Cereal is a mainstay in the diets of toddlers and preschoolers. But there is a wide variety available, and choosing the right one can be a challenge. So what should you be looking for when it comes to the cereal you buy and feed your child?
Rule #1: Choose low sugar content.
Many parents wouldn’t dream of offering dessert for breakfast, but many cereals on the market today pack a punch of sugar that would equal a bona fide dessert.
Ideally, you want to choose the cereal that has the lowest amount of sugar per serving. Look for cereals with around 5 to 6 grams of sugar per serving, like Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Kix, Wheaties, Life, and Shredded Wheat.
Serving sizes can be different with each cereal type. For example, granola-type cereals are around 1/4 to 1/3 cup serving sizes, while “puff” cereals are 1/2 cup to 1 cup serving sizes.
Watch out for sugary cereals, since they can get the day started on the wrong foot.
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Rule #2: Look for fiber.
Cereal can be an easy way to get the day started with fiber, which can be helpful in preventing constipation and keeping your child regular. Choose half of your child’s grain options like cereal, bread, and pasta from a whole grain source. When choosing cereal, pick options with more than 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Double-check the ingredient list because it will let you know how “whole” those grains are! Ingredients are listed by weight, so look for cereals that list whole grains as the first ingredient. And beware! Multi-grain doesn’t always mean whole grain. Look at the label to be sure. “Made with whole grain” can be deceiving too, with as little as 10 percent whole grains.
Rule #3: Nutrient fortification.
Cereal can be a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamin D, since these nutrients are fortified (added back) in cereal. For toddlers in particular, who can be picky eaters and avoid iron-rich foods like meat, finding a good source of iron in cereal can be key to overall health. Add a source of vitamin C like orange juice or citrus fruit when your child is eating non-meat sources of iron to increase the uptake of iron in the body.
- Castle JL and Jacobsen MT
- Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
Environmental Working Group
- Sugar in Children’s Cereals.
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