How to Upgrade Your Kid’s Cereal for Better Nutrition

Joanna Foley

by | Updated: February 13th, 2024 | Read time: 6 minutes

Cereal is one of the most popular breakfast choices in America, especially for kids. Yet most cereals are loaded with added sugar and questionable ingredients that are not best for a child’s health (or anyones for that matter). So if you’re a parent or caregiver, you may be wondering: is there really a healthy cereal for kids?

Thankfully, there is still a way to enjoy the convenience of breakfast cereal without compromising health. It just takes some special attention to find the right types.

Healthy Cereal for Kids

What to limit or avoid in breakfast cereals for kids

The first step in finding a healthy cereal is to know what to look for, including what to avoid and what to aim to get more of. When it comes to what to avoid, there are two main ingredients that should be limited or avoided altogether when choosing a breakfast cereal.

These include:

Added sugars

Over the past many decades, breakfast cereals for kids have turned into more of a dessert than a breakfast food. Many brands can contain 12 g or more of added sugars per serving, which is nearly half of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for no more than 25 g of added sugar daily for children over the age of 2. If kids are eating more than one serving, and are consuming other sugary foods throughout the rest of their day, it can be easy to quickly exceed this recommended amount. Eating too much added sugar can place them at a higher risk for conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

Artificial colors and other ingredients

Multiple forms of research have linked artificial colors and other food additives to a variety of negative health outcomes including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity, asthma, some types of cancer, and more. Artificial sweeteners, which are often used in place of sugar, aren’t any healthier, since research shows they can contribute to things like an unhealthy gut, weight gain, and increased insulin resistance which can cause poorly regulated blood sugar and in some cases type 2 diabetes.

In order to be able to identify these ingredients in a cereal, it is essential to get in the habit of reading both the nutrition facts label and the ingredients list on cereal boxes, and other packaged foods for that matter.

What to look for when choosing a healthy cereal for kids

Now that you know what to avoid, you also may be wondering what to include when selecting a healthy cereal option for your kids. Here are some things to look for:

Low in added sugars

There are different opinions about how much added sugar is allowed in a cereal to still be considered “healthy”. Yet while this may be a matter of opinion, a good rule of thumb might be to choose cereals that contain 6 g or less of added sugar per serving (with less always being better).

If your child craves more sweetness, you can try adding in some fresh or dried fruit to the cereal. Another option is to mix a lower sugar cereal with one that they already really like that may be higher in added sugar. This may help them adjust to a less sweet taste.

Good source of fiber

Fiber has numerous health benefits for children and adults alike, including supporting a healthy digestive tract, normal blood sugar levels, a healthy weight, and much more. There is a wide range when it comes to how much fiber a child needs, ranging from 19-38 g per day depending on their age and gender.

One way to get more fiber is to choose cereals that provide sources of whole grain, such as whole wheat flour and oats. If the front of the box contains the “whole grain” stamp, then at least half of the grain should be from whole sources, which would naturally increase the fiber content. If the stamp says “100% whole grain” then all of the grains will come from whole sources.

While fiber content will vary, it’s a good idea to aim to buy cereals that contain 3 or more g of fiber as a general guideline. If your child’s favorite cereal is low in fiber, you can try increasing its fiber content yourself by adding ingredients like fruit, nuts, and chia seeds to the top.

No artificial colors or other ingredients.

A healthy cereal for kids should never contain artificial colors or other ingredients. This is for the very same reasons described above about why artificial colors and ingredients should be avoided, including possibly increasing the risk for conditions like ADHD and gut disorders.

What are healthy breakfast cereals for kids?

Healthy cereal still needs to taste good in order for your child to want to eat it. Thankfully there are still a variety of healthy breakfast cereals that can satisfy your child’s taste buds as well as support their health.

Here are 3 examples:

Plain Cheerios

This is perhaps one of the most classic cereals of all time, and it meets all of the guidelines for a healthy cereal. Cheerios is made from whole-grain oats, and contains only 1 g of added sugar per serving. It also provides 4 g of dietary fiber, making it a well-rounded healthy choice that kids will enjoy. Many stores and brands also make knock-off versions of cheerios that may be just as healthy.

Three wishes cereal

This is a newer brand of cereal that’s mission is to create excellent tasting cereal that tastes like childhood favorites, while being low in added sugar (only 3g/serving), high in protein (8g/serving) and fiber (3g/serving), and contains no artificial ingredients. Three wishes cereal comes in flavors like cinnamon, cocoa, fruity, and more, and is sure to satisfy your child’s taste buds.

Kashi heart-to-heart oat cereal

Kashi is a familiar brand for many people, though not always used as a cereal for kids. Yet there are multiple reasons to let your child try out this healthy cereal. Kashi’s heart-to-heart oat cereal provides 4g of fiber per serving, thanks to its first ingredient being whole oat flour. It’s also low in sugar, with just 5g per serving, and has no artificial colors, sweeteners, or other ingredients.

In Summary

Breakfast cereal for kids may not have the reputation of being healthy, but there are healthy cereal options out there. The key to finding a healthy cereal is to read the nutrition label and ingredients list to check for things like added sugar, dietary fiber, and artificial ingredients. Then, you can make an informed choice about what to bring to your home, and can have fun experimenting with trying new cereals in new ways with your child.

Featured Products

Three Wishes Grain Free Cereal Cinnamon
Kashi Heart to Heart® Oat Cereal Organic Honey Toasted
Three Wishes Grain Free Cereal Fruity