The Scoop on Food

5 Ways to Cut Sugar from Your Kid's Breakfast

Kids are getting half of (what should be) their daily sugar intake first thing in the morning. Here's how to change up breakfast without going cold turkey.

teddy bear toast Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock
The most important meal of the day has a new title: The most sugary meal of the day.

Kids get about 11 grams of sugar for breakfast each morning, according to a new survey by Public Health England of parents with children ages 4-10. That's nearly three teaspoons of sugar—about half of the recommended limit of sugar for the entire day! Cereals, drinks, and spreads (like jelly or jam) contributed most of the sugar at breakfast.

Yet despite this sweetness overload, more than 8 out of 10 parents consider their child's a.m. meal to be healthy.

Does this hit close to home for you? It does for me! I know that many of my kids' favorite breakfast items—like pancakes, muffins, and jam-spread toast—pack a lot of added sugar. I have to make a conscious effort to keep sugar in check at breakfast. Here are some ideas for you:

Go "halfsies."

This is one of my favorite ways to reduce sugar because it's a nice compromise. Combine half plain yogurt with half sweetened yogurt. Mix half unsweetened o-cereal with half sweetened o-cereal. You can do the same for chocolate milk. Everything will still be sweet—but you'll cut added sugar significantly (see how much!).

Choose cereal carefully.

So many cereals (especially those aimed at kids) are super sugary. When I'm shopping, I look for cereals with 5 grams of sugar per serving or less, such as Kix and plain Cheerios. Another idea is to buy unsweetened cereal and add your own sweetener. Sprinkling just a half-teaspoon of sugar onto plain shredded wheat lends a sweet flavor but just two grams of added sugar.

Use fruit as a sweetener.

Add slices of strawberries to peanut butter toast instead of jam or blend fruit into plain yogurt. Choose whole fruit versus juice, which is missing the fiber that whole fruit has and packs a lot of sugar and calories.

Serve savory breakfasts.

It's nice to take sweetness out of the meal completely by serving something savory, like eggs, a slice of whole grain toast smeared with mashed avocado, or even reheated dinner leftovers. Breakfast doesn't have to be toast, cereal, or pastries—it can be anything. My younger son once asked for a bowl of buttered peas for breakfast (personally, I was thrilled).

Beware of desserts-in-disguise.

Most people consider donuts and pastries to be sweet treats. But muffins, chocolate hazelnut spread, and waffles often get a pass for some reason. In reality, they're more desserts than nutritious breakfasts. All of these things are okay once in a while, but think of them as treats instead of everyday staples.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.