Parents are busy. Breakfast cereals are cheap and convenient. We get it.
There’s no shame in feeding your child an easy breakfast — but is it a good breakfast? As a society, we’ve been programmed to believe that breakfast cereals are healthy, but we may be wrong.
Cereal has been around since the late 1800s, but it didn’t really make a full-blown appearance into our pantries until the 1950s. After World War II, with the arrival of the baby boom, sugary cereals became a huge selling point, especially with the rise of television advertising.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that organic brands began moving onto the shelves in the breakfast aisle. But by then, the cereal market was so oversaturated that they weren’t really noticed until the big brands started selling themselves as “whole grain” — which is hilarious considering the first few ingredients on the side of a cereal box are often refined grains and sugar.
Many cereals you know and love claim to be a part of your balanced breakfast, but many of the well-known brands are actually chock-full of highly-processed grains, synthetic vitamins and minerals, artificial coloring and flavoring, and loads of sugar. And unless your box of cereal has an organic stamp on it, you can almost guarantee the grains are GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Even if it does have an organic stamp, it still doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.
How is cereal made, you ask?
Most cereals start with a grain: wheat, corn, rice, or oats.
The grain is then processed finely, into a flour-like substance, and then cooked. This is when the additives come into play and are married into the processed grains as if they belonged there the entire time. Next, the cereal goes through an extruding process, which shapes and molds it. Then it’s baked and even more additives and sugars are caked on to it, to super-charge our taste buds.
(This could explain why our modern diet has so much sugar.)
Cereal is delicious — there’s no denying that. But have you ever tried actually measuring one single serving size? A serving size of cereal is typically only 3/4 cup. Most people pour double or even triple that amount without realizing.
But really, the problem may not be with eating a bowl of cereal every now and then. It’s about consuming more than the recommended serving size and treating cereal as a regular quick fix in both your and your children’s diet. Consider the message you’re sending when you’re rushing out the door and feeding them a large bowl of cereal to start their morning.
On the health side, their insulin and sugar levels will increase before dipping within a few hours, leaving them hungry and ready for the next energy-spiking snack. The long-term concern is that as your kids enter college or adulthood, they’ll treat cereal as an everyday quick-fix, rather than eating breakfast with intention, and focusing on healthy, nutrient-dense options.
It’s not bad to feed your kids cereal from time to time, but it may not be a good idea to serve it with a side of “eat this quickly.”
Are there any other quick and easy options I can give my kids?
Glad you asked! There are plenty of great options out there — and not all cereal is bad.
Just be mindful about what’s actually in them by reading the label on the side of the box. And don’t treat or talk about it as “quick” food. Also beware that food manufacturers are smart and will try to use tricky lingo — saying a cereal is “whole grain” when the percentage of whole grains is very small — to get you, the health-conscious consumer, to believe their product is actually healthy.
A good rule of thumb is to read the first three ingredients because that’s what the product contains the most of.
Another quick, on-the-go alternative to breakfast cereal is overnight oats. It’s easy to prepare on a Sunday night and the results are extremely filling. Plus, your kids will love picking out and customizing their toppings!
Here are some quick and easy recipes for overnight oats:
If your kids still prefer cereal, try finding a healthier brand to satisfy your children’s needs, or pair it with a fresh smoothie that’ll boost your children’s breakfast! Some great building blocks for kid-friendly smoothie recipes can be found here.
After all is said and done, cereal isn’t the worst thing you can feed your kids for breakfast. But it certainly isn’t the only answer for a quick breakfast. Just remember, the next time you walk down the cereal aisle, be conscious of the ingredients and the amount you pour in the bowl — because breakfast is more than a meal. It’s one of the first building blocks to healthy food habits in the future.
Ayla Sadler is a photographer, stylist, recipe developer, and writer who has worked with many of the leading companies in the health and wellness industry. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and son. When she’s not in the kitchen or behind the camera, you can probably find her toting around the city with her little boy. You can find more of her work here.