Breakfast cereals are a quick way to ensure kids start the day off right. But from the dozens of choices on the shelves, which one should you pick? Dietitian Vanessa Furlong shows you what to look for on the label.
You’ve heard it before: foods high in wholegrains are good for you, and wholegrain-rich cereals are no exception. But why are they so good for you? Because wholegrains contain all of the components of the grain – the fibre-rich outer layer (bran), the nutrient-packed inner core and the energy-charged, starchy, middle layer.
While there are no government guidelines for daily intake of wholegrains, dietitians suggest that wholegrains should comprise at least half of the grain foods you eat each day. A good rule of thumb is to look for a cereal that has wholegrains listed as the first, or one of the first, ingredients.
Fibre also gets the nutritional nod when it comes to breakfast cereal. In addition to its well-established digestive benefits, fibre plays an important role in keeping us full. Kids need less fibre than adults, but it is just as important that they get enough fibre in their diet.
For children aged 2 years and over, a dietary fibre intake of their age plus 10 grams a day is recommended (ie. age + 10g). A breakfast cereal with 3–6g fibre per serve makes a significant contribution towards your child’s daily fibre requirements.
Sugar can be a real dilemma when it comes to choosing kids’ cereal – but that’s not to say that sugar can’t be part of a nutritious breakfast. Children are born with an innate fondness for sweet flavours, so while a cereal with no added sugar might be the best choice from a nutritional perspective, it won’t matter how healthy it is if your child refuses to eat it!
Adding fresh fruit to unsweetened cereal is the best way to appease a sweet tooth, but another alternative is to look for cereals containing dried fruit. Choosing a cereal with around 10g sugar per serve – equivalent to 1/2 banana – isn’t an unreasonable amount of sugar. A cereal lightly sweetened with sugar or honey is another option, but limit added sugars to 5g (1 teaspoon) per serve. The same rule applies for adding sugar to your own cereal!
Cereals with little or no added salt are the best choice. This shouldn’t be a challenge for you, as children’s taste buds tend to be less ‘salt-savvy’ than adults’. So look for cereals that contain no more than 400mg sodium/100g as a guide.
Fat and kilojoules
Fat and energy are two things you don’t need to be too concerned with when choosing a children’s cereal, because breakfast cereals typically contain little fat, and therefore are not energy-dense. As an added bonus, you’ll find that most breakfast cereals are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, making them an all-around excellent choice.
We know breakfast is beneficial – it jump-starts our metabolism, aids weight management and provides us with nutrients we might otherwise miss. For kids, breakfast is even more important – in addition to providing all these benefits, it has been shown to improve attention and learning in the classroom.