Chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for children: how healthy are they?

Last week, as I wandered the grocery aisles with my two youngest children, we noticed that Cheerios have joined the ‘chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for children’ trend.

“Can we try them, mom?”

“Cheerios are healthier than Corn Pops and Fruit Loops. You said so.”

“They’re made with whole grains; you’re always telling us how good whole grains are.”

For years, I said NO to Lucky Charms, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops and Alphabits (and their relatives).

I don’t believe in feeding my children dessert for breakfast. Artificial colours, chemical preservatives and too much sugar. Despite their begging and cajoling, I always held firm. The original, whole grain Cheerios were our cereal of choice (my heart aches when I picture them struggling, as babies, to pick up those little ‘O’s’ from their high chair trays…).

Well, what can I say. I succumbed to their pleas and bought a small box. They were Cheerios, after all. A brand I’d long ago deemed healthy enough to inhabit my pantry. So what if they’re ‘chocolatified’? The box says ‘made with real cocoa’; cocoa has health benefits and is itself, sugar-free…

(I’d like to think it was because I really thought they were a healthy option, but alas, the truth is that I’m desperate to find breakfast items that they can MAKE THEMSELVES! I long for a vacation from the morning hot breakfast routine…)

They opened the package as soon as we got home, dove in and immediately decided that chocolate flavoured Cheerios were the ‘best thing ever’.

chocolate breakfast cereals

After they’d finished their snack (they managed to leave some in the box for ‘next time’), I sat down to take a good look at the nutrition panel (something I usually do before leaving the store…),

chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for kids

and ingredient list,

chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals

I was surprised to see sugar and corn syrup ranking so high on the list. And 9 grams of sugar per serving seemed like an excessively sweet way to start the morning.

Out of curiosity, I googled the nutrition labels of two other children’s cereals (Corn Pops and Fruit Loops), as well as a cereal marketed towards adults (Bran Flakes) and the original Cheerios, to see how they compared. (Note: I am not attempting to vilify Cheerios here. There are lots of other chocolate flavoured cereals on the market. This is just the brand that happened to come home from the grocery store with me.)

chocolate flavoured cheerios

Well, not as bad as I thought they might be, at first glance. The sugar load is similar to the other two ‘children’s cereals’ and just a bit higher than that of Bran Flakes. Not much protein or dietary fiber, but that’s not surprising either; breakfast cereals are heavily processed foods (they come in a box, right?). But certainly a lot sweeter than Cheerios’ original formulation.

According to the American Heart Association, the acceptable daily added sugar intake for children age 4-8 is about 30 g. (Note we’re not talking about the natural sugars in fruits, grains and dairy here; just the extra stuff added to make real food taste sweeter). That means that 1 serving of chocolate flavoured breakfast cereal constitutes 1/3 of a child’s recommended daily added sugar intake.

I’m not sure what the takeaway from this post is. Resist packaged foods? Sugary cereals are evil? Familiar brands are desperate to get consumers to buy their products? Children don’t need sugar and chocolate to be persuaded to eat? Consumer beware? The food industry is conspiring to make us fat?

I am, however, disappointed in Cheerios for moving into the ‘chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals’ category. I’m also disappointed in myself for not being a more vigilant label reader.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the practice of adding sugar and chocolate flavourings to foods as a way of getting our children to eat them…





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  1. I won’t buy any of those cereals, period. Even some of the “healthy” options are loaded with sugar. I loved how you did the comparison above, very telling. The only cereal in the house is granola, and even that isn’t the greatest. My kids aren’t really cereal eaters at all, so it isn’t that difficult to skip the cereals at the store. Having said that though, when we go on vacation and eat breakfast in the hotel, they love to share a bowl of fruit loops! I usually let them as it is a treat a few times a year lol!

    • Ooh, granola is my very favorite, but I prefer to make my own. Most of the commercial brands are loaded with added sugars (even though they call it cane sugar or molasses, it’s still sugar!). My daughter loves fruit loops too, but like you, only in hotels!

  2. HI! While I was recently visiting a friend out of town and she was telling me my breakfast choices she said the chocolate cheerios were only allowed if they were mixed with the regular cheerios. (setting an example for her 4.5 year old I could only eat the same thing he did) So that might be an option for you.

    Good luck!
    Melanie recently posted…Stress lessMy Profile

  3. We all buckle to our kids pleas from time to time, I know I did! My kids are now teenagers and actually don’t care for packaged cereals period. How awesome is that! But I can’t bring home a loaf of white sourdough bread without it being gone in a matter of hours. So I guess the demons are always there just waiting to get a foothold in our kitchens. I guess I feel that if you are aware but allow it from time to time it shouldn’t be a problem and we probably shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much over it. I am off to the gym now and yes Tamara my my bum is still sore from Monday.

    • Ha, ha! And for how many days was your bum sore, Melody?
      I agree with you that it’s hard to ban everything unhealthy from your kitchen. Everything in moderation, right?

  4. One more thing, Alpen has a “no sugar added” cereal that is loaded with great stuff and being a cerealaholic it is one of my new “fav’s” although my mom says it tastes like cardboard. I love it!

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I hate added sugar in cereals and would love to give this one a try!

  5. My mom was adamant about NOT buying all that stuff. So we grew up on Cheerios original, shredded wheat, muesli and GrapeNuts. Guess what? When I went away to college I went on a Lucky Charms rampage! Now I let my kids do a little bit of of the junky cereals (which is actually almost all of them at a standard grocery store), as long as they also choose a healthful version. One kid loves Erewhon and the other organic granola, so we’ve found a happy compromise. They still beg for those nasty frosted cereals, but I just won’t!
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…4 Stages to Healthier HabitsMy Profile

    • You are a very good mom, Alexandra! I like the suggestion of mixing the chocolate ones in with the regular ones…

  6. It is tough with kids & how to draw the line without getting crazy! I am a crazy label reader for myself! My hubby BTW loved those chocolate ones BUT he is not a super healthy eater like me. 😉

    How are you doing Tamara – how is the injury?
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Random Fitness/Health Thoughts; Olympic Meeting! Happy BdayMy Profile

  7. Hi! First time reading your blog, and I thought I’d just mention in response to the “I’d love to have something the kids can fix themselves” part of the post…I like to use rice milk so my kids can easily pour it, and when it runs out they know where to find more in the pantry, and I can keep tons of it on hand! (Also, I don’t give my children cow’s milk, but that’s another story…) I would like to do hot, protein-loaded breakfasts every day, but for 3-4 days a week I like them fixing their own breakfast – especially when I was sleeping in as often as possible during my most recent pregnancy. I have ages 9 down to 2, and the oldest can even put the 2 year old in her booster seat and fix her the cereal, and then the others all in between can fix their own. For cereal we mostly go with Kashi Heart to Heart (sort of like Cheerios but with circles and hearts) or Kashi mini-wheats that are cinnamon-flavored (I can’t remember the name of them.) The mini-wheat ones have a pretty large serving size (55g) and have 9g sugar, and 43g carbs or something astronomical like that, but also 6g protein. So for a kid, I think it’s a pretty decent choice. I usually have them add a handful of nuts of their choice to help boost the protein content. The Heart-to-Heart has 26g carbs I think, and 5g sugars. Not too bad. It’s sweeter than plain cheerios, but not as sweet as honey nut cheerios. Personally, since they’re homeschooled and usually get a cooked, protein-rich lunch, the trade-off is worth it to me since I am able to have a bit of a more relaxing morning when they fix their own breakfast 🙂 Now with baby number 6 only 2 weeks old, I’m glad they’re used to some semi-healthy cereal options since it’s probably going to be an everyday thing for a while 🙂
    Coreyanne Armstrong recently posted…Finally finished – the stuff is all gone!!My Profile


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