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’.
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…),
and ingredient list,
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.)
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…