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?

Dairy free baking

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

Nothing beats the smell of fresh baking in the house! I think sometimes I choose to bake just so I can come home later and smell the fresh baked goods!  Luckily, baking doesn’t need to stop when changing to eating dairy-free.

The two big dairy culprits in most baking are butter and milk.

Butter can be replaced with a few things.

  • In muffins, cookies, and bread, replace butter one-to-one, with:
    • Oil (like canola or olive).
    • Applesauce.
  • In cakes, the creaming of the butter and sugar is important for their light and fluffy texture. Consider replacing butter, one-to-one with:
    • Dairy-free margarine. Dairy-free margarines can have different fat contents than butter, so it might be trial and error to find the one that works best for you.

Milk in recipes can vary from regular fluid milk to heavy cream.

  • Regular fluid milk can be replaced one-to-one with fortified plant-based beverages.
    • Consider the previous post about nutrients in different plant-based beverages when choosing which one to bake with.
    • Buy unsweetened non-dairy milk otherwise your baking will come out much sweeter than expected.
    • Be aware that different beverages can add different flavours to your baking. For example, coconut milk will often leave a distinct coconut flavour. This might be a good addition in some baking and not so welcome in others.
  • Light cream can be replaced with light-canned coconut milk or non-dairy creamers.
  • Heavy cream can be replaced with full-fat coconut milk.
  • Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 Tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of non-dairy milk and waiting around 10 minutes.

I find that muffins are the most resilient baked good to try and adjust. If you want to experiment with dairy-free baking, muffins are a good place to start! When making muffins and they always seem to turn out tasty. My favourite recipe lately for banana muffins is actually dairy-free without any modifications. It uses applesauce instead of butter. The applesauce and banana make the muffins really moist while providing a sweet flavour without as much sugar. And of course, they make my house smell delicious. I like enjoying it with some nut-butter, to add some healthy fats, for a quick snack or breakfast.

Dairy Free Banana Muffins

Banana muffins made with applesauce. 

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups Whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup Sugar white or brown, I have used both!
  • 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 medium Overripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened applesauce I usually use the prepackaged cups, one is ½ cup
  • Any mix-ins you would like Nuts, dairy-free chocolate chips etc…

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

  2. Spray your muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray, or grease with oil (This is important as there is no fat in this recipe so they will stick if you don’t spray!)

  3. Whisk together applesauce and sugar. Whisk in eggs then add mashed banana. In a separate bowl combine all dry ingredients. Add together and mix well. 
  4. Spoon into muffin tins

  5. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes. (I made mini muffins that were done at about 18 minutes).

Dairy free meal for the whole family!

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

Nutrients that dairy provides

With children’s tiny tummies, they typically get a lot of important vitamins and nutrients from dairy products. The biggest of these are calcium, vitamin D, protein and fat.

  • Calcium and Vitamin D are very important for keeping your child’s bones and teeth strong and healthy.
  • Protein is responsible for building, repairing and maintaining the tissues in our bodies. This becomes extra important in children since they are growing so much.
  • Fat is important for overall health. It also contains a lot of calories for a small amount, which makes sure your child is getting the energy they need to grow.

While dairy products are often recommended as a source of calcium, there are still many ways to have a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients without them. For example, fluid milk can be replaced with a few different alternatives. Check the last blog post for what the alternatives provide.

Cooking dairy free

I want to share a delicious dairy-free meal with you that is still packed with protein, fat and calcium. The other night I planned to make salmon cakes from canned salmon as a quick meal before a sports practice. Canned salmon, with the bones in, is a really great source of both calcium, fat and protein. Thinking about this I thought I would try to jam pack the recipe with as many non-dairy sources of calcium as possible. Served with a side of rice or roasted potatoes and some veggies, you wouldn’t even think twice about this meal not containing any dairy.

For vegetables, I added some high-in-calcium kale into the cakes. I personally buy frozen kale as I find it easier to add to recipes, but you could also add fresh. I thought they turned out really well!

As for the lemon dill sauce, I tried a tahini sauce. Tahini is a sesame paste that is high in calcium and fat, much like nut butter in texture but made from sesame seeds. It can really help to add a creamy flavour into dressings and sauces that milk and creams typically add. I would recommend looking in the international aisle in the grocery store when buying tahini as I have noticed that it tends to cost less.

Salmon Cakes  (Modified from https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/9401/salmon-patties-i/)

Dairy Free Salmon Cakes

Calcium rich salmon cakes with added kale and tahini sauce

Keyword Dairy free salmon
Servings 5 salmon cakes

Ingredients

Salmon Cakes

  • 1 can Canned Salmon
  • 1/4 cup Diced onion
  • 1/2 cup Kale (thawed from frozen) You can use fresh kale here, just increase to 1 cup
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 cup Whole Wheat bread crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil

Tahini Lemon Dill Sauce

  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Tahini
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups Dill, fresh, packed with stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Salt

Instructions

Salmon Cakes

  1. Drain the salmon and add onion, kale, egg, bread crumbs and garlic powder. Mix until combined. 

  2. Form into 4-5 patties with hands.
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Place patties in pan and brown each side. Serve with vegetables and potatoes or rice. 

Tahini Lemon Dill Sauce

  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender. If you are using dried dill you could likely just mix in a bowl. Serve with salmon patties, warm in a sauce pan if desired. To add a more traditional lemon dill flavour, you could add some Dijon mustard.  

If you are interested in other ways to make sure your child with a milk allergy is getting all the nutrients they need while still eating tasty food, consider booking an Allergy Consultation with Calgary Family Nutrition.

Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

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

When your young child is newly diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy, it can be hard to know what to replace cow’s milk with. Today I will share with you some of the recommendations for choosing milk alternatives for your toddler.

If you are breastfeeding, you will likely need to take out dairy products from your diet. Talk to your healthcare provider for guidance on how to do this and maintain a healthy diet.

Health Canada recommends children should stay on breastmilk or formula until they are 2.

If your baby is formula fed, there are three options for store-bought formula to choose from:

  1. Soy. Some babies that are allergic to milk will also be allergic to Soy.
  2. Extensively Hydrolyzed. These formulas have broken down milk proteins so that a reaction from your child is less likely.  
  3. Amino acid-based formulas. These formulas are used for a small population of babies that don’t tolerate soy or hydrolyzed formulas.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which formula is right for your baby.

You may remember me mentioning in a previous post about the important nutrients that are supplied from dairy products: protein, fat, vitamin D, and calcium.  Breastmilk and store-bought formula are great choices to replace this as they provide most of these nutrients.

When transitioning from breastmilk or formula to milk, remember that when your child has a cow’s milk allergy, they can often be allergic to other animal milks, such as goat or sheep’s milk.  

Plant based beverages

If your child is still allergic to cow’s milk at age 2 and you want to transition to a plant-based beverage, there are a few things to consider. Plant-based beverages include soy, hemp, almond, cashew, and coconut. They are often called “milks” but have different nutrient profiles than cow’s milk. Walking down the aisle of plant-based beverages can be quite overwhelming, there are so many options!

Consider the following things when choosing the plant-based beverage that works best for your family.

When looking for high protein and fat options, consider the comparison of different plant-based beverages and 3.25% cow’s milk.

Fortified soy-beverage is the only plant-based beverage that is similar to cow’s milk in protein content. For the other options, it is important to remember that because of the low protein and fat content they are not suitable to solely replace to cow’s milk.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use other plant-based beverages. However, if you choose lower fat and protein plant-based beverages, these nutrients need to be increased through other food in your child’s diet. The next two posts will provide ideas on how to maximize the nutrients your child is getting from non-dairy sources.

For more insight on making dairy-free choices and choosing a cow’s milk replacement for your child, book a consultation with Calgary Family Nutrition today.

Milk Allergy versus Lactose Intolerance

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

Dairy products include milk and all products containing milk. Dairy products are readily found in Canadian diets. You may not realize how common they are until you find out your child has a milk allergy. This may make navigating the world of eating dairy-free seem overwhelming. Over the coming posts, we will look at where dairy is commonly found in our diets, the important nutrients, and vitamins in dairy products, and how to cook and bake without dairy.

Let’s start with the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance.  

It is important to know that a milk allergy is different than lactose intolerance.

Lactose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in milk. Typically, our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down the lactose and digest it properly. In lactose intolerance, a person lacks the amount of lactase they need to break down the lactose they eat, leaving people with some unpleasant GI symptoms. However, this isn’t an allergy and those with lactose intolerance can often eat dairy products that are low in lactose such as certain cheeses and yogurts. Lactose intolerance is actually quite rare in young children since they are born with lactase in their intestines to breakdown breastmilk.

On the other hand, a milk allergy is when the body treats the protein in milk as an allergen. In this case, an allergic reaction happens every time your child with a milk allergy eats a dairy product. The seriousness of the reaction depends on the child and should be discussed with your healthcare provider.  Milk allergies mostly affect children under 5 years old as most children outgrow the allergy by this age.

Unlike lactose intolerance, dairy products should be completely avoided to prevent these reactions. This can be tricky as they can be hidden in all sorts of food.

Start by checking food labels for ingredients!

An important way to make sure that the foods you’re feeding your child are dairy-free is reading the ingredients on the food that you buy. Make sure to always have a look at the labels, even if you have used them before, as sometimes the ingredients can change.

Here is a list of foods and ingredients that you will need to avoid if your child has been diagnosed with a milk allergy:

    • Cheese, cottage cheese, cheese curds
    • Yogurt
    • Cow milk-based infant formula
    • Butter
    • Buttermilk
    • Butterfat, ghee
    • Cream
    • Sour cream
    • Ice cream
    • Fermented milk like kefir and kumiss
    • Dry milk, milk solids
    • Milk derivative, milk fat derivative, milk protein derivative
    • Modified milk ingredients
    • Hydrolyzed milk protein
    • Ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, magnesium caseinate, potassium caseinate, sodium caseinate
    • Casein, caseinate, rennet casein
    • Hydrolyzed casein
    • Whey, whey protein concentrate
    • Delactosed whey, demineralized whey
    • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
    • Lactose
    • Lactoferrin
    • Lactoglobulin, beta-lactoglobulin                                                                                                                                                                                                                           List from Dietitians of Canada (2009)

In the next few posts, we will review cow’s milk alternatives and how to make nutrient-packed meals and snacks without using dairy.

If you feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the world of cooking and eating dairy-free, consider booking an Allergy Consultation with one of the Registered Dietitians at Calgary Family Nutrition here