HFG senior nutritionist Rose Carr looks at cereals suitable for children.
Breakfast cereals are a great way to start the day, and provide your child with the energy needed to get the most out of their morning. With the huge range of products on offer, however, it is often tricky to know which one to pick.
A diet high in fibre is important for maintaining good gastrointestinal health, and a healthy weight.
Fibre moves slowly through the digestive system, making us feel fuller for longer. Although fibre is just as important for kids as it is for adults, kids do not need as much fibre. An adequate intake of fibre for one to three-year olds is 14g, for four to eight-year olds is 18g, and for nine to thirteen- year olds is 20g for girls and 24g for boys. To put it in terms of cereals, one cup of Sultana Bran Buds provides 7g fibre, a sizeable contribution to your child’s daily needs. On the other hand, one cup of Corn Flakes provides only 1g fibre, but adding fruit will boost the fibre as well as other nutrients.
When it comes to sugar, many children’s cereals are less than ideal. It is not uncommon to find some with up to 15g sugar per serve — that’s about three teaspoons. But children like sweetness, so while a cereal with no added sugar may seem like the best choice, if it doesn’t taste nice, your child is not going to want to eat it. Cereals sweetened with dried fruit are one option for satisfying a sweet tooth: look for cereals with 25g or less sugar per 100g if they contain dried fruit, otherwise, choose cereals with 15g or less sugar per 100g. Alternatively, cereals sweetened lightly with honey or sugar are a popular option. Sugar can be part of a nutritious breakfast if used in moderation. Or you could add fruit to a plain cereal, which will boost the sweetness and provide extra fibre.
When choosing your child’s cereal, the lower the sodium the better. Aim for 400mg or less sodium per 100g.
Whole grains contain all of the components of the original grain: bran, the outer layer which is high in fibre, the nutrient-dense inner core, and the middle layer that is high in energy-rich starch.
Whole grains are an important part of a child’s diet and cereals are a great way to boost their wholegrain intake, supplying kids with sustained energy over the morning. The Ministry of Health recommends children eat a wide variety of wholegrain cereal products and choose wholegrain options where available. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to identify the products with more whole grains, but check the ingredients list and remember ingredients are listed in order of most to least by weight.
Fat and kilojoules
In general, breakfast cereals are relatively low in kilojoules as they typically contain little fat. The addition of nuts and crunchy clusters tends to increase the fat and energy content of a cereal, so keep this in mind when choosing and comparing products.
We were disappointed to see that most of the products marketed to kids were less than ideal, especially with regard to the sugar content. Given part of the appeal for kids is the packaging and overall presentation of products, we think manufacturers could do better.