If your kids are like mine, they would eat cereal at every meal and snack of the day. But cereal can be one of those sneaky bad-for-you foods: The front of the box is packed with labels that make you think it's a good choice: "made with whole grains!" "now provides fiber!" "mother approved!" But front-of-box labeling is no indicator of health. To choose the healthiest cereal, you need to do your detective work on the back. Look for these 5 checkmarks before you toss that box in your cart.
- Watch the sugar. My kids love to pick their own cereal in the store, but they know to follow “mom´s 5 g rule”: each cereal must have less 5g or less of sugar per serving. Any more, and you're setting up your child for a sugar high--especially if you pair your cereal with a glass of juice. Some great options are CheerioSs, Barbara´s Original Puffins, General Mills Kix, and Kashi Honey Toasted Oats.
- Add "character" elsewhere. If you've ever taken a preschooler to the grocery store, you'll know that cereals targeted toward kids are conveniently placed at their eye level. We know your dirty secret, grocery-store placement person: The boxes are there so we toss it in our cart to avoid being that mom with a tantrumming toddler in aisle 5. Do yourself a favor and buy your kid a special character bowl and spoon instead of relying on the cereal to do the job.
- Go for fiber. Any cereal that has 3-5 grams of fiber per serving is likely a good choice. Most kids lack fiber in their diets—important for their digestive system and to keep them feeling fuller longer—and cereal is an easy way to help them reach their daily quota (around 11g a day for kids ages 3-5; more for older kids). Look for whole grain as a first ingredient, and give your bowl an extra fiber boost by topping your cereal with nuts, fresh fruit, or ground flaxseed—something I like to do with a bowl of Cheerios!
- Limit the sodium. Now I don’t usually take a bite of cereal and think, “wow, this tastes salty!” But sodium is a common ingredient in packaged foods for flavor and preservation. To keep your daily sodium in check, look for a cereal that has less than 300mg per serving on that nutrition facts label again.
- Browse the ingredient list for junk. Artificial flavors and colors are a no-no on my list, and luckily, many cereal manufacturers are now labeling the front of their cereal boxes to let shoppers know their produce does NOT contain artificial flavors or ingredients. If you DON'T see this type of wording on the box and the ingredient list has lots of numbers and colors in it, then you might want to reconsider adding it to your cart.
What cereals are in your house that are both healthy and delicious?