A new report suggests almost all cereals marketed at children still contain high or medium levels of sugar.
As part of the Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report, Action on Sugar and Action on Salt looked at 126 breakfast cereals with child-friendly images such as bright colours or cartoons. It found 92% contained high or medium amounts of sugar – an increase from 91% last year – with almost half (43%) containing chocolate.
Nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar, said: “The use of child-friendly packaging just makes it hard for parents to make a healthier choice, when companies should be making it easier.
“Whilst we are expecting to see restrictions on online and television advertising for foods high in fat, salt, and sugar, this does not yet apply to the packaging that may appeal to children, which is a huge concern.
“For too long, less healthy food has been in the spotlight which is not only unethical but also scandalous. Food businesses should only have child-friendly packaging on their healthier foods and drinks to give them a starring role in children’s diets.”
Paediatric dietitian Clare Thornton-Wood (claretw.com) says breakfast is important: “Every opportunity that children get to eat is obviously improving their nutrition, and we know that eating a healthy breakfast supports them to be able to concentrate well at school.”
Potential drawbacks to eating a sugary breakfast, she says, include how it could impact children’s teeth.
And she adds: “It doesn’t tend to fill them up – particularly if you have really sugary, processed breakfast cereal, it tends to be digested quickly and the child will potentially be hungry again.”
So what does Thornton-Wood recommend children have for a healthy breakfast?
Cheap and cheerful breakfasts when money is tight…
“A slice of toast with egg would be one option, or a slice of toast with baked beans,” suggests Thornton-Wood.
For school age kids, she says “ideally wholegrain toast would be good”.
Fast and easy for busy school mornings…
Thornton-Wood’s top tip for hectic mornings is: “Yoghurt with some fruit, and maybe some muesli or nuts in the yoghurt.”
This is because it’s packed full of the good stuff: “It’s giving you calcium, it’s giving you protein from the yoghurt,” she explains. “The nuts have got lots of those nutrients in – fibre and vitamins and minerals, and then fruit is going to contribute to your five a day.”
Breakfasts you can prep the night before…
“Overnight oats is a good one,” the dietitian says. “You can involve children in making those and you can do all sorts of different combinations. You can have berries, you can have apple” – you can pimp it out to your preferences.
Breakfasts kids can make on their own…
Thornton-Wood suggests families shouldn’t completely shun cereals. “Breakfast cereal with some fruit and yoghurt or milk is still a good choice, it’s just thinking about what kind of breakfast cereal you’re choosing,” she says – recommending you opt for ones with low sugar, less refined and more wholegrain ingredients.
“One interesting thing about breakfast cereal is it can play a useful part in children’s diets, because a lot of them are fortified with vitamins and minerals,” she adds.
Weekend family brunch when you have a bit more time…
“Something like a breakfast you do all in one tray – say you put mushrooms, tomatoes, lean bacon, eggs, maybe some mini potatoes and you put a little bit of oil in and bake that in the oven, that’s quite a good one,” Thornton-Wood suggests.
“Or you could make some pancakes and fill those with fruit. I’d serve them with yoghurt and banana or berries, and you could boost the fibre a little bit by adding in some wholewheat flour, or maybe putting some seeds in.”