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Healthiest

Healthy-ish

Cereal has been a staple in many households for decades — and it’s not hard to see why. It’s convenient, fairly filling, and kids usually love it. Feels like a win-win-win, right?

Probably. But many breakfast cereals, although fortified with vitamins, are loaded with added sugars, processed grains, dyes, and other potentially undesirable ingredients if you have kiddos who are gluten-free or have other food intolerances.

And even though the occasional bowl is no big deal, most of us know that Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs really qualify better as desserts than healthy breakfast foods.

But what can you look for in a cereal that will provide better nutrition for your child? And will your child actually eat it? Even adults don’t tend to be fans of high-fiber, low-sugar cardboard cubes — er — healthy cereal.

Read on for what to look for, what to avoid, and a few cereals that are healthy options for your family (plus a couple that are healthy-ish).

While each family has preferences that will impact their food choices, there are some basic nutritional guidelines that apply to all children.

One of the hardest to follow is the recommendation for sugar intake from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP recommends no more than 25 grams (or about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for children over the age of 2. Eating too much sugar can put your child at a higher risk of obesity, dental cavities, heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease.

Note that this recommendation says added sugars, so it doesn’t include naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in fruit.

But it will only take you a few minutes of reading nutrition labels to realize that 25 grams of sugar adds up really fast. And, let’s face it: Most kids are sugar monsters. They just love the stuff (and actually, sugar has addictive properties, so the more we have the more we want).

Yes, there’s some debate over whether high fructose corn syrup has different effects on human health than regular table sugar. But the best practice remains: All types of added sugar, including table sugar, corn syrup, and agave should be limited in your child’s diet as they’re unhealthy if eaten in excess.

So the total amount of sugar in your kiddo’s cereal is more important than whether it comes from high fructose corn syrup.

Fiber and protein are two ingredients you do want in your child’s cereal.

Fiber is good for gut health and helps slow the rise of blood sugar. Protein is an important building block for your child’s growth, and also helps keep them full until the next meal (although they usually get plenty of protein from other sources, like milk).

We listened to experts’ nutritional advice, scoured ingredient labels, and listened to parent reviews to find cereals that bring a little more to the table than an eventual sugar crash. Most of these cereals have 7 grams or fewer of added sugar per serving. Our sweet spot (haha) for sugar content per serving is 6 g.

Our kids also happily participated in taste testing some of these options (and we’re not going to lie, so did we).

Get ready to edit your grocery list, because we have a feeling there will be some new family favorites when it comes to cereal.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $5 per box
  • $$ = over $5 per box

Best allergy-friendly cereal

Three Wishes Cinnamon Cereal

  • Price: $$
  • Pros: gluten and grain-free (including corn free), kosher, vegan, high protein, low sugar
  • Cons: expensive, flavor and texture may not appeal to kids as much as some other options
  • Basic nutrition facts: 130 calories, 2 g fat, 8 g protein, 3 g fiber, and 3 g sugar per serving

Three Wishes, a company focused on better-for-you twists on classic cereals, is a newer addition to the cereal scene.

Their cereals are higher in protein (this one packs 8 g per serving) and fiber (3 g), and lower in sugar (only 3 g per serving) than typical cereals. This is because their cereals are made from chickpeas (a good source of plant protein) rather than grains.

Their cinnamon cereal is a fan favorite. It’s gluten-free, grain-free, vegan, kosher, non-GMO, dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free. Fun fact: Cinnamon may also have health benefits (including a positive effect on blood sugar).

Most people like the crunchy texture of this cereal, although a few parents said the cereal is too dense to be a great choice for young toddlers, who may have trouble chewing.

Best high-in-fiber cereal

Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes

  • Price: $$
  • Pros: high fiber, low sugar, organic ingredients, great crunchy texture
  • Cons: may be a little hard to chew for younger kids, a bit pricey
  • Basic nutrition facts: 160 calories, 1.5 g fat, 5 g protein, 7 g fiber, and 4 g sugar per serving

This delicious, flaky cereal has a great nutritional profile, with only 4 g of sugar per serving, 5 g of protein, and a whopping 7 g of fiber. It’s full of whole grain goodness, including wheat, quinoa, spelt, barley, millet, and oats.

Nearly all the ingredients are organic, and most parents said their kids do actually like this cereal (winning!).

It’s a favorite for health-conscious parents and kids alike. Some parents reported that their local grocery store doesn’t carry this brand, but it’s becoming more widely available and is available online.

Best cereal with no added sugar

Cascadian Farm Organic Cashew Coconut Granola

  • Price: $
  • Pros: super tasty, sugar is all from fruit, fats are from nuts and coconut, healthier option for granola
  • Cons: some pieces may be a choking hazard for young toddlers, high calories per serving
  • Basic nutrition facts: 330 calories, 18 g fat, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber, and 7 g sugar per serving

Granola is notorious for being jam packed with added sugar, but this cashew coconut variety from Cascadian Farm defies all that. There’s zero added sugar (but 7 g of sugar from fruit like dates) in this recipe!

You’ll also find 25 g of whole grains in a serving of this granola. But be mindful that the serving size for granola is usually smaller than that of cereals — the recommended serving for this option is 2/3 cup.

Best general cereal (pun intended)

General Mills Cheerios

  • Price: $
  • Pros: relatively affordable, lowest sugar option, kids tend to love the texture, nonmessy snack if eaten dry, fairly high protein when eaten with milk
  • Cons: not as high in fiber as some options, although still a good source of fiber due to oats being the main ingredient
  • Basic nutrition facts: 140 calories, 5 g protein, 4 g fiber, and 2 g sugar per serving

Cheerios have been a long-standing favorite for good reason. They’re made from whole grain oats, contain 4 g of fiber, 5 g of protein, and practically a whole multivitamin in every serving.

And while they’re not necessarily the shining star of this list in terms of nutritious ingredients, Cheerios only have 2 grams of sugar per serving — that’s pretty much unprecedented in a cereal that kids actually eat!

Cheerios are also gluten-free and make a great basic cereal that you can top with any fruit, nuts, or yogurt. The little Os are also very easy to eat and dissolve pretty quickly, making them a suitable early finger food for toddlers.

Best budget cereal

Kashi Heart to Heart Oat Cereal — Organic Warm Cinnamon

  • Price: $
  • Pros: relatively affordable, fun shapes, flavor that kids like
  • Cons: a little higher sugar than some options on this list
  • Basic nutrition facts: 150 calories, 2 g fat, 4 g protein, 5 g fiber, and 7 g sugar per serving

This cinnamon flavored whole grain cereal from Kashi is a fan-favorite among adults and kids alike. Not only is it delicious (if your kids like cinnamon, of course) but it also packs 5 g of fiber and comes in just shy of our 6 g mark for sugar.

Parents say this cereal doesn’t get soggy easily and that it’s just the right amount of sweetness to keep kids interested. Plus, Kashi is one of the most affordable organic brands on the market.

Best high-protein cereal

Three Wishes Honey

  • Price: $$
  • Pros: vegan, gluten-free, low in sugar, high in plant-based protein
  • Cons: expensive, dense texture, not super high in fiber
  • Basic nutrition facts: 130 calories, 2 g fat, 8 g protein, 3 g fiber, and 3 g sugar per serving

Another offering from Three Wishes, this crunchy O-shaped cereal is a higher protein, lower sugar alternative to the ever-popular Honey Nut Cheerios. They’re grain-free, vegan, kosher, non-GMO, and use plant proteins from chickpeas and peas.

Worth noting: Parents said this cereal doesn’t have the nutty flavor of its competitor and may be too dense and hard to chew for younger toddlers.

Despite the dense texture, it’s actually not all that high in fiber. Some people also don’t tolerate plant protein as well as animal sources of protein.

However, if you’re following a vegan diet or looking for a healthier honey-flavored cereal, this is a great choice.

Best hot cereal

Quaker High Fiber Instant Oatmeal Maple & Brown Sugar

  • Price: $
  • Pros: warm cereal option for cold days, easy for young children to eat, very high fiber, convenient packets
  • Cons: only eight packets per box, a bit high in sugar for this list (although not compared to many children cereal options)
  • Basic nutrition facts: 150 calories, 2 g fat, 4 g protein, 10 g fiber, and 7 g sugar per serving

Oatmeal in general is a great option for a high-fiber, low-sugar breakfast. And hot cereal is great for chilly winter mornings, or for babies and toddlers who still have a harder time chewing crunchy cereals.

These high-fiber instant oatmeal packets from Quaker have a whopping 10 g of fiber per serving, which makes them the fiber champ on our list.

They do have 7 g of sugar, and are sweetened with monk fruit to keep the sugar content lower than many other children cereal options.

The packets are convenient for busy mornings, and adding milk will help cool the oatmeal to a kid-friendly temp.

Best not-a-kid-cereal

General Mills Wheat Chex

  • Price: $
  • Pros: pleasant texture and nutty flavor, high fiber and high protein, fortified with a lot of vitamins and minerals, affordable
  • Cons: may not be sweet enough to tempt some kids, not gluten free (contains wheat)
  • Basic nutrition facts: 210 calories, 1 g fat, 6 g protein, 8 g fiber, and 6 g sugar per serving

A longtime classic from General Mills, Wheat Chex excels when it comes to natural sources of fiber and protein.

It has a light, crunchy texture from the wheat, rather than the grainy or cardboard-y feel of some high fiber cereals.

It packs a solid 8 g of fiber per serving. It also has 6 g of protein, and 6 g of sugar. While that’s not a negligible amount of sugar, it’s pretty good when you’re looking for breakfast cereals kids like.

Wheat Chex also make a great dry snack, or an ingredient in a healthier snack mix. It’s widely available and relatively affordable.

It’s worth noting that, as per the name, this cereal contains wheat, so it’s not a gluten-free option.

Best high fiber cold cereal

Cascadian Farm Organic Hearty Morning Fiber Cereal

  • Price: $
  • Pros: very high fiber, organic, produced with sustainable farming practices
  • Cons: high sugar, texture may be hard for some children
  • Basic nutrition facts: 220 calories, 3.5 g fat, 6 g protein, 10 g fiber, 10 g sugar

This hearty, multi-textured cereal from Cascadian Farm Organic is sweet and satisfying.

With wheat flakes, bran sticks, and granola, it packs in 10 g of fiber. It does, however, have 10 g of sugar per serving, which is 4 g more than our 6 g mark for sugar.

Yes, high fiber, higher sugar foods are better for balanced blood sugar than foods with the same amount of sugar but low fiber. But, if you’re watching overall sugar intake for your child, it’s something to be aware of.

Best dessert-type cereal

Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins

  • Price: $ (sold as a 4-pack on Amazon, available individually at stores such as Whole Foods)
  • Pros: super tasty, kid-approved, lower sugar than some children cereals, fun box that appeals to kids
  • Cons: higher sugar than our other options, lower fiber than our other options
  • Basic nutrition facts: 160 calories, 2.5 g fat, 3 g protein, 2 g fiber, and 9 g sugar per serving

While Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins have a little more sugar than we’d prefer (at 9 g per serving), these delicious, crunchy squares are a big-time kid favorite. So, we couldn’t resist adding them to the list as a healthy-ish option.

Peanut Butter Puffins have 2 g of fiber per serving and 3 g of protein. The ingredients are non-GMO, vegan, kosher, and free of artificial stuff. These also make a tasty, healthier option for dessert! And, kids love reading the puffin fun facts on the back of the box during breakfast.

A reminder that this product contains real peanuts! Be mindful of children who have sensitive peanut allergies.

NamePriceProtein per serving (grams)Sugar per serving (grams)Fiber per serving (grams)
Three Wishes Cinnamon$$833
Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes$$547
Cascadian Farm Organic Cashew Coconut Granola$574
General Mills Cheerios$524
Kashi Heart-to-Heart Oat Cereal — Organic Warm Cinnamon$475
Three Wishes Honey$$833
Quaker High Fiber Instant Oatmeal — Maple & Brown Sugar$4710
General Mills Wheat Chex$668
Cascadian Farm Organic Hearty Morning Fiber Cereal$61010
Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins$ (sold as a 4-pack on Amazon; can find individually in stores like Whole Foods)392

While it’s very natural to experience decision-fatigue as a parent, healthy eating is an area that will pay big dividends in the long run for you and your kiddos! When blitzing through the cereal aisle (or better yet, ordering groceries online in your PJs), here are a few key things to look for:

  • Is one of the first three ingredients in this cereal a whole grain? Whole grains provide fiber, complex fats, and complex carbohydrates that are great for kids’ energy levels, digestion, and metabolism.
  • How much sugar is in this cereal? Is it sugar from a natural source like fruit, or is it added/refined sugar that will spike your kiddo’s blood sugar and cause a crash?
  • How much fiber is in this cereal? The more fiber, the better! It’s great for gut health, balancing blood sugars, and feeling satisfied after a meal.
  • Does this cereal have any protein? Milk is a great source of protein (and you can add yogurt on top of cereal for another protein boost). But it doesn’t hurt if the cereal has a little bit of protein all on its own.

What type of cereal is best for weight loss?

If you’re concerned that your child may be overweight, you should have a conversation with your pediatrician.

There are positive ways to help your child maintain a moderate weight and growth trajectory. Overly restrictive diets and obsessing over your child’s food intake can cause self-esteem issues and damage their relationship with food.

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels. Childhood obesity can lead to serious health risks that could shorten your child’s adult life, so it’s worth developing healthy habits early. Your pediatrician should have some great suggestions for how to do this in a positive way.

The best cereals for maintaining a moderate weight will be high in fiber and low in added sugar. Portion size is also worth noting. You can use a measuring cup to see how much cereal you’re actually pouring out each morning.

Is it healthy for my child to eat cereal every day?

Yes! Cereal can be a great start to the day for kids, who are energy depleted after a (hopefully) long night of sleep. The key is to choose a cereal that’s rich in whole grains, high in fiber, low in sugar, and to top it with milk, yogurt, or fruit for even more nutritional value.

What type of milk should I use for cereal?

For children under 1 year, breastmilk or formula is recommended. For children 1 to 2 years, whole milk is recommended by the Association of American Family Physicians, as plenty of healthy fats are important for neurological development. After the age of 2, you can switch to 1 percent or nonfat milk on your child’s cereal.

It takes a lot of diligence on your end to stay within the recommended daily amount of added sugars.

But if you can keep your kiddo’s breakfast cereal low in sugar, you’re already starting their day on the right track.

Plenty of fiber in their cereal will also help moderate the rise in blood sugar, which in turn helps prevent a sugar crash later. Fiber is also great for gut health, and helps your child feel full until the next meal.

Adding a boost of healthy protein, fats, and fiber to your kid’s breakfast cereal can make their meal even more satisfying and nutritious. Try sprinkling cereal with sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseed, or hemp hearts for an extra dose of nutrients, plus an added crunch!

With the right ingredients, cereal can actually be an easy breakfast or snack option that’s rich in whole grains, fiber, and protein. We hope this list helps next time you’re in the cereal aisle or fixing breakfast on the run.