Why Your Child's Breakfast May Actually Be Hurting Him

School Age

Here’s a stunner: The average kids’ cereal is more than 30 percent sugar. Just one bowl delivers more sugar than he should have the whole day, giving him a boost of energy at first, then making him sluggish for hours after. Same story for many popular granola bars, yogurt, smoothies, donuts and so on.

How did sugary foods become America’s breakfast of choice for kids? Maybe because they’re quick and convenient … maybe because kids love the sweet taste. But despite sugary foods’ popularity, there are plenty of healthier, convenient options. See what happens in the two hours after your child eats his usual morning meal, then find out how to make healthy changes.  

Why breakfast is making your child hungry

Your child wakes up. His body and brain have used stored energy through the night. Now he needs fuel to start his day.

He opens your pantry and chooses the package that catches his eye with bright colors, cartoon characters and fun games, exactly as the food maker intended. Within moments of eating, sugar triggers his body to have a quick spike of energy. Next, he’ll have a hard crash, followed by hunger and the craving for more sugar.

What happens when your child eats a sugary breakfast

10 minutes after he eats
The added sugar begins to feed the bacteria in your child’s mouth, which can decay his teeth and cause cavities.

20 minutes later
Sugar is hitting your child’s system hard. Most popular breakfast foods have more sugar than he should have in an entire day, so his blood sugar level spikes quickly.

30 minutes later
Your child’s body continues to absorb the sugar, which can be disguised in the ingredients list as syrup, honey, molasses and most things ending in ‘ose.’ He may also be absorbing a host of food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients, but not enough of the protein and fiber that make up a balanced breakfast.

45 minutes later
Your child’s blood sugar is still rising. He leaves the house looking and feeling energized, but …

2 hours later
Your child is still in class when his blood sugar crashes sharply. He’s hungry, cranky, sluggish and can’t pay attention. And those daily sugar spikes have taught his body to crave more sugar to stay ‘up’—so the cycle repeats.

Painless ways to break bad breakfast habits

Your child can still enjoy popular breakfast foods, with some influence from you:

  • Buy cereal with lower sugar (6g or less) and higher fiber (3 grams or more). Add fresh fruit for a sweet treat. Look for the store’s WIC label under healthier cereal varieties.
  • Wean off sugary cereal by mixing with a lower-sugar variety. Try plain toasted oats + honey nut toasted oats; corn flakes + frosted flakes. Gradually increase the ratio of lower-sugar cereal to replace the sugary stuff.
  • Choose crunchy granola bars over bars that are chewy, have chocolate or are cereal bars.
  • Swap pastry for a whole grain English muffin topped with plain yogurt + fresh fruit.
  • Top waffles and pancakes with nut butter + sliced banana instead of syrup.

Quick easy, grab-n-go breakfast options

It’s best to sit at the table to eat, but when you’re on the go, why not try one of these convenient breakfasts that aren’t full of sugar.

Quick breakfast ideas:

  • Cereal trail mix: Combine different low sugar, whole grain cereals (like wheat squares and toasted oats), dried fruit (like raisins) and nuts.
  • String cheese and a piece of fruit + a handful of dry whole grain cereal
  • Low-fat, plain Greek yogurt + fresh fruit
  • Nut butter and fruit burrito
  • Oatmeal with nuts and fruit (try adding frozen berries while it’s cooking)
  • Veggie and egg muffins