How to choose the best cereal for kids

Written by Jolene Hrynyk, a volunteer at Calgary Family Nutrition. For more information, you can see her bio here

Most weeks when I grocery shop, the question “So what kind of cereal should I buy?” comes up, and usually I spend much longer than I want to, standing there debating and reading labels. After today you and I both will have a better, faster answer to this question and what is the best cereal for kids!

One of the tricky things about cereal is that the portion sizes on the package can vary quite a bit. Some cereal’s list nutrition facts as 30 g and others as 60 g or more. For that reason, I show the guidelines in a range of serving sizes below for easier comparison.

The other way cereal is tricky is that some cereals, like granola, are heavy and dense so a 30 g serving means you only put about a ½ cup or less into your bowl. Meanwhile, other cereals like cheerio’s are essentially puffed flour and mostly air, therefore a 30 g serving can be twice as large in a bowl. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it depends on the circumstances and personal preference. For kids and adults who tend to eat small breakfasts or rapidly growing tweens, the denser granola might be a better option. For people who use cereal as a snack, the puffed flour variety may be more appropriate.

The guidelines I show below are for the “choose most often” category of the alberta nutrition guidelines for children and youth. These guidelines were created to help schools and childcare centers choose healthy food to offer children using the nutrition facts table, but can be helpful for parents as well. It’s important to remember that some cereals contain nuts which are full of healthy fats, but they may raise the fat on the label above the guidelines below. Don’t let that steer you away from choosing that cereal, as the fat in nuts may help you or your child feel full longer.

Pair your cereal with milk or a plant based beverage, and fruit for a complete and balanced breakfast. Sliced fruit like bananas or frozen berries mixed into cereal may add a sweetness that makes a lower sugar cereal an easier transition for both kids and your own taste buds.

Guidelines:

NutrientPer 30 g serving Per 45 g servingPer 60 g serving
Fat<3 g4.5 g6 g
Saturated Fat<1 g1.5 g3 g
Sodium<140 mg210 mg 280 mg
Fiber> 2 g3 g4 g
Sugar<8 g12 g16 g

Most cereals meet the first three guidelines and are now made of whole grains, however, fiber and sugar amounts can vary a lot.

When choosing a cereal,  the simplest rule is to look for the most fiber and the least sugar – keeping those varying portion sizes in mind. I’ve highlighted some kid-friendly cereal’s that meet these guidelines below, although these are certainly not the only cereals that meet the guidelines. They represent a nice compromise between what your child may want to eat and what you may want to serve them.

Quaker oatmeal squares – The only one of this line to make the cut, these are made with oat flour which has been shown to be good for heart health.

Brown sugar Mini-wheats – Every mini-wheats cereal I looked at met the guidelines, and had some of the highest fiber of the lot so you can be sure to find a flavor that suits your family. The dark chocolate variety actually had the best nutrition profile.  

Vector – Although surprising, vector has moderate sugar and fiber and doesn’t go over the sodium guideline like many similar kinds of cereal.

Nature’s Path – Whole  O’s – This was one O shaped cereal I found that actually met the guideline, along with the president’s choice variety. Many plain varieties came close but had a surprising amount of sodium. The sweetened varieties tended to have a lot of sugar for their fiber content.

Wondering how your cereal lines up? Here are some popular cereals and how they stack up against these guidelines

Cereal FatSaturated
Fat
SodiumFiberSugar
Honey Nut Cheerios
Frosted Flakes
Raisin Bran
Special K original
Fruit loops
Love grown sea stars
Cheerios
Shreddies
Rice Crispies
Life
Kellog’s Just right
Kashi Go lean original
All bran buds
Harvest Crunch
Alpen Muesli – no sugar added

I’ve highlighted some cereals that meet the guidelines above but it’s important to remember that there are lots of other healthy breakfast options.

*A hot bowl of oatmeal has no sugar unless you add it.

*Toast with a nut butter adds lots of healthy fats to the diet.

*Eggs are high in protein and have many healthy vitamins and minerals.

Do whatever works best for your family.

Did any of the cereals that made the cut surprise you? What about the cereals in your cupboard, would they make the cut?

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