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Cereal Is Like a Twinkie for Breakfast – Let’s Do Something About It!

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 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.

Your kids CAN make their own healthy breakfast!family in the kitchen making breakfast

Join the Kids Cook Real Food Weekend Challenge: Kids Master Breakfast and imagine your kids making breakfast independently! This is a live challenge with prizes and support but pro-filmed video lessons at your own pace. Truly the best of both worlds for busy families, and it starts THIS Saturday!

See, with the help of my feisty readers who petition General Mills to quit marketing junk cereals to kids (see below for more on that), 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 (Environmental Working Group) 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 this 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?

potato breakfast hash

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

Be an Advocate for Healthier Breakfasts

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to advocate for change. Make SOMETHING happen that you care about.

I’ve taken some time lately to write some letters, make some calls, and advocate for change. The examples I’m going to share are food and natural health related, but please know that I place a lot more importance on topics of faith and morals as a general rule.

I’ve written about that before, too, but I’ve had a bug in my bonnet about the medical issues when Jonathan was born and was encouraged by many readers to write letters. So I am.

  • After readers encouraged me on Facebook, I wrote a letter to Gymboree about the candy breaks in the sports class for my 3-year-old. The local manager cut that routine, all because of one email from me.
  • I wrote a letter to the hospital where I gave birth about the sugar water given as routine pain relief to my newborn. It’s posted here.
  • I called the labor and delivery floor to recommend they include prices when they offer medications to new mamas…so others can avoid paying out-of-pocket for things like $42 Dermaplast spray (for stitches) that runs about $5 at Walgreen’s. The nurse on call was shocked about the prices and really sounded like she might make some systemic change.
  • I also told my OBGYN that he might counsel his patients to bring their own spray and OTC pain medications like Tylenol or Motrin.
  • I’m working on a letter to the editor about the rampant health care costs in the nation and how I think what I talked about above is one of the big problems, encouraging others to avoid unnecessary medical spending (even if their insurance pays for it, because ultimately, we all do).

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

86 thoughts on “Cereal Is Like a Twinkie for Breakfast – Let’s Do Something About It!”

  1. Hi! How do you tell whether a cereal is made from extruded grains? Thanks! I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas!

    1. Hi Julie,

      An easy way is to look at the shape – brown rice krispies (I know Katie likes the Erewhon brand) are puffed cereal and as such look like a grain of rice. Compare that to Cheerios which are oat-based but not shaped like an oat 😉

  2. Like I stated before, we must educate and Katie does a great job at KS. I think educating the children is key. They are so impressionable. However, it can be difficult.
    I have been offering up different breakfasts for my kids for the last month to try and wean them off Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s going okay, however, I have unknowingly instilled fear and anxiety into my oldest son. He spend the night at grandma’s and was offered cereal for breakfast (she eats cereal EVERY DAY …). He told her he WANTED it, but he wasn’t supposed to have it. He got so anxious that he started to cry. She told him it was okay to have cereal and he said okay, “But please don’t tell my mommy.”
    Ugh. I feel like a food nazi.
    So…long story short…what I have done in the past and works AMAZING with my kids (they just GET it), is to use the God-made vs. Man-made tactic.
    Now, I don’t usually link to posts that I’ve done in a comment, but this explains it:
    Thank you Katie for all you do! I work with clients trying to become healthier, and I’ve suggested your soaking/sprouting posts and all your ebooks to them!
    God Bless

    1. Selena,
      Your strategy sounds awesome – but so sad about your son! I can see my kids doing that, if they didn’t LIKE the bad foods so, so much. 😉 Katie

  3. I understand your concerns with the proclamation by General Mills and appreciate your sentiments, I am glad that your family is able to avoid cereal for breakfast, they are very lucky to have a mom who cares so much about their well-being. I really do commend you for all of the work you put in to being a proactive parent in a world largely run by convenience.
    However, not all parents are able to afford healthful breakfast options, or have the time or skills to prepare the most ideal breakfasts for their children. These are the same children that are being subjected to substandard school meals and are suffering from obesity and other nutrition related health concerns. It is my personal opinion that a breakfast of corn flakes or chex with milk, and fruit when available, is a significantly better option than pre-packaged donuts or poptarts.
    Fruity Pebbles and similarly overly-sugared cereals are not the best choices, and General Mills should definitely do a better job of providing better options for families on a budget. But if a bowl of cereal for breakfast is the worst thing some kids eat all day, I think they’re doing pretty good.

  4. SERIOUSLY??!! Cereal doesn’t even remotely resemble any food item found in nature. It’s so processed and artificial looking. I’m so happy I start out my day with whole foods for breakfast.

  5. Don’t have time to read through all the comments, but just wanted to say:

    1) not all children are lucky enough to have a mom like the author; there are lots of children in America who struggle to survive every day, whose parents are on drugs, who don’t even eat breakfast and who wonder where their next meal will come from; I’d say sweetened cereal is better than nothing for a child with more to worry about than we can possibly understand.

    2) if the government wants to change things, they should start in the public schools instead of targeting corporations; public school meals are atrocious and if the beauracrats weren’t such hypocrites they’d offer more fresh fruits and veggies, whole milk, yogurt, pastured scrambled eggs and sausage, etc. They’d also take the vending machines out of the schools.

    3) the author’s response letter was entertaining to me but as Amy stated, it makes us look like crazies.

    Hope to get a chance to read the rest of the comments, and I did really enoy this post because it was so thought-provoking.

  6. This site is by far my favorite amongst the many real food blogs to which I subscribe. A person’s (family’s) journey to real food obviously varies from one person to the next. It has taken my family a year and half to get to the point we are now and we are far from 100% real food. But I have noticed that the more we immerse ourselves into real food, the more we become convinced that it is the “best” way to eat. We feel SO much better than EVER before! So of course that comes across in our conversations and in our lives. We live in a town of 12oo people. We don’t have the comfort of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people. I know that I have come across as holier-than-thou on a number of occasions. I have never intended that (who would). But when you are convinced of something, much like the gospel of Jesus Christ, you are going to offend more often than not. However, I have also had the joy of seeing people change their eating habits and experience the same thing we have, more energy, improved health and just feeling better in general! And isn’t that what KS is all about? Teaching people to understand the truth behind food and how to incorporate change in our lives? I know it has made a huge difference in our lives!

    I am a working mother of two. My husband and I own and run a coffee shop/film lab/bicycle repair shop. I work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 1:00 on Saturday and my kids come with every day. I try to feed my family as much real food as possible. I am fully aware of how much more difficult I have made my life by making the choice to eat real food and often wonder if it is really worth it…until I think about how I felt before we ate this way and how much less energy I had. I definitely accomplish more in one day than before, when I would completely wilt at the end of the day (and that was with one child!). My point is this, we do not generate a lot of money running our business in a town of 1200. To many we would be considered poor. Yet we are able to find healthier options and being crunched for time I am able to put at least one good meal on the table each day. And for the rest of it we are able to eat and snack on mostly real food. Yes, I have educated myself on this subject where many would not even think to do so. Perhaps this is where we need to start, with the people in our own communities or even low income communities near you to encourage change. How many people would object to a real food cooking class? I would think most would be exited about it! Who doesn’t love a pampered chef cooking demonstration? Same idea different product! I have been frustrated with what seems like a giant task of convincing the “people in charge” that the laws they are passing are only making matters worse. It seems impossible to me. However, convincing the real people that surround us daily, not so impossible. Don’t you think?

    1. It’s encouraging to hear your take on real food and people, as I also come from a small community (although several times bigger than yours.) It’s been hard to find support and make changes, both in food and other household products with so few like minded people, and in such an isolated area (I live in Alaska.) I’ve pondered on starting a ‘Real Food Outreach’ of sorts, to teach people the truth about food, to show just how doable it can be, and to create community, because lets face it, everything is easier when we work in/with a community, especially of like minded individuals. I know having the KS community has helped me, how much more a real-life, face to face one? Sorry to have blabbed on for so long 🙂

      1. Casey,
        You thought this was long? You read my posts, right? 😉 I think your goal sounds fabulous – go for it!! 🙂 Katie

  7. Advertising does have a big impact on children.

    Of course they will want to advertise their product to improve their bottom line. It’s up to us to make informed choices for our families regarding not only food, but also screen time – and to help our children learn and apply critical thinking skills. Advocating for others makes sense too since not everyone has the time, resources or inclination to delve into this subject.

  8. Laura Bangerter

    Not eating cereal was a life changing event for me. I went from having severe blood sugar drops 3 hrs after breakfast that left me on the verge of fainting and very grumpy and angry , to no longer suffering those debilitating effects and being able to last 4 – 7 hrs without eating if necessary. I now eat eggs and a homemade unsweetened smoothie for breakfast and have never felt better.

  9. Every cereal commercial I can remember watching has always said that the cereal is “PART of a complete breakfast.” Usually with eggs and fruit and toast pictured too. Take out the cereal, and you’d still have a complete breakfast.

  10. yep, we don’t have the weapons to fight this war. also, it’s just depending on others to make the changes that we want.

  11. For Pete’s sake, people! I think all of this overreaction to the sarcasm in the letter is ridiculous.
    For those of you that believe in the Bible, start with Job 38, and read each and every one of the extremely sarcastic things God says to Job. There is no evil in sarcasm. It’s an extremely effective tool of communication. It gets the point across, and sometimes it’s entirely neccessary. This man from GM was LYING about his company and his products. He needed a good tongue-lashing, and he got it. Forgive me for thinking that a man partly responsible for the systematic poisoning of America needs to be taken down a peg or two. There are millions of lives at stake here, and this company is covering up all of the horrible things their food is doing to people. I actually think she was quite fair in her treatment of this man.

  12. Lindsey via Facebook

    I found it a little interesting that I got a call this evening from Focus Market research and the woman began to ask me, “Which of the following cold cereals have you purchased for your kids in the last 6 months?” She said the first one and I told her I could save her some time…we don’t buy any. 😉

  13. I wonder if the tone of some of the responses would have been different if this were a letter from a cigarette company touting the fact that 3 out of 4 recommend Lucky Strikes.

    As consumers we were able to make the cigarette companies change their ways. Sure cigarettes are a lot more harmful than consuming cereal, but by how much? Childhood obesity is running amok in our country. Now more than ever children are dying before their parents and it has everything to do with what they eat. My take on this letter is that it’s not meant to chide parents on feeding their children cereal; I think it’s meant to force big businesses, the ones who tell us just how nutritious their food is, to be held accountable for the product they sell. Just like cigarette companies were forced to be accountable for the products they sell. Wouldn’t it be more helpful if companies were asked to put the truth on their prepared foods, like stating that studies have proven that the consumption of too much sugar can call lifelong illnesses? Then parents, whether on a budget or not, whether part of the real foods lifestyle or not, can make their own choices about the things they buy. Knowledge is power. But that knowledge is mute if people don’t spread it. Maybe letters from all of us will cause a company as large as GM to take some of the large advertising budgets and spend them on nutrition education in schools. Or conducting third party research on the effects of their cereals on health. Of course that’s never going to happen, but there was a time when warnings weren’t on cigarette packages.

    Sure the reply letter is dripping with sarcasm, but as a mom reading the GM letter, I’m getting an underlying tone of condescension from GM. But that could just be my reaction.

    I just don’t see families on a budget being able to afford the overpriced cereals that are sold by GM, unless we’re talking about their no-name brands. But still, I agree that a bag of old fashioned oatmeal is much cheaper and feeds a lot more people than a box of cereal. (Ever notice how much less cereal is now in those boxes?)

    I think Katie’s point is, stand up and take action. Your voice is important. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a sarcastic letter, but it should take form. It’ll make people in large corporations take notice.

  14. Without commenting on actual content I will tell you that a straightforward letter will get far more attention than one laced with rudeness and sarcasm. I would be ashamed to write a letter like that, if for no reason other than that I teach my children to treat other people with respect. Shouldn’t I do the same?
    I think it’s a terrible example to be honest . . .

  15. Wow! That was really sarcastic! Don’t let little people make you small. Of course they are going to defend their products–its their life blood. We need to just educate and do what we know it right–if you must send letters, stay professional. By the way–eating healthy does not have to be expensive–don’t buy the processed “health” food, start with the real stuff! Buy in bulk. Blessings, Laurie 🙂

  16. What a fantastic letter!!! Seriously, I think the writer did an amazing job of setting him straight. I was completely appalled by the manager’s response letter. Does he honestly feel that his cereal’s are healthier than fruit, vegetables, organic milk, grass fed meet, etc. I am in my 40’s and have several friends who are struggling with serious obesity because they started their young years eating these types of sugar laden cereals. Now as adults they have serious sugar addiction issues, and as a result a multitude of health issues including obesity. Apparently General Mills is aware that the majority of consumers are sheep who will blindly follow what ever our FDA says is good for us. This is a sad state of affairs for the US. We will only increase our numbers of cancer, and other serious diseases if we continue to trust what the FDA says.
    All this to say, good for the author for speaking up. Wished I had done it myself!!!

  17. I think writing letters is good, but I don’t think the sarcastic tone helps anything. It really bugs me that she said ‘I had no idea that your cereal is the healthiest breakfast option I can make for my family.’, because I can’t find where he said that. I can see where he said ‘Cereal is one of the healthiest breakfast choices you can make.’. Maybe I am just missing it. I’m afraid that I’ll get flamed for saying so, but I’m also kind of disappointed in what seems to be a bit of ‘holier than thou’ coming through in some posts, and I don’t really think Katie is like that. It is so hard to express yourself when you only have the written word. Facial and vocal expression is so important in completely understanding another. As far as cereal makers, I definitely believe they are most interested in the bottom line (money), but I do also think that it’s possible to encourage change. I just don’t personally like sarcasm as a method to do this.

  18. I loved reading this letter. If nothing else it will stand out from the rest of the form letters those big business men read. Maybe they’ll think twice. It probably won’t affect any outcomes, but what is one letter from one (non)consumer?

    Writing this letter is more time and effort than many of us would put forth, so I commend the author.

    Also, I got a good giggle out of it. 🙂

  19. She didn’t write the response letter to GM, and she mentions that she wouldn’t have written such a letter in a sarcastic tone….But I would’ve. 🙂
    I sensed no holier-than-thou attitude though…Just a call to make our voices heard. And I have to admit, I eat more junk than just about anyone. (I haven’t begun my real food transition yet.)

  20. Over the past month I have been thinking about taking KS out of my feed reader and canceling the newsletter- because of posts like this.

    KS used to be about balance and baby steps. Now it is sarcasm, snarkyness, and a holier-than-thou attitude for anyone that doesn’t fully have a 100% whole foods lifestyle. (With occasional misinformation to boot – i.e. Fruity Pebbles are made by Post, not General Mills)

    Perhaps it is time for me to write my own letter to Katie’s sponsors and boycott products that fund such posts.

    1. Did you see that Katie didn’t write this letter? She even commented about how she felt the sarcasm might have been over the top. She simply posted a reader’s email communication because of today’s Monday Mission. Maybe reread the post in light of this information?

      1. The letter being sent, or not sent is not the issue. I am commenting on the general attitude of recent posts – including this one.

    2. Julie,
      I’m glad I got to respond to some of the other comments with a joyful heart before I reached yours. I do hope that my comments above still extend the KS mission of balance, and if I’m falling too far off the teeter totter, I’m happy to have that pointed out – so thanks for starting at the source before emailing my sponsors. Feel free to email if you’d like to continue the conversation. –Katie

      1. Aw, Katie, I for one am loving your site more and more! It has so much helpful information in making the transition to real food. Keep it up!

        P.S. I loved the letter in reply to GM. Sure, sarcastic and snarky but also to the point. And yes, he does have a right to defend the company’s product…but lying to consumers….so not cool

  21. What scares me the most is that that man probably BELIEVES what he is saying! It has been just under a year since I was introduced to “real” foods, and I’m horrified by what I used to think was healthy. Never, though, was I deluded enough to try to claim that my Cocoa Puffs were “healthy” or “cheap”!! Have you seen how much a box of that junk costs, lately?! 🙂 Let’s all keep sharing healthy and affordable recipes and ideas with each other, and with all of the people who still don’t know.

  22. I have two minds about this issue. I certainly believe that whole, real foods are the best way to eat. However, it is unrealistic to think we can completely change the beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and actions of the consumers, corporations, and government overnight. So, it is best to take a stand on the BEST way to eat nutritiously or is it best to work to work toward helping consumers, corporation and the government take baby steps toward better food choices? There are different levels of bad and a bowl of Cheerios certainly beats a PopTart. If I were a mom sending my child out the door with a PopTart each morning, it would be easier for me to take the step of changing to Cheerios than making homemade yogurt from raw milk or an omelet made with locally sourced fresh eggs. Once PopTarts are gone from the diet, the move from cheerios to steel cut oats doesn’t seem so tough. I guess my point is, let’s fight for some reasonable improvements, one step at a time.

  23. “Despite the characterizations used to advance them, the IWG guidelines would not be voluntary, in our view. The IWG guidelines are advanced by two of the agencies most responsible for regulating the food industry, as well as the agency most responsible for regulating advertising. Ignoring their “voluntary guidance” would not be an option for most companies. Regulation has already been threatened (even demanded) should companies choose not to comply – and litigation would inevitably follow. ”

    I used to eat boxed cereal thinking it was healthy. Then about 10 months ago started the process of transforming our eating to a “real foods” diet. I got to the place of making 95% of our food from scratch by educating myself. Not through regulation of business by the government. If the public is made aware of the dangers of processed foods they will self-regulate the food industry by refusing to purchase unhealthy products. If processed items are no longer profitable the food industry will change its methods to produce what consumers want to buy. If people are concerned about the influence of marketing/commercials during cartoons they can turn off the t.v. and take their kids outside to play. Educate your children yourselves on the dangers of sugar and processed grains. We can spread the message of a “whole foods” diet ourselves to friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, I think we as a country have become far to reliant on the government to tell us how to raise our families in a healthy way. I personally believe it would be far more effective for consumers to lobby manufactures or producers of food directly than to go through the government/government agencies. We should and must be advocates for ourselves and our families. I alone am responsible for the food that I feed my family.

    When we start asking the government to come in with more regulation where will it stop? The government believes that a high fat diet is dangerous. Perhaps they will follow in Denmark’s footsteps and impose a $1 a pound tax on high fat foods such as milk, cheese and butter. This is what we can expect when we ask the government to intervene. Regulation is a slippery slope and we might find it has unintended consequences.

    1. Exactly. Just stop and have a look at how many things the government already controls. Do you approve of how it is done? Would you if your circumstances were a little different? Would you like even more aspects of your life under the control of people like those in the IRS department?

      Writing letters to the companies just justifies the job of people like Mr Whoever in the example. I’d rather not keep him in an executive position, thanks all the same.

      I agree that boycotts are really the only thing that work. If you DON’T buy it, it WILL go away.

    2. Ack! Tax on butter? Noooooooooo! 😉

      Your “ground up” philosophy really is right on the mark – we speak volumes more with our dollars (and teaching others what to do with their dollars) then any millions of letters to General Mills.

      Now to consider how I might be an educator about food…offline, I mean. 😉

  24. Oh yeah! And I’m sick of the advertising! We started watching DVR only so we could skip the ads, now we have moved on to no cable. Because of advertising, my son thinks life is a big party with hot girls and beer. I know that is not food related, but 10 years ago it was who had what toy with the kids meal.

  25. I loved the letter! Rolled oats can cost $.69 a pound in bulk, and only takes about 5 minutes to prepare. As far as breakfast goes, it doesn’t get any easier.

  26. I’m of the belief that we need to stop wasting our time fighting big corps and their advertising ploys. It’s not going to get us anywhere. Your time and efforts would be better spent endorsing programs and free nutrition classes to poverty-stricken families “who don’t know any better”. Help people help themselves. Help people develop a food filter and learn economical ways to eat healthier. Once they do, they’ll stop buying the crap. And if enough people stop buying the crap….big food biz won’t make it anymore. While I appreciate your intentions and efforts, I’m afraid they are fruitless. Keep fighting the good fight, but perhaps do it in a way that would be more beneficial and help the source of the issue — the naive consumer.

    1. yep, we don’t have the weapons to fight this war. also, it’s just depending on others to make the changes that we want.

  27. According to this article on the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website:
    It is literally more nutritious to eat the box than it is to eat the cereal. The rats in the experiment who ate cereal died before the rats eating just the box. Extruded cereals are no joke, my friends. They are dangerous, polluted, and toxic. They are way worse than snack cakes and potato chips.

    1. I have seen this story all over, but never the ORIGINAL source. It ALWYS goes back to Paul Stitt and his anecdotal evidence. Obviously, Mr. Stitt’s 1993 book can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be the original source.

      Can anyone please point me in the direction of an actual study/science done on extruded cereal? I would really appreciate it- I’ve been looking for it for about a year now.

    2. Thank you for this! I’ve been trying to convince my husband that honey nut cheerios should NOT be allowed daily in our home. I struggle…and I’m a health counselor! You think he would listen. Anyway, this is some great commenting!

      I agree that it is the education that is lacking. Unfortunately, television is NOT educating anyone.on.anything!

  28. Brandis via Facebook

    I think the sarcasm was a bit much, however I can empathize with her reasoning behind reacting that way. The way consumers are treated by big business- as brainless, faceless wallets- is infuriating, and it’s hard not to react that way. And I also don’t agree with the “cereal is better than ___” argument. It’s not better, and it’s not more affordable than oatmeal, plain yogurt, or eggs with toast. All of which are easy to make and fast. Cereal is usually $5 a box. What do you get- 8 servings? Only one serving is nowhere near enough to fill up even a two year old. So you really get like 4 servings in a box, which is over a dollar per. If you’re buying bargain whole grain bread and conventional store eggs (as I would assume someone living at poverty level would) two pieces of toast and an egg comes in at .45, and is far more filling. It is the advertising that makes people think cereal is healthy and economical… and it’s all crap. But I think all advertising is immoral since I also believe that 80% of people aren’t smart enough to think for themselves…

  29. And here’s where my libertarian leanings overshadow food advocacy.

    Cereal is not an illegal or inherently dangerous product. Therefore, I do not think our government has any business telling them how or when they may advertise.

    The problem is NOT a Count Chocula commercial. The problem is inadequate nutrition education for kids and parents. Fixing that education gap and teaching the life skill of how to read a label, prepare nutrient dense food, etc. would go a long way towards creating a healthier future. The letter from GM itself contains nutrition fallacies- that “lower calorie” equals “healthier”.

    The other problem is consumers who can’t differentiate between hype and common sense- most don’t take a critical look at marketing and PR campaigns. We need a class on “Marketing Cynicism” in high schools. Right after the class on “How to feed your self without a microwave, Life Skills 101.”

    IMO energy is better spent agitating for change in our education system and for food policy. Even better than a sarcastic email to GM? A well thought out letter to the members of the ag committee on how reducing the corn subsidy for HFCS would affect healthy food in America.

    1. Can I just click “LIKE” on your last few paragraphs here?

      And my old high school just discontinued Home Ec, but still teaches “Keyboarding” – on computers – with old typing textbooks. Oh, the practical life skills that most high schoolers are lacking!

  30. Beth via Facebook

    I was equally dismayed by some of the comments on the blog post. Just goes to show what a great ball of spin we’ve been tossed when even those who confess a belief in real food still defend the junk as suitable for the less fortunate.

  31. I disagree with the “it’s better than nothing” defense of cereal. It’s really not. It is so nutrient deficient from the various processes, including extrusion, as to be little more than filler, might as well eat the box too. When you factor in the anti-nutrients and the gut-destroying gluten from GMO grains, boxed cereal loses it’s innocent persona.
    It’s obviously a fabulously successful advertising campaign though because even many proclaiming a belief in eating real food still believe cereal can be considered as food for the poor and disadvantaged.

    1. I still believe cereal is better than nothing if the alternative truly is nothing. Too many children are going hungry in our country due to lack of food. At the same time, too many children are undernourished regardless of how much “food” they have. Back to Katie’s original post and your point, the advertising claims are very misleading and misunderstood, but until the true majority demands change, education and awareness for the mainstream American audience is critical (e.g., Jamie Oliver’s show). I mean,we talk about it all the time-my daughter goes to school where parents think Little Debbie snack cakes are appropriate for afternoon snack! So I’m peru sure the majority think nothing of cereal…

      1. Education is very necessary. For the cost of a box of cereal, which will barely feed a family of 4 one meal, you can get a bag of beans and another of rice, which will feed them several meals and fill them up. Plus give them protein along with all the fiber and vitamins. Throw the beans in a crockpot (or in the oven on low all day) and the rice on the stove for an hour, and you have a healthy, truely nutritious meal. Maybe a little bland, but *truely* better than nothing.

        Problem is, these days, many moms can barely boil water…

        1. Cory,
          I really appreciate how you challenged the notion of “better than nothing.” I think even our poor are slightly spoiled in our country, to the point that they can’t afford food, but still think they should be able to eat only things that taste good. Phooey. If a human was truly hungry, they’d eat plain beans and rice every day to stay alive.

          Again, free and reduced breakfasts at school for children…there’s where I should probably be writing letters, to the local school districts.
          🙂 Katie

          1. alright katie, you sound like you’re ready to join the black panthers. that’s how they started out.

            but don’t write letters. just do it.

            ask general mills to give a donation, buy real food, prepare it, and give it to kids in the morning before school. start out with once a week if you can. much more effective than writing letters.

          2. Hmmm…when I was writing that comment I actually was thinking about a newsletter I got about the poor in rural Mexico, who basically subsist on a diet of beans and rice, with some occasional pork thrown in. As do many around the world. Given how well my family can afford to eat (not without sacrifices elsewhere, mind you), “just eat beans and rice” does smack a little of “let them eat cake!” It certainly wasn’t meant in that way – simply an example of an option to cereal that is nearly as easy and just as cheap, but oodles more nutritious. A little salt, pepper, and sauteed zucchini and onions and you’ll have one of my favorite lunches!

            However, I do think your point is a good one, that we all need to reconsider what we are “entitled” to.

    2. while i whole-heartedly agree with you about cereal not being very nutritious, i also look at it like a stepping stone to better nutrition. unsweetened, whole grain cereal is certainly better than sweetened, colored, flavored counterparts and surely better than candy bars, cupcakes, etc. even if on a scientific level, when you factor in all the anti-nutritional factors (processing, gluten, etc) maybe okay it is lonly SLIGHTLY better, in my mind just getting the kids to eat something that maybe just superficially is more wholesome is a STEP in the RIGHT direction, you know what I mean? maybe it will be the step that gets them really making good food choices one day, from ho-ho’s to frosted wheat to cheerios to oatmeal to homemade yogurt to green smoothies ! 🙂
      i just hope and pray it is a stepping stone,,,,
      the fact that GM is so backwards to think of cereal as nutrient dense makes me laugh out loud. seriously?? coconut oil, greens, berries, sprouts, and cinnamon toast crunch are not in the same category 🙂

  32. By letting these companies continue to lie about the product they are producing does not do anyone any good, especially low income families. Cereal is not the cheapest product to be feeding your children. Take oatmeal for example is heaps cheaper and healthier than cereal. These companies should be held accountable for what they are making and marketing to the public. I know for one that when I first started my family I was foolish enough to believe what I read on those boxes, but because I have become better informed, I know better now. We would actually be considered a low income family and when we lived in America we received food stamps. It is not all that more expensive to eat healthy. Its expensive to eat organic.

    1. Cereal most certainly is NOT the cheapest, especially when you factor in milk at $3.50/gallon. Add that up vs. a couple of eggs (about a quarter). Or a bowl of oatmeal, assuming you skip the individual packets.

      What it is is convenient- no cooking necessary first thing in the morning. Kids can get it themselves.

    2. This was my sentiment exactly. As a family living on one (teacher’s) salary, we need to be wise in our spending just like the next family (sometimes more, but don’t worry, I wouldn’t change a thing). Breakfast at our house is eggs or oatmeal most days, neither of which puts much of a dent in our food budget, even though we pay 2-3x more for our eggs to be soy-free, pastured and farm fresh. Even a switch from cereal to store-bought eggs would be a step in the right direction nutritionally and those eggs are usually less than $2/dozen.

      And we cannot forget that we can choose to spend our money on our food or we can choose to spend our money on our healthcare. Pay your farmer or pay your doctor for the resultant slew of maladies that come from a diet of cheap, processed foods. I do realize how difficult this is since insurance covers some of these medical “solutions”, especially for those who are struggling financially and are then on medical assistance. But they still “pay” in terms of living in failing, non-exuberant health. Again, a tough balance and hard decision to make, but still worthy to note what you trade when you try to save money on food that doesn’t truly nourish.

  33. I agree that this type of letter accomplishes nothing and may even have a negative impact. I also agree that cereal is healthier than many convenience foods.

    That said: I’m not well-informed about the IWG guidelines, but what I would like to see happen is a ban on advertising sweetened cereals to children and a ban on serving sweetened cereals in school breakfasts. Imagine if the only Cheerios ads on Saturday morning TV were for plain Cheerios. The other flavors would be there in the stores, but kids who don’t accompany their parents to the store wouldn’t see them, so there’d be less whining for Honey Nut or Chocolate Cheerios. I recently saw a study finding that kids served unsweetened cereal were more likely to choose to eat fruit with it than kids served sweetened cereal, so there could be nutritional benefits beyond just avoiding the refined sugar–in households where there IS fruit available.

    A couple things from GM’s letter made me roll my eyes:
    Eating cereal also has the added benefit of promoting milk consumption. Forty-one percent of the milk children consume is with cereal – and the figure is even higher for African American and Hispanic children.

    African American and Hispanic children are more likely to be lactose intolerant than white children. So that may not be doing them any favors. In fact, they’re probably absorbing fewer nutrients from their cereal BECAUSE they eat it with milk which upsets their digestion.

    The list of “banned” items under the guidelines would include essentially all cereals, salads, whole wheat bread, yogurt, canned vegetables, and a host of other items universally recognized as healthy.

    It does sound like the guidelines might be too strict. But since when are canned vegetables “universally recognized as healthy”? Any mainstream magazine article discussing vegetable nutrition is likely to mention that most canned vegs are much less nutritious than their frozen or fresh counterparts! It’s pretty common knowledge these days.

    Importantly, this is true of both unsweetened cereals and sweetened cereals, because both tend to have roughly equal numbers of calories per serving – most being about 120 calories per serving – whether sweetened or not.

    In other words, in their sweetened cereals, calories of nutrition have been replaced with calories of sugar!!!

    They have a point that calories ought to be taken into some consideration in any guidelines aimed at preventing obesity. But number of calories in a food certainly isn’t the only factor affecting how fat it makes people.

    In fact, one of the main things that restricts my personal selection of cereals is that most of them “burn off” too fast. I need to eat a breakfast that keeps me feeling full until just before lunch! Not all calories are equal in staying power.

    1. Becca,
      You always have such wisdom to add! I love how you broke down GM’s letter – when I write to a company, that’s definitely how I’d choose to do it, as a teacher/educator, not a comic.

      Your points are all so sound (you must get more sleep than I do…). If I had to choose a favorite line from your note with which I wholeheartedly agree, it’s this one: “what I would like to see happen is a ban on advertising sweetened cereals to children and a ban on serving sweetened cereals in school breakfasts. ” Such good foundations for that!

      Thank you for bringing in the balance…
      🙂 Katie

      1. Aww, thanks!! I’m sure I do get more sleep than you do in general, since I don’t have an infant, but your comment made me laugh because I am experimenting this week with forcing myself into bed on time every other night and doing most of the housework on the nights between…and Sunday night was an on-time night, so I *was* better rested than usual! But probably the more relevant factor is that I wrote that comment at the end of my coffee break. 🙂

        Your correspondent’s letter doesn’t strike me as comic, really–it’s sarcastic but more in an angry way than a funny one. Anger only puts people on the defensive; it isn’t educational. Now, here is an example of a funny complaint letter, which actually resulted in the company recommending a competitor’s product!

  34. Pingback: Monday Mission | CourtLynn Street

  35. I was thinking the same thing – donuts, candy bars, etc. are what kids bring to school for lunch and eat for breakfast if they eat anything at all. It’s so sad.

  36. im afraid i have to agree with Larisa. while i do feel that real food is WAY better for our kids and our families, i also think that many families dont have the resources or the money and time to afford all of the healthier options out there. and it takes a bit of research to even know about all the options, the information is not nearly as readily available to the general public as it should be in my opionion. and when a family is reduced to a very minimal amount to spend on groceries to feed their family, sometimes they have to choose what they can afford financially vs. what they may like to prepare healthily. I myself do not make tons of money, and i am a single parent working full time, but i do try to take the time to educate myself about the importance of healthy, whole, unprocessed food, and find creative ways to afford to feed this to my family. its difficult at best, and one of the reason i love this website and others like it. kitchen stewardship helps me to find ways to prepare foods better, and not feel like the worst mom ever when i come off of a 12 hour day and its easier to grab fast food or make that box of macaroni or even a bowl of cereal rather than prepare a meal. however, theres always tomorrow, and every week we get a little closer to our healthy goals 🙂

  37. Amy @ Finer Things

    While I admire those who write the letters and make the phone calls, I do feel that letters like the one above don’t do us any good. That kind of hurtful, sarcastic communication only strengthens the *CRAZIES* label that advocates sometimes receive.

    Stating the facts as you know them in a concerned way would likely be better received and would, in turn, help the cause for ALL of us.

    Also, although we try hard to avoid cereal (we still probably eat it about once a week), I agree with Larisa. For those of us who are ABLE to feed our family real food, cereal is not a healthy option. But for many families who don’t have the facts or are unable to “do better,” I really don’t believe it’s the devil. Does that make me want to serve it to my family? Nope! But…still. Better than snack cakes and packaged muffins. I hope. 😉

    1. But Katie wasn’t writing to low income families to talk them out of feeding their kids cereal. The letter was addressed to a company that can and should do better. Any positive changes that GM makes can only benefit low income families who truly are just struggling to feed their kids anything. And if standing up for what is right gets me labeled “crazy” too, then sign me up.

      1. I have to add…For me, standing up to companies like GM is a way to stand up for the poor and those who don’t know how corrupt these companies are. I don’t think it is a fair argument to say that poor families can’t do any better and we should just let things be. How will change ever happen if we (who know about good nutrition and have resources) do not stand up and stand together? This is NOT about making anyone feel guilt about what they feed their family…it IS about letting companies know that we demand better answers and more honest advertising. Thanks for letting me share!

        1. Sarah, I totally agree that letting things be is not the answer, it’s just a question of what can/will be changed first? And while I can see why the response from GM isn’t what we necessarily want them to say, expecting them to say immediately that they will change XYZ is unfortunately much more complicated due to many reasons, none of which we have to like, but the reality is important to understand. There are many things that have to change and many voices are needed in order to effect that change. Discourse and engagement is an important step — without it, change will not happen. At least there is that step here, which anyone can and should respond to and see if GM continues the conversation past a form letter. And if they don’t? They should be called on it. That is where change begins to happen. And I feel responsibke fir hijacking Katie’s post, sine I steered the conversation to the point about families that aren’t as able, informed or what have you to do all the great types of things that Katie’s blog is meant to inspire, but the specific response is where so many of us consumers fail to get corporate attention. We need a long and wide view in order to best argue our points, because you can bet they’ve got a team of people on their side who are taking that view. (Even though in the end, it’s actually the more short-sighted view, but don’t let me digress again.) Thanks for the forum and conversation.

            1. Larisa,
              Happy to provide a forum – I actually love all this conversation! My real hope is that I don’t have to send a letter to General Mills…maybe with this little blog here, they’ll notice this post and actually open up a real line of communication like you mentioned. Then we can all have a voice – so keep commenting! You’re “live!” 😉 Katie

      2. and wasn’t this just an example of what Katie would like to send? Don’t we all think like that? “oh, blahblahblah would’ve been a good comeback,” though we would never actually say it.

      3. Amy @ Finer Things

        Oh, I’m not saying that she was writing to the low-income families at all, and I definitely think General Mills and other big companies NEED to hear from us, BUT… I don’t think they take snarky, sarcastic letters nearly as seriously as something else written politely, yet firmly.

        I just don’t think that being nasty is the best way to advocate for change, is all.

        1. damaged justice

          Their profits depend on ignoring the truth. They will continue to ignore it no matter how polite you are!

  38. I’m sorry, I’m going to go a little off-topic here so first, let me state that 1) I do believe that the real foods you point out are better than most cereals and 2) advertising, like everything else these days, seems to be overly targeting our kids with mixed and/or negative messages and 3) my career has been entirely in PR, so I also understand where this letter and your response are coming from. All I wanted to point out is that sadly for many kids, a bowl of even sweetened cereal would be better than what they’re getting. I know that audience isn’t necessarily who your blog is for, and I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good choice, but for so many less-informed, lower income families, it would be better than the snack cakes, snack bags and empty plates too many of our children are getting today. Until that problem is fixed, that is the message that corporate food product companies will continue to stand on-that they fill a void for families either not able or not willing to make better food decisions in a bad economy during this “war on obesity.” Just my observation.

    1. The Diaper Diaries

      this is exactly what I thought when reading this letter and I am wondering how much time the writer has spent among the truly poor. I can’t imagine going into the family’s houses that i worked with in the inner city and seeing them make their own yogurt. Or prepare steel cut oats. Or have the time in the morning as a single mom working two jobs to prepare a fresh veggie omelette.

      Does the advertising need to change? Yes. Do cereal companies need to be responsible for the messages they put out there about what healthy is? Absolutely.

      But as someone who has dipped my toes into the healthy/ real food lifestyle in the past few years what troubles me is that there is a lot of judgement and this snarky letter is FULL of it. Let’s encourage people to take small, doable action steps that work for their lifestyle and economic reality. And let’s be realistic in recognizing that sometimes cereal is an alternative to a pack of powdered donuts or worse and empty belly.

      1. Jill/Larisa,
        I’m not even sure where to start on this thread (I shouldn’t post controversial stuff and then be away from the computer all day, eh?), so I’ll just start at the top.

        I struggle so much with the “what about the poor” question. Schools have free and reduced breakfast, but of course that includes sugary cereal too…and certainly doesn’t have to, right? Even the non-sugary cereals include “extruded grains,” which are puffed under high heat and pressure, usually the recipe for oxidizing fats (like in whole grains), making the result a cancer-causing concoction. So yeah, I cringe big time when my kids eat cereal at Grandma’s house every Sunday, a major treat for them. But I just hope that at least the whole, raw milk going in along with the treats is doing them some good…

        So I ask myself: what would a small, doable action step be for a poor family? A banana with peanut butter? Whole-grain toast from the discount bread store with butter? Hard boil eggs once a week and eat one every day? I know how low on energy and time I feel, and I’m not stressed over finances and working 40+ hours a week…so I get that it’s plenty difficult to even keep on top of something simple like hard boiling eggs.

        I don’t know the answer…but I also wish there could be something convenient, inexpensive, AND healthy – like cereal, but “real” without so much processing and sugar. I know, I know…ideal world. Someday I’ll invent it and let everyone know…maybe pre-made, microwaveable soaked oatmeal? 😉

        Larisa is right that this question is tied into obesity and poverty – since corn and (I think) wheat are subsidized to keep them cheap and full of carbs that keep us fat. Phooey.

        If only I could solve all the world’s problems…anyone got another idea?
        🙂 Katie

      2. I’ve spent my fair share of time working as a teacher in the inner city. I know that families struggle with time and choosing healthy food options, but I don’t think cereal should even be considered a viable option. It’s not better than sugar donuts — it’s on the same plane. The sugar and the refined flour weaken the metabolism and the immune system. This leads to more sick days, more time off of school or work, and more money lost for having to stay home or for having to pay for childcare. How does that lead to any societal advancement? It doesn’t.

        In the school that I worked for, the students received a government subsidized breakfast. Most days it was cereal, milk, and a packet of crackers or cookies to go with it. Every once in a while they would get hard boiled eggs, yogurt, or string cheese and do you know what? I could tell the difference on those days. On those days, behavior and learning outcomes were 100 times better. Were they organic eggs? Were they raw milk yogurts and cheeses? No. But the students still benefited from the fat and the protein and the nutrients that they could actually assimilate (for once!). It kept their bellies fuller for longer and kept their brains sharper and more focused. The cereal days were the worst. The government was essentially paying for my students to be lethargic and unproductive by providing them with popular boxed cereals, done all in the name of HEALTH! You’ll have to excuse me if I seem a little sarcastic about this, but we have to hold major corporations and our own government responsible for the damage they are causing. Why shouldn’t we judge them for what they are doing to our society?

        If you want to encourage small steps toward health that are doable and affordable, then make replacing cereal with a better breakfast option one of the first steps. A carton of eggs costs about a dollar. That is a quarter of the price of most boxes of cereal, about the same amount of servings, and infinitely more nutritious, even if they aren’t organic. Hard boiling them all takes 10 minutes out of a person’s life. And if you figure that they just sit in the pot for 10 minutes, you could accomplish something else while they boil. A quart container of yogurt costs about $3, has about the same number of servings as a box of cereal, and is also more nutritious — with probiotics, even! Time to serve: as long as it takes to open the container. I can even get a pound of grassfed organic beef at my local grocery store for less than a pound of most cereals on the market today. I don’t know how many people would like eating beef for breakfast, but even that could be an option that is more nutritious and cheaper than eating boxed cereal. I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that yes, time and money are at a premium for families in the inner city, but truly nutritious food does not have to be out of reach — it’s all about choices and priorities. The problem is, if you’re misinformed by advertisers and government agencies and don’t know any better, then you lose out on not only the money you’ve wasted on processed grain foods, but also a chance at true health.

  39. Michaela via Facebook

    I personally enjoyed the sarcasm. It was a lot less text book than his letter, and sure to get the point across that we are NOT as stupid as they’d wish to perceive us.

  40. Sarah via Facebook

    Okay, I actually kinda had to laugh at her response in the “don’t hold back, tell us what you really think” kind of way….if she wasn’t really educated about food and nutrition, she’d go for everything he said. I honestly think he believes what he’s saying in the letter and she may have given him a little education (if he’s humble enough to accept it).

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