
If you find it difficult to get your child to eat cereals with less sugar, try mixing their favourite sweeter cereals with low sugar varieties to start with, offering a healthier choice with a spoonful of their usual cereal on top for example.
Portion size is also something to be aware of. The recommended portion size will be given on the packet, but if you weigh this out you will see it is surprisingly small, many children eat a great deal more than this ! This is not necessarily always an issue but do take this into account when you consider what else your child is eating.
Many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals and these can be useful; we know from the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2014) that children get a good proportion of their daily mineral intakes such as iron and magnesium from breakfast cereals.
In order to absorb iron we need to consume a vitamin C source at the same time, so add a handful of berries or other fruit or a small glass of fruit juice to your child’s breakfast. Be aware that some of the cheaper ranges of cereal are not fortified. In addition, having milk with cereal provides at least a third of a child’s daily calcium requirement.
There has been recent interest in foods with added protein and there are now breakfast cereals available with added protein. In general, most of the UK population consumes more than enough protein; requirements are partly based on bodyweight, partly on age. The amounts below are good starting points for children and easily achieved by eating a balanced diet without the need for additional sources to be added to food.
Child aged 6 years old – 20g protein per day
Child aged 10 years old – 28g protein per day
Many of these ‘added protein cereals’ are also high in sugar and fat. Rather than choose one of these cereals you can add protein to your child’s breakfast by adding a little natural yoghurt.
Cereal does not have to be just for breakfast either. A healthy low-sugar, low-salt cereal can be a good choice for a bedtime or as an after school snack.
Clare Thornton-Wood is a registered Paediatric Dietician and a member of the British Dietetic Assocation (BDA).
After graduating from the University of Surrey with a BSc in Nutrition and Dietetics, and a period working in adult dietetics, Clare undertook additional training in paediatrics, taking 2 MSc Modules in Paediatric Dietetics at the University of Plymouth.
She works as a local paediatric dietitian for the NHS in Surrey and also as the dietitian at a boarding school for children/young adults with severe epilepsy and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
Visit Clare’s page at Healthcare On Demand