I watched a very interesting programme on the Irish TV channel RTE1 recently about children’s breakfast cereals. The programme, ‘The Consumer Show’ with Eddie Hobbs, investigated Ireland’s unhealthy infatuation with breakfast cereals. Whilst this programme is concerned with Ireland, its findings and the issues it highlights are equally applicable in other countries.
Ireland is Europe’s highest consumer of breakfast cereals with an average of 8kg per person per year, including children. If that were one of the lesser sugar cereals aimed at children such as Cheerios, that would mean an average sugar intake of nearly 2kg of sugar per year, or 2 standard sized bags. Kellogg’s Frosties has not far off twice as much sugar than Cheerios so you can do the math, frightening stuff I’m sure you’ll agree?
Healthy v unhealthy
The programme did an experiment with Infant classes in a school to see children’s behaviour with different breakfast cereals. On the first morning they provided the more healthy option, for example Weetabix. Children were asked to help themselves and we’re allowed to take what and how much they liked. They took pretty much the recommended daily serving for children of 30g and very few went back for seconds.
On the second day, the children were given unhealthy cereals such as Frosties, Coco Pops and Cookie Crisps. This time they completely filled their bowls, taking more than the recommended daily average, and the majority of children went back for seconds, a number of them going back for third and fourth portions. The amount of sugar those children had in the end was frightening.
This shows that children are drawn to, if not addicted to, the sugar and sucked in by the high levels of marketing that are thrown their way, both on the TV and in the supermarket. The fun cartoon characters that are used by the large brands attract children even though what they are getting is incredibly bad for them. This leads to the nag factor, begging their parents to buy these types of cereal.
Additionally, the makers of these unhealthy cereals, heavily marketed at children, are giving away school book tokens on packets. This just ups the nag factor, with the children thinking that they are doing something for their school. Eating all that sugar will make them less able to study and concentrate at school and it’s akin to McDonalds sponsorship of the Olympics.
So what do we do about it?
The first thing is, as parents, to understand what goes into these cereals and the reprecussions that eating them in excess will be to our children. Next, be strong and not buy them whatever level of nagging from the children we endure. At the end of the day, we hold the purse strings and are responsible for what is bought into the house and consumed by our kids, we just need to be strong enough to say no.
Give them more healthy alternatives for breakfast and provide variation. We’ve got our kids into oat and banana thickies by getting them to help make them and adding different fruit.
Our son loves muesli which can be very healthy but, even with muesli, you have to be careful of the amount of sugar that is added. Go for a no added sugar variety (checking the amount of salt) or, even better, make your own (a drizzle of honey can sweeten it).
Other alternatives are boiled egg & soldiers, homemade brown bread, pancakes, omelettes or a fresh fruit salad.
Everything in moderation
Ultimately I am not suggesting that you never ever give your children the more unhealthy cereals. The mantra in our house is everything in moderation. I’m suggesting that we ensure our children have a balanced diet, control portion sizes and don’t eat sugar ladened cereals everyday. The occasional bowl is fine, but it should not be the norm.
What are your experiences with kid’s breakfast cereals? What do you feed your children at breakfast?