When it comes to breakfast, I enthusiastically raise my hand in the belief it’s the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast is vital for growing minds and little bodies. Sadly, most breakfasts served to kids are full of unhealthy sugar. I must admit, marketers can be geniuses at getting good people to buy bad food. That’s why I am committed to giving you food advice from a nurse and a mom who walks the tight rope between what’s nutritionally sound and what makes kids happy.
Starting the day off with a healthy breakfast is essential. Sadly, a lot of parents think they are making a smart choice by giving their children cereal. I know that’s what my mom did. She thought she was doing the right thing by offering us Honey Nut Cheerios and Life Cereal, which seemed to be the healthiest of the options. I actually thought they were too healthy and wished I could kick the day off like my friends who ate Cap’n Crunch and Lucky Charms. Moms just didn’t know back then what we know these days about sugar and its harmful effects.
Unhealthy Sugar Accounts for a Host of Illnesses and Disease
Unhealthy sugar can be directly linked to childhood illness and disease—the top of the list being obesity. From there we’ve got:
- Type II Diabetes
- Tooth Decay
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
This doesn’t include a host of behavioral and emotional problems that can be attributed to sugar. Read more about the negative health effects of eating sugar HERE.
How Does Sugar Affect Our Kiddos?
Simple sugars, also known as monosaccharides and disaccharides, are the building blocks of complex carbohydrates, like starch. Monosaccharides include glucose and fructose. Monosaccharides include sucrose and lactose. Monosaccharides are easily absorbed through the lining of the small intestine, and disaccharides are broken down into monosaccharides by the lining of the small intestine.
Out of the varieties of simple sugars, glucose is the most important. It is used by cells to make energy. When there is an excess of glucose, it is converted to glycogen and used for energy but then is stored in the body as fat. Fructose must be converted into glucose in the liver before it can be used by the body. What isn’t used up as energy is stored in the body as fat, making it an unhealthy sugar for kids.
When you start reading the labels of what you feed your kids, you’ll be shocked to find how many foods list high-fructose corn syrup as the first ingredient! No wonder childhood obesity and Type II diabetes are hitting new highs in our country!
High levels of unhealthy sugar in a child’s diet can lead to resistance to insulin—a hormone vital for brain function, which can lead to diseases like Type II Diabetes. It can also interfere with neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate mood and behavior. Sugar is also inflammatory and causes spikes in blood sugar which creates a craving for more sugar throughout the day as the body tries to make more energy.
What are the Sources of Unhealthy Sugar?
Most kids get their sugar from prepared and processed ready-made foods. Many foods in the grocery store are marketed directly for children. They use colorful packaging and enticing claims to make unhealthy products seem wholesome and nutritious. Some of the most likely culprits of unhealthy sugar for breakfast are found in-
- Juices and juice cocktails
- Flavored yogurt
- Salad dressing
- Instant oatmeal
At the top of the list of breakfast foods with unhealthy sugar is prepared cereal.
Cereal is Full of Unhealthy Sugar
In 2011 a study was released highlighting the worst cereals due to their unhealthy sugar levels. By 2014, it was determined the companies had done nothing to change or improve the sugar content in their products. Some cereals being up to 56% sugar with 15 grams of sugar per serving. The general recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is 25 grams of sugar for kids over two per day and zero sugar for children under two.
Most Cereals Are Too Sugary for Your Kids
It’s challenging to know which cereals are healthy enough for little brains and bodies, but nutritionists say if you are going to offer cereal for a meal, look for brands that have less than 10 grams of sugar per serving and have as much fiber as possible. My kids really love Magic Spoon (a ketogenic cereal that tastes amazing!). Our favorite healthy breakfast cereal option is LoveBird Cereal (it’s so tasty and crunchy!), try the honey flavor!
Thankfully, cereal isn’t the only option for a healthy breakfast for kids. Here are some tips to help decrease the sugar in the morning and create a variety of healthy breakfast options.
5 Helpful Tips:
- Avoid sugared drinks – Most juices are predominantly sugar. They tend to be high in calories and high in sugar, making them unhealthy sugar for kids. Serve water at mealtimes, which helps with hydration and digestion.
- Use whole milk, or non-dairy milk – Lactose is a sugar found in milk. Whole fat milk contains fewer carbohydrates than low-fat or skim because more of its volume is made up of fat, which does not contain lactose. Raw milk is our milk of choice, we get it fresh from the farm every week! Unsweetened nut milk, or unsweetened milk alternatives can also be a good choice, just always check those labels.
- Serve whole fruit for natural sugar and fiber – Rather than drinking fruit juice, opt for eating whole fruit, which includes the vitamins, trace minerals, and fiber benefits. Adding whole fruit to grain-free muffins, healthy pancakes, or waffles is a great way to add healthy sweetness without adding unhealthy sugar.
- Go Paleo at breakfast – This popular diet trend is an excellent way to make a healthy breakfast for kids. There are plenty of Paleo versions of hot and cold cereals, muffins, and quick breads, as well as pancakes (including pancake mixes!) and waffles. You can find some great recipes in Paleo cookbooks.
- Blend up smoothies for a healthy breakfast- When kids get picky, one of my go-to workarounds is a great smoothie. There are unlimited options for a healthy smoothie, and it’s a great way to add greens, fruits, and other benefits like flax seeds or chia seeds which have healthy Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
When I began studying to be a nurse, I became more aware of how healthy foods nourish our minds and bodies, and as a mom, I was determined to find healthy and tasty foods for my family. Your kiddos don’t need Toucan Sam or Cap’n Crunch to feel good in the morning. Get their little engines running with a healthy breakfast from your kitchen.
Need some help coming up with breakfast recipes your kids will eat? HERE is a post that includes a lot of great recipes!