Want your kids — or other family members — to eat more fruit for breakfast? Make sure their cereal is low in sugar.
Researchers randomly assigned 91 children aged 5 to 12 to choose one of three low sugar breakfast cereals (Cheerios, Corn Flakes, or Rice Krispies) or one of three high sugar cereals (Cocoa Puffs, Froot Loops, or Frosted Flakes). The kids also had unlimited access to low-fat milk, orange juice, bananas, strawberries, and packets of sugar.
What happened next?
Roughly half (54 percent) of the children who got a low sugar breakfast cereal put fresh fruit on top. Only 8 percent of those who got a high sugar breakfast cereal put fresh fruit on top.
And those who ate a high sugar cereal ended up downing twice as much added sugar per breakfast than those who ate a low sugar breakfast cereal, even when researchers added in the sugar that the kids got from any sugar packets they used.
Children who ate a high sugar cereal also ended up eating more cereal (about two servings, vs. slightly more than one serving for children who ate a low sugar cereal).
Low sugar breakfast ideas even for the pickiest of kids
For healthier breakfasts, stick with low sugar cereals and fresh fruits.
Who doesn’t swoon at the first sweet burst of blueberries, watermelon, or kiwi? Fruit adds blasts of reds, greens, yellows, purples, and even blues that zip up any dish, with no synthetic dyes that make some kids climb the walls. And think of the range of textures, from a luxuriously creamy nectarine to a seed-studded pomegranate to a crisp, tart apple.
The problem with fruit is that it’s not forbidden. If fruit were loaded with calories, bad fat, or salt, kids might feel a more intense longing for the juicy sweetness of a ripe strawberry or the crisp crunch of a just-picked apple. “If I could only have another slice of watermelon,” they might sigh.
And because fresh fruit is about 85 percent water, it fills you up. Exceptions: raisins, dried figs, dates, prunes (which the industry now calls dried plums), and other dried fruits have more calories per bite—that is, they have a higher calorie density.
Plus, most fruit requires no refrigeration and little, if any, packaging. Apples, grapes, bananas, and peaches are finger foods that you can grab as you rush out the door. And fruit is user friendly. You never hear someone say, “I wish I knew how to prepare a peach for my kids!”
Blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries can be used with just a quick rinse in cold water. Strawberries may need to be cut; just trim the green stem off, and slice them into halves or quarters. Bananas can be sliced right onto the cereal.
Other fruits make a wonderful addition to a low sugar breakfast, too. Sliced apricots or peaches are unbeatable when they are in season. Cantaloupes and other melons can also be added to cereal, or make a nice side.
The health benefits aren’t just from having a low sugar breakfast, but you get additional benefits from adding fruit. Many fruits are high in nutrients like vitamin C, folate, dietary fiber, and potassium.
Other low sugar breakfast ideas for kids
A low sugar breakfast can be more than cereal and fruit. Unsweetened oatmeal is easy to make, and lends itself nicely to a variety of additions. Sliced almonds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, or fresh fruits such as those listed above all work well with oatmeal.
Whole-grain toast with peanut butter is also easy to prepare. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, smoothies are relatively easy to make, and can be filled with any number of fruits, yogurt, and even some vegetables like avocado.
What do you make for a low sugar breakfast? Share your ideas in the comments.
This article was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly.