Breakfast cereals are a quick and easy way to get your kids starting each day on the right foot. But with so many options on the shelves, which should you pick? HFG dietitian Zoe Wilson shows you what to look for.
We all know how important it is to eat a nutritious breakfast – and it’s even more so for growing kids. Cereal can be a great morning meal, but there are now so many to choose from, it can be hard to know which is best. Here’s what to consider if you want the healthiest, most nutritious cereals for your kids to have the best possible start to the day:
Wholegrains have many health benefits. Foods high in wholegrains, including wholegrain cereals, are important for good digestive and heart health as well as helping to control blood sugar levels, weight management and reducing the risk of some cancers.
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.
There is no Australian government recommendation for the amount of wholegrains to include in your diet each day. However, an expert review of the evidence for wholegrains convened by the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (formerly Go Grains) and international Life Sciences institute decided on a daily Target intake (DTI) of 48g wholegrains per day for children over 9 years old, teens and adults. You may see claims about the wholegrain content of cereals with reference to the 48g DTI. The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council also recommends 32–40g wholegrains daily for children aged 4 to 8, based on US recommendations.
As a rule of thumb, when comparing products, look for those that are made from at least 50 per cent wholegrains. Pick cereals that have wholegrains listed as the first, or one of the first, ingredients.
Fibre is another important nutrient to look out for 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’s just as important they get enough in their diet.
The recommended daily fibre intake for kids is 14g for 1–3 year olds; 18g for 4–8 year olds; 20g for 9–13 year old girls and 24g for 9–13 year old boys. In order to claim being ‘high fibre’, a cereal must contain at least 3g of fibre per serve. Just make sure you also check what a serving size is, as this can differ from product to product.
Sugar can be a worry for parents – but that’s not to say that a little 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 nutritional choice, 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 satisfy a sweet tooth, but you can also look for cereals containing dried fruit. Look for a cereal with less than 15g sugar per 100g if it doesn’t contain any dried fruit and is sweetened with sugar or honey. If a cereal contains dried fruit, look for one with less than 25g sugar per 100g. If you’re in doubt about where the sugar comes from, check the ingredients list. This has to be listed in order of most to least by weight, so if sugar, honey or syrup are in the top three ingredients, it’s probably not a great choice.
Cereals with little or no added salt are the best choice and quite easy to find. As a guide, look for cereals that contain no more than 400mg sodium per 100g.
Fat and energy
The most important thing to think about with cereal is the meal as a whole. A balanced breakfast consists of a serve of cereal, reduced-fat dairy and fruit. Generally, breakfast cereals are fairly low in fat and energy unless they have added nuts, baked clusters, or lots of added sugar. All our picks contain less than 700kJ per serve, bar one. As an added bonus, many cereals are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, making them a good all-round choice for the most important meal of the day.
For those with allergies
There is a growing range of cereal out there for kids with allergies, making it a lot easier to eat a quick breakfast. You’ll find these mostly in the health food section of the supermarket, not in the regular cereal section. It can be more difficult to find allergy-friendly cereals that meet all of the criteria mentioned above. But, as long as your child enjoys a generally healthy diet and you use these guidelines as a reference, you should be able to find a good choice. We’ve suggested two of the best options for you (see below).
Our dietitian’s picks
Sanitarium Weet-bix for Kids Made with 97% wholegrains, there’s 444kJ and 3.3g fibre in 2 biscuits and 2.9g sugar and 20mg sodium per 100g (lower sodium compared to regular Weet-Bix).
Healtheries Pufferbillies Suitable for children over 12 months old. Made with wholegrain corn, there is 310kJ and 3.2g fibre per 20g serve and only 0.8g sugar and 3mg sodium per 100g.
Uncle Toby’s Oats original sachet There’s 539kJ and 3.4g fibre per 34g sachet and 0.3g sugar and 3mg sodium per 100g.
Kellogg’s Mixed Berry Mini-Wheats With 73% wholegrains, there’s 580kJ and 4g fibre per 40g serve and 11.1g sugar (contains added fruit) and 10mg sodium per 100g.
Uncle Toby's Shredded Wheat 100% wholegrain. 698kJ and a whopping 6.2g fibre in 2 biscuits, with only 2g sugar and 10mg sodium per 100g.
Sanitarium Weet-bix Bites 71% wholegrains, 626kJ and 4.1g fibre per 45g serve. There’s 22.2g sugar (contains added fruit) and 300mg sodium per 100g.
Freedom Foods Corn Flakes Gluten-, nut-, soy-, dairy- and egg-free and with added psyllium for fibre. There’s 814kJ and 4.9g fibre per 50g serve and 9.8g sugar and 120mg sodium per 100g.
Food For Health, The gluten-Free Muesli Gluten-and peanut-free and with sulphur-free fruit. 564kJ and 3.1g fibre per 48g serve and with 23.5g sugar (from the fruit) and 19mg sodium.
Explaining fibre claims
‘Source of’ = 1.5g per serve
‘High in’ or ‘good source of’ = 3g per serve
‘Very high in’ or ‘excellent source’ = 6g per serve
Your cereal checklist
Use these criteria to help you choose the best cereal:
Wholegrains: at least 50% or listed as one of the first ingredients.
Fibre: aim for at least 3g fibre per serve.
Sodium: less than 400mg/100g.
Sugar: less than 25g sugar per 100g if sweetened with dried fruit, or less than 15g per 100g if sweetened with sugar or honey.