Are Breakfast Cereal Characters Hypnotizing Our Kids?

December 2015 By: Stephanie Walsh, MD Medical Director, Child Wellness, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
cereal nutrition label
All Ages

Look deeply into my eyes. You are becoming very wary of kids’ cereal … because you’ve become aware that the hypnotic gaze of the characters on the box is drawing your kids in … enticing them to eat too much sugar. So when I count to three, you’ll automatically steer clear of those sugary cereals at the grocery store.

One … two … three!

Sounds far-fetched, but it’s true. Those kiddie cereal characters—like Cap’n Crunch, the silly Trix rabbit and Fruit Loops’ Toucan Sam—look innocent enough, but they’re up to no good! Their eyes are intentionally angled downward to make direct eye contact with kids. And their sugary cereals are deliberately placed lower on store shelves, eye level with young shoppers.

Savvy food marketers know these tried-and-true techniques will get kids to lobby their unsuspecting parents for a sugary sweet purchase.

If these cereals were made from 100% whole grains, I wouldn’t object to the mind-bending eye contact. But unfortunately, these skilled sales-characters are spoon-feeding our kids more sugar than their bodies should have.

In clinic, I worked with a family that was trying to wean themselves off sugary cereals. They did it by mixing in a healthier option, you know, the cereals that are out of the eyesight of kids. Doing this allowed them to slowly decrease the sugary cereal over several months and eventually get away from the sugary option. This step-down method kept the kids happy and allowed them time to adjust to a new taste. This is a win in my book! It’s not always easy to make the healthy choices when you’re in the grocery store with your kids, but with a little practice, I think we can all do it!

The easiest way to bypass sneaky marketing tactics and choose the most nutritious cereal is to read the label. If the first or second ingredient is whole wheat (not “made from whole wheat” or a certain number of grams of whole wheat), then you’re good.

More cereal buying tips:

  • Check the label to see how much one serving is and pour accordingly.
  • Try to select cereals that contain 250 calories or less per cup.
  • Stay clear of cereals with artificial sweeteners.
  • Beware of “fruit” in cereal. Read the ingredients list, and if the real thing isn’t listed, the “fruit” in the box is fake.
  • Don’t be fooled by yogurt coatings. The coatings usually aren’t real yogurt and are full of extra sugar.

Beyond the cereal aisle, there are plenty of great breakfast choices. Check out our section on breakfast value meals and our breakfast shortcuts for some delicious, nutritious recipes.

And now, look back into my eyes. When you finish reading this blog, you’ll instantly be prepared for a more productive trip to the grocery store!

cereal nutrition label

About The Author

Stephanie Walsh, MD
Medical Director, Child Wellness, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

With more than a dozen years of experience in promoting wellness, Medical Director of Child Wellness Stephanie Walsh, MD, is a leader in the field. A board-certified pediatrician and diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, Dr. Walsh played an instrumental role in establishing the Children’s Strong4Life movement. As a working mom with three boys, ages 16, 14 and 12, Dr. Walsh knows the real challenges of parenting, and it’s her personal mission to help Georgia families become healthier and happier. 

Bio

Stephanie Walsh, MD
Medical Director, Child Wellness, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta


With more than a dozen years of experience in promoting wellness, Medical Director of Child Wellness Stephanie Walsh, MD, is a leader in the field. A board-certified pediatrician and diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, Dr. Walsh played an instrumental role in establishing the Children’s Strong4Life movement. As a working mom with three boys, ages 16, 14 and 12, Dr. Walsh knows the real challenges of parenting, and it’s her personal mission to help Georgia families become healthier and happier. In fact, her toughest personal parenting struggle is getting her boys to eat their veggies, something she says is a daily battle.

Dr. Walsh received her Doctor of Medicine degree at the Medical College of Georgia in 2000 and completed a residency in pediatrics at Emory University in 2004.

Dr. Walsh lives in Atlanta with her husband and three sons. She enjoys running and spending time with her family.