I'll give you one guess why school breakfast drives me bananas.

By Sally Kuzemchak
November 01, 2016
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Sugary cereal in milk
Credit: Jonathan Oscar/Shutterstock

I'm glad so many schools are providing breakfast to students. The sad reality is that many kids aren't getting enough food at home—and arriving to school with an empty belly doesn't make it easy to learn.

But the sugar! The sugar in school breakfast drives me nuts.

At my son's school, it's possible to go down the breakfast line and make a meal of juice, sweetened yogurt, sweetened cereal, and chocolate milk. There are sweetened pancakes and waffles, fruit-flavored pastries, and one morning there was even something called a "breakfast brownie."

One day I looked at the labels and crunched the numbers out of curiosity. The total for my child's school breakfast: 30 grams of sugar—that's about seven teaspoons, more than the American Heart Association says kids should have in an entire day.

An over-sugared child isn't ready for a morning of learning and concentrating. In an age when many schools have wellness built into the curriculum, why are we feeding our kids a massive amount of sugar at the start of every day?

According to this article, Why There Is So Much Sugar in Your Kid's School Breakfast, there are a few culprits:

No added sugar limit: There are many nutritional requirements for school food related to calories, fat, sodium, and even the amount of whole grains served. But added sugar gets a free pass. (Now that added sugar is getting called out on the new food label, we can only hope that will change!)

Fruit requirement: Schools are required to serve more fruit—but they can also sub in juice or dried fruit (such as sweetened dried cranberries). Those are easier to store and serve than fresh fruit, and they both contribute a whole lot more sugar.

Convenience food: Packaged foods (like those breakfast brownies) are fast to serve and easy to store. They also tend to be high in sugar and have long ingredient lists.

Another issue with school breakfast: They want it to be appealing as possible to kids. When a group of us met with our school district's foodservice director about the sugar overload at breakfast, we were told the sweetened cereals and flavored milks were simply more popular than the plain cereals and white milk, and they want as many kids as possible participating in the breakfast program. I understand why they'd go for the easy choice. But the truth is, the easy choice isn't always the healthiest choice. And shouldn't schools be in the business of keeping kids healthy?

What is breakfast like where YOUR child goes to school?

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 FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.


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