Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Would You Feed Your Child a Twinkie for Breakfast?

December 9th, 2011 · 31 Comments · Food for Thought

News flash! Kids’ cereal has lots of sugar in it, and – are you ready for this? It may not be good for you.

kids' cereal has too much sugar

The Environmental Working Group released a study this week detailing the amounts of sugar in popular children’s cereals, noting that many of them have more sugar than a Twinkie. A Twinkie! Could they have chosen a more perfect icon for junk food? (photo source)

When I heard on Nightline that a shocking study turned up evidence that cereal (in all its whole grain goodness) may not be as healthy as we thought, I was waiting for something new and exciting, something I could really sink my teeth into. Imagine my disappointment when the study simply stated the obvious.

Yes, friends, children’s cereals, the pink, the marshmallowey, the frosted; the honeyed, the glazed, and the kinds where sugar is listed as the first or second ingredient, do, in fact, have a great deal of sugar in them. In fact, some are weighing in at over 50% sugar.

I think I missed my chance to be on Nightline.

By my figuring, my trusty calculator and I could have run some sugary numbers and written a study that announced to the world that cereal has too much sugar in it, and I might have even gone so far as to draw the conclusion that it’s not healthy for you. (Gasp!)

And I bet you could have done the same.

See, with the help of my feisty readers who petition General Mills to quit marketing junk cereals to kids, we already  knew cereal was bad for you.

The cereal companies, not surprisingly, do not agree.

Lisa Sutherland, vice president of Kellogg North America Nutrition, admits – with pride, of course – that, “Cereal with milk is a leading source of 10 nutrients in U.S. children’s diets.”  (source)

What I read in that sentence is that there are a great many children who are malnourished – not underfed, not low on the scales – but clearly not receiving real nutrients from the food that passes their lips, if cereal is their top source of nutrients. I hear nothing about the health benefits of cereal and everything about the poverty of diet we Americans are experiencing.

sugar and cereal EWG

Is cereal just a great way to get fruit into kids? (photo source)

Is EWG’s Study Wrong?

Don’t get me wrong here – certainly I’m poking some fun at the fact that this sugar thing is big news. It’s not. BUT I’m still thankful that the EWG brought the scrutiny of the public eye to the question of cereal, and their facts are sure to shock many.

Sure, Honey Smacks might not be a surprise as a cereal with more sugar than a Twinkie, but how about Wheaties Fuel? It was also on the worst offenders’ list, and that label sounds like it’s trying to be healthy, but clearly it fails (and not just because of the sugar).

Honey Nut Cheerios was another big name that I think folks think of as a “lightly sweetened” healthy cereal – often fed to children – and it made the list of “more sugar than 3 Chips Ahoy cookies.”

Sugar has no place in our morning meal, particularly not so much of it. And really, sugar is bad for you, all the time, so it has no place in any meal and possibly not even dessert. (But maybe we can get away with making Smart Sweets…)

Let us hope that the EWG’s efforts do bring a spotlight not only to the overload of sugar in the American child’s diet (and the adults’), but also to the lack of true nourishment these sometimes obese children are receiving.

Why is Cereal Bad for You Anyway?

report on kids cereal and sugar

(photo source)

We traditional foods folks, who know that cereal wasn’t eaten thousands of years ago or even 150 years ago, know that your best breakfast options aren’t going to be discovered by following the formula for the “right” cereal box.

Why not?

First, grains might not be so healthy for humans, period.

Second, whole grains have phytic acid, which, when not properly prepared, may be wreaking havoc on our digestive systems and pulling out the very nutrients we so desire to utilize.

Third, almost all cereals are extruded, a process that further damages the fats in whole grains, making them downright toxic. (Check about halfway down the post for what extrusion is and how it damages whole grains in cereal.)

Therefore, EWG’s only problem with their report is that after all their research, they still recommend cereal (about 10 out of the seemingly thousands available) as a healthy breakfast option.

So What Should we Eat for Breakfast?

bacon is good for you

(photo source)

The funniest part of the whole thing, in my opinion, was a line from Brian Williams on Nightline, loosely quoted:

“This report is making cereal look so bad it’s almost to the point where bacon sounds like a healthy breakfast in comparison!”

Yeah. Because bacon has the scarlet “X” on it from the health police.

But maybe bacon could be a healthy breakfast

What do you choose when seeking a healthy breakfast?

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Do something important today…read Kelly’s info on the Stieler’s horrendous lawsuit case with our local children’s hospital, which is making national news. She has compiled email and snail mail addresses for you to take action and stand up for parental medical rights! I’m holding out for some time in the car this weekend to type up some real letters and mail them with real stamps…

More on the Cereal Story
And Some Actual Healthy Breakfast Ideas…

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31 Comments so far ↓

  • Carrie via Facebook

    Twinkies, donuts, what’s the difference? Truly shocking…really?

  • Elizabeth via Facebook

    Fantastic! I’m just getting started on the whole foods movement, but this week my focus has been getting my family off of the simple carb-based breakfast. We’ve been having yogurt, fruit and scrambled eggs. I figured I had to start somewhere.

  • Jeni via Facebook

    that sounds like me. I just might.

  • Julie

    Yeah, I had to laugh when I saw that headline, too! It’s news that cereal has a ton of sugar in it?!

  • Heather @ Nourishing the Heart

    I just recently found out that I am somewhat low in Vitamin D. This is after changes to raw milk and away from cereal, among other things. I’d much rather make sure I’m eating more fish and egg yolks though than start drinking vitamin D fortified milk and bad-for-me cereal that has vitamins added into it! We had cereal around the house for awhile after changing to real foods since I needed quick breakfast options. Then I found out how they made cereal and how toxic it can be. Now we have homemade granola and oatmeal on mornings that need to be quick. I try to have protein and healthy fats with breakfasts on most mornings though since that establishes us better for the day.

  • Peggy

    Breakfast is my downfall. I REALLY have a hard time with breakfast. First, I am not a morning person and cooking first thing just gets me hurt (burns, cuts that require stitches, etc.)

    Then there’s the pickiness of the family. I can make eggs once a week…twice if I include bacon at least once. This one won’t eat muffins, that one won’t eat pancakes. Fortunately we are homeschoolers, so I don’t have to worry about sending the kids away from home on an empty stomach.

    And then there’s hubby. He gets horrible gas from grains (like granola and other homemade cereals even if they are soaked) but not from processed cereal. He won’t eat oatmeal and balks at anything that doesn’t “look” like breakfast. UGH!! He even has cereal for his late night snack on nights his insomnia flares up. And now that he needs to be low carb, we are up a real creek!

    Katie Reply:

    Peggy,
    Yowza…maybe for low carb you could make grain-free biscuits or muffins in advance and people could heat them up if they wanted? I’ve made a few with coconut flour that are yummy, and tons of eggs so very low carb. My pumpkin pancakes with coconut or almond flour are also low carb and gluten free; make in advance and reheat? Leftovers? Good luck to you; I feel your pain! Katie

    Peggy Reply:

    Revisiting this post after a couple years. Our situation has improved a little, but not much. Hubby will eat eggs every other day now, which is a huge relief. The kids are all teens and sleeping well past breakfast, so lunch is their usual first meal of the day. That actually improves the options! I was able to sneak some coconut flour muffins in once or twice before the kids said no more of that nonsense. I still love them! As they age, they are more likely to make their own breakfasts and not keeping cereal in the house is my best line of defense!

  • Stacy Makes Cents

    I have to admit, I was surprised that cereal had as much sugar as a Twinkie….yes, I knew it was full of sugar but I’m shocked at the amount. Good think we eat granola instead. :-)

  • Beth @ Turn 2 the Simple

    I make a large pan (9×13) of baked oatmeal — in soaks all night and then just pop the pan in the oven in the morning. Once cooked, spoon into a bowl and pour milk over the top. EASY! The best part is the leftovers will take care of a good portion of the rest of the week for breakfast — just like cold cereal. There is some sucanat in it but also healthy fats — butter, milk and eggs!

  • Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker

    I think very few Americans know how bad cereal is for us. It’s what I grew up eating for breakfast almost every day. :( I enjoy making homemade granola now (from Healthy Snacks to Go!). I am still really struggling with what to feed my 3 1/2-year-old for breakfast, who is currently GF/DF/egg free. It has been TOUGH. I will be honest: I sometimes feed her your black bean brownies for breakfast. ;) I figure–they are WAY better than cereal or typical cinnamon rolls, etc. some people eat! Plus, it gets a little protein in her–especially if we are about to go somewhere!

    She does love bacon, but we can’t afford to eat bacon (good bacon at least) every day of the week. I also make GF pancakes and have been experimenting w/ some muffins. I personally like scrambled eggs and yogurt and granola. I feed my 1-year-old what I eat.

    Maybe you could start marketing your brownies as a Twinkie alternate? ;)

  • Mama Eva

    We have come away from cereals as well. We do bacon, eggs, oatmeal, homemade granola, smoothies, homemade waffles and pancakes and air-popped popcorn with or without milk on top (like cereal). But now I have to find alternatives for lunch…… trying to come away from breads and most grains…..wish I could afford raw cheese….

  • Laurie :)

    We always eat fresh fruit first, then after at least a half hour, so it can get through the stomach and begin refreshing our body, we may eat a homemade muffin made with whole grain and flax, or yogurt with hommade granola. We homeschool, so are able to stretch this out more easily, but it could still be done if you wanted it to be done. Laurie :)

  • Laurie :)

    Yes, of course that’s home made, not hommade! : )

  • Beth

    I wrote General Mills and they wrote back telling me how healthy cereal is. =( We eat a mix of eggs, sausage, muffins, popeyes, egg burritos, soaked oatmeal (my kids love it with heavy cream), occasionally GF cereal (which I feel guilty about because of high heat processing), and Ezekiel cereal.

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  • Karen

    Just remember that good ol’ sunshine is an excellent source of vitamin D. Especially in the winter, it’s important to make sure those rays get on to some bare skin. If it’s too cold, wait until a ray of light shines through the window and take the time to sit in it. :)

  • Margaret

    Sugared cereals have always made me feel ill. Actually, I can’t eat anything that’s really sweet for breakfast without feeling nauseous.

    Breakfast without cereal is a problem in our house. My husband HATES eggs. Passionately. As in I can’t even cook them without the smell making him gag. He’ll eat a bit of oatmeal, but not without tons of added sugar. He insists on drowning pancakes, etc in syrup. The only thing he’ll for breakfast that isn’t overly sweetened is cereal. Not sweet cereal, but things that are still processed (toasted rice, wheat etc). I did do some research on extruded cereal, and found contradictory points. The process may destroy nutrients, but according so the studies I found, it apparently also destroys over 60% of the anti-nutrients in whole wheat, so while it may not be the most nutrient rich breakfast, I have decided that it’s likely not hurting him. And it’s better than the frosted stuff he used to eat. Baby-steps.
    But if anyone has any suggestions of savoury non-egg based breakfasty type meals that aren’t meat based (we can’t afford much meat), I’d be happy to hear them.

    sa'ada Reply:

    just look to the rest of the world. in the middle east breakfast is usually beans like hummus dip, falafels, stewed lentils or fava beans, or bean soup. you can also have yogurt or olive oil mixed with a spice mix like zatar or duqa. serve any of these with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, and cheese. and of course, bread.
    in japan i think miso is a common breakfast food. (and organic, properly fermented soy is a very healthy food.) use bone broth (from fish bones is best but use what you can get) cook some vegetables in the broth. mix the miso paste into a bit of the broth and then add the mixture into the soup. don’t bring back to a boil. (so, you don’t kill the enzymes. make sure to get unpasteurized miso or the enzymes are dead already.) actually, i just mix the paste in the bowls then add the soup.
    baked beans on toast with cheese on top is delicious. just stop thinking of ‘breakfast food’ and start thinking about ‘nourishing food’ no matter what time of day it is. or, especially in the morning.
    to get other ideas you can just pick a country and do a search. i searched ‘breakfast foods india’ and got this page http://www.indianfoodforever.com/indian-breakfast/
    you can do the same with any country that you’re interested in.
    the wikipedia page for breakfast is interesting also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast
    hope you can find something that will work for you!

    Margaret Reply:

    Thanks. He used to eat Lebanese pies regularly for breakfast, so I know he’ll eat those. We just moved to a new city without much of an Arab population, but while home for Christmas, I’ll see if I can pick up some zatar. He’s funny about what counts as breakfast, and won’t touch yogourt, so I’ve been frustrated.

  • Brooke

    I try as much as I can to make eggs or yogurt smoothies with fruit and veggies. Having a newborn more days then I would like to admit we do eat cereal, but since find Weston Price I do try to eat eggs more days the not

  • audrey

    My 6 year old and I LOVE oatmeal for breakfast. I’d eat every day with blueberries from my freezer. My problem is I have 4 picky teens. They balk at anything different. 2 are in college and their schedules are different every day of the week so they aren’t up for breakfast with the rest of us. very complicated. Any suggestions. for QUICK healthy breakfasts

    Katie Reply:

    Audrey,
    Sorry it took so long for me to get back to this – we moved, and life has been crazy….some ideas:
    yogurt with fruit
    homemade soaked granola with milk
    leftovers from dinner
    make pancakes ahead and freeze/reheat
    do they do eggs? hard-boiled?

    Good luck! :) Katie

  • 'Becca

    I totally agree with your assessment of the claim that cereal is one of American children’s best sources of nutrients–it says more about the low quality of the rest of their diet than about the healthfulness of cereal!

    By about third grade I had realized my mom was right about the simple-carb cereals like rice crispies and the sugary cereals–they would not sustain me through a whole morning and would cause a sugar crash. But I did eat those for snacks and dessert when she’d let us and then when I was in college and after…but my partner and I found as we got into our 30s that simple carbs don’t treat us so well anymore at any time of day.

    We had continued eating healthiER cereals as one of our breakfast and snack options, but then corn flakes got harder to find and more expensive (because of ethanol?) and then I learned what is sprayed on corn and we stopped buying it non-organic! That rules out Cheerios as well since they contain some corn along with oats. These days we routinely eat only Grapenuts and granola–not just any granola but low-sugar, all-natural, high-protein varieties–and raisin bran.

    I usually put yogurt rather than fluid milk on my cereal and add some fruit. That improves the nutrition and fillingness of the meal.

    We also eat a lot of oatmeal, eggs, and nutritious, filling quick bread. Black Bean Brownies for breakfast sounds pretty appealing, though!

  • Karen

    I read “More on the Cereal Story”. In one article they claim that cereal eaters weigh less than non cereal eaters. Although they do not specifically state that it is the kids who go unsupervised to the convenience store and buy whatever they feel like that are the non cereal eaters, those are actually the kids that had just previously been discussed. They would like people to assume they mean ALL kids who do not eat cereal for breakfast, but they did not specifically mention kids who had other forms of breakfast at home, just those who bought it on the way to school without parental input. They don’t want to draw attention to kids who eat healthy non cereal breakfast, and therefore do not mention them. So is a kid who eats Sugar Overdose Cereal with milk likely to weigh less than a kid who eats a bag of Cheetos with a Mars bar and a Coke? Probably. They want us to equate a non cereal breakfast to a Cheetos breakfast regardless of what the non cereal breakfast might consists of.

    The suggestion that a cereal breakfast could be improved by adding a hard boiled egg and whole fruit to the cereal breakfast as given in another article is a good one, except that the cereal could be eliminated from the improved breakfast and it would still be improved. If you feel grains are required, add anything whole grain, other than boxed cereal, and the nutritional value cannot help but blow the boxed cereal breakfast out the window, even by their standards.

    Marketing departments spend huge amounts of time working on the precise way to present information that will cause a majority of people to interperet it in a way most favourable to the marketer. They count on the consumer not to think the message through enough to discover what they are really saying as well as what they are avoiding saying.

    Katie Reply:

    I totally thought the same thing – an egg and fruit, great breakfast! Just leave the cardboard, ahem, I mean cereal, out! ;) Katie

  • Sarah

    Protein makes a healthy breakfast for me. If I eat sweets, I crash badly.

    I don’t really care for breakfast foods, so leftovers have often been my go-to breakfast. My girls, however, prefer real breakfast foods. Our favorites are scrambled eggs and steel cut oats. Most mornings, the 2, 4 & 6 year olds each eat two eggs, a slice of toast with peanut butter and a piece of fruit! A couple times a week we have steel cut oats with butter or cream and fruit sliced in it. I wish we could have bacon, but we keep kosher. My husband did bring home a significant amount of elk this year, so we have over 30 lb of elk sausage in our freezer. If we have pancakes or waffles, I cook some sausage for fat and protein to stabilize everyone’s blood sugar.

  • Peggy

    We are using a lot of coconut flour these days, and eggs to go with it. Last week we went through 6 dozen eggs! We have almond allergies, so the standard “flour” of low-carb and paleo adherents is out, too.

  • Kirsten

    I find it shocking now if I ever find myself in a typical grocery store the parents who tell their kids, “Go pick out what cereal you want.” Even when I bought cereals, I always bought Grapenuts, plain Cherrios, and plain Mini-Wheats (I honestly LOVED those!) and gave my toddler (before the other three were born) no choice. She ate what was served. Course, we did plenty of eggs and bacon then too, just not the good kind. I kinda miss the bacon; we’ve been pork-free now for 4 years…

    My mother, being a cardiac-RN, raised us low-fat as that’s what she was taught in school. It’s hard for her to see and hear what we do now but she sees the gorgeous children the God-given whole foods has given us.

    Funny to hear the stories of famiies who are picky eaters. We have a saying in our house.

    Kids: “Mom, what’s for dinner?”
    Mom: “Poke and Grits.”

    Translation: Poke your feet under the table and grit your teeth, this is what’s for dinner.

    It’s not my tummy that’ll growl all night, mine is satisfied and happy. My children have gone to bed more than once hungry. Oh. Well. ;-)

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I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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