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Publication #FAR8099

Sweetened Cereals Not Necessary to Get Kids to Eat Breakfast1

Carol Church2

Figure 1. 
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The cereal aisle in the grocery store can be a tempting place for young children—full of fun characters, bright colors, and sweet promises. Many parents do purchase highly sweetened cereals for their children. After all, they may reason, their kids will definitely eat them. And as the manufacturers like to point out, they’re fortified with valuable vitamins and minerals.

But do we really have to tempt children with highly sweetened foods to get them to consume breakfast? A small study of 91 children ages 5 through 12 suggests that we don’t. The children were offered a breakfast of cereal, fruit, orange juice, and milk. Some were allowed to choose from 3 sugary cereals, while others were given a choice of 3 low-sugar cereals. Sugar packets were freely available (Harris et al., 2012).

Children who were given the sugary cereal consumed nearly twice as much refined sugar in the meal, even though those who got the low-sugar cereals added quite a bit of sugar to their bowls. Though the groups consumed about the same amount of calories, the children in the low-sugar group got more of their calories from fruit and ate a healthier meal overall. And both groups of children were equally happy with their meals (Harris et al., 2012).

This study suggests that children can be quite content with low-sugar cereal for breakfast. Even if they put sugar on top, they’re unlikely to consume anywhere near as much as they would if they ate a sugary brand. Including fresh fruit makes breakfast an even more nutritious and delicious choice (Harris et al., 2012).

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Harris, J. L., Schwartz, M. B., Ustjanauskas, A., Ohri-Vachaspati, P., & Brownell, K. D. (2011). Effects of serving high-sugar cereals on children’s breakfast-eating behavior. Pediatrics, 127(1), 71-76. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0864



This document is FAR8099, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original broadcast date March 16, 2012, as program 1891. Published on EDIS March 2013. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Carol Church, writer, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.