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Is Eating Cereal Like Eating A Twinkie?

Happy Monday.

It’s time to check how much sugar is added to your and your kids’ cereal. The Environmental Working Group recently published a report disclosing the amount of suga’ added to our breakfast staple. They reported that Kellog’s Honey Smacks, Post’s Golden Crisp and General Mills’ Wheaties Fuel are made up of close to 60% sugar by weight and have about 20 grams of sugar in a 1 cup serving.  What’s 20 grams, you say? That’s roughly about  about 5 teaspoons of sugar. And this is before adding the milk. While these results are based on 1 cup, I don’t know many who eat only 1 cup with the super- sized bottomless bowls out there.

While Honey Smacks and Golden Crisp seem like obvious offenders, you must always be on the lookout for more subtle violaters. Doing my own research I found Kellog’s Raisin Bran, often misperceived as a “healthy cereal” due  to its high fiber content, also has 20 gm of sugar per serving. You can blame the sugar coated raisins for that.

Allow me to demonstrate how much 20 gm, or 5 teaspoons, of sugar is. Well, it’s the same amount of sugar in:

5 sugar packets

OR 1 Twinkie, 6 oz Coke, 1/2 cup Ben & Jerrys Vanilla ice cream.

The report found 44 other cereals, including Captain Crunch, Apple Jacks, Honey Nut Cheerios and Fruit Loops to have at least 3 teaspoons, or 12-15 gm of sugar per 1 cup serving. That’s the same amount of added sugar as eating 1 glazed Dunkin Donut or 3 Chips Ahoy Cookies. Yikes!

Battling The Cereal Aisle:
1. Read the label. Ignore the claims on the front of the box. Disregard prior notions of perceived “heathy” brands. Ingredients are listed in order of % weight, so look for lists with whole grain as first ingredient. Avoid those with sugar, corn syrup, cane juice as the first 2 or 3 ingredients. The same goes with blindly trusting brands. For example, generally I’m a Kashi supporter, but some of their cereals (Go Lean Crunch) has 12 gm of sugar, so never skip the opportunity to label read.
2. Control the sweetener. Buy unsweetened version and add your own sweetener – fresh fruit, dried fruit or nuts preferably, but 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, chocolate syrup or even sugar are are all better than buying pre-sweetened. Better that you control it. A perfect example, buy corn flakes (instead of frosted flakes) and sweeten it yourself, or buy plain bran flakes and let your kids make their own raisin bran by throwing  in raisins (non-sugar coated).
3. Use smaller bowls. Bigger isn’t always better.
4. Milk choices. Use fat free or 1% milk, especially if you are battling high sugar cereals.
5. Mix it up. If your kids (or you) refuse to give up Honey Nut cheerios or Captain Crunch, then compromise. Start with half  the bowl filled with plain cheerios and the other half with honey nut, and slowly make the bowel 75%–>100% lighter choice.
6. Fiber. Look for cereals with at least 3 gm of fiber (even more is better) to help you feeling full. While fiber is great, sugar is not, so you keep that in check when reading labels. Many high sugar cereals (Fruit Loops) are coming out with whole grain, higher fiber choices. While it’s a step in the right direction the excessive sugar still makes it a no-go.
7. Avoid artificial colors. While it may entice kids, seeing my milk turn bright pink or blue just doesn’t seem right or natural.

Some healthier choices: Original Cheerios, Multigrain Cheerios, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Rice krispies, Kix, Chex, Life, Shredded Wheat,  Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted oats, Nature’s Path/EnviroKidz brand,  Barabara’s Bakery brand.

Meat-Less Wednesdays: Animal Free Meals

I have been trying to cut back on animal proteins. This guy cow is probably happy about this initiative. And what better time than after Thanksgiving, when turkey is oozing from our skin. Don’t worry, I’m not going vegan on you, but to have chicken, meat, fish, eggs or cheese at every meal is a bit too much animal. By the way, “meat-less wednesdays” was just the name of my post until I googled it -it’s a whole movement!

Plant based meals are awesome. In addition to being lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber, plant based dishes are usually less expensive. Warning: a high fiber meal (beans and legumes) can make you bloated, so it may not be the best meal to have if you are planning on squeezing into your half-a-size too small jeans. And don’t we all have that pair.

Making changes is never easy. Start off planning two non-animal based dinners per week and take it from there. I try not to substitute meats for tofu because there is some research, though it’s still conflicting, on potential harms of high soy intake. And, since I can get protein from other sources like beans, grains and nuts, tofu is not a necessity.

Animal-less Suggestions:

1. Lentils. High in fiber, protein and iron. Choose green lentils because they have more fiber than red ones. You can get them pre-cooked at Trader Joe’s or make them yourself in about 10 minutes by boiling dried lentils in water following the packaging instructions. Mix into a cold salad with fresh veggies or serve  hot over sauteed sweet potatoes.

2. Quinoa. It’s a seed (and not a legume) that is very high in protein. It has a great nutty flavor and is a good substitute for rice and couscous. Hearty up a stir fry, soup or salad by adding in some quinoa.

3. Black bean or veggie burger. High in fiber, which will help keep you full for longer and regulate the bowels. Serve it on a multigrain bun with a side of baked potato wedges. Recipe to come once it’s perfected, the last attempt fell apart. Unless you have a good recipe you can buy pre-made. Read the labels because some veggie burgers are surprisingly not full of veggies and instead full of tofu and other fillers.

4. Portobello burger. Super easy and filling. Bake a portobello for 25 minutes in 350 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When cooled, add roasted red peppers and caramelized onions.

5. Falafel. Make a platter if you don’t want the carbs from pita. You can bake falafel at home, but if you buy it ready made it’s likely fried so limit 1-2 balls. Add hummus and extra salad.

6. Hearty bean + veggie soup/chili. High in protein and fiber. Any combo of beans, grains, veggies is delicious. Great served with a slice of whole wheat bread + salad.

7. Cheese-less pizza or pasta. Sautee broccoli rabe and/or mushrooms and/or peppers with onion and olive oil and add onto whole wheat pizza dough. Tomato sauce is not needed, but add if you prefer. Whole wheat pasta or gnocchi with pesto and fresh cherry tomatoes are both great. Try cheese-less lasagna by baking thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini layered between tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, sauteed garlic and onion. Adding some breadcrumbs on top gives a crunchy texture.

8. Vegetable sushi + edamame or steamed veggie dumplings. Kids love chopsticks. Remember, I said steamed not fried dumplings. Go for the low-sodium soy sauce. 

9. (Brown) rice n’ beans.  The beans provide the fiber and together they make a complete protein, which is a fancy way of saying that it provides all of the essential proteins that our bodies cannot make and must get from food. It’s my fav animal-less dish served with salad or steamed veggies. Stay tuned for the ultimate recipe.

10. Polenta with ratatouille or any sauteed veggies. Polenta is boiled cornmeal. Cornmeal is found in the grain aisle at most grocery stores if you want to make it from scratch, but I’ve actually only tried ready made polenta available at more specialty stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. I mash up the ready made polenta and mix in veggies. This is a great way to use whatever is leftover in the fridge. Most recent combo: diced eggplant, onions, garlic, red peppers, tomatoes. Here’s what ready made polenta looks like if you haven’t seen it:

I was planning on only having a list of 10, but I just thought of 2 more:

11.Veggie burrito night. Set up beans, brown rice, quinoa, sauteed onions, fresh tomato, lettuce, corn,  salsa (home-made preferable), hot sauce  in separate bowls with whole wheat tortillas/wraps. Have the kids assemble their own burrito/wrap/taco.

12. Smoothie. Instead of cow’s or soy milk try almond milk + banana+ strawberries + dash of chocolate syrup + spoonful of peanut butter.

Most people fear that giving up “obvious” protein sources like meat will keep them feeling hungry. But all of the suggestions above when eaten with the right sides will fill you up. Please let me know if you experience otherwise.

Kid Food

If it were up to me, there would be no children’s menus.

Separate “adult” and “kid” meals feed a message that certain foods are meant to be eaten by kids while others are just for adults. When really most food is meant to be eaten by people. Period. Not specific ages. After all, that’s how things were for hundreds of years before food companies realized that children were a great money-making target.

At home when kids are served separate meals from their parents it de-constructs the good ‘ole family meal. Kids mimic behavior, so when you make them their own food it takes away a learning opportunity to watch your eating habits and to try new food.

There are some refined tastes that I don’t expect a 4 year old’s palette to accept, but if you serve macaroni and ketchup every night, how do you except your kids to ever try pasta cacio e pepe (fancy way of saying pasta with cheese and black pepper). Get where this is going? One meal for everyone = adventurous taste buds.

It feels good to let that out.


Thanks for coming! I hope you like what you find. Right now I work as a Clinical Nutritionist at a Children’s Hospital in NYC. I really enjoy working with children in the hospital, but I also love working with healthy kids, preferably cooking and teaching them how to develop healthy (and delicious) habits. Kids eventually become adults, so don’t worry, I plan to post relevant info for all generations.Please feel free to post and ask questions about anything food/nutrition related – I mean it!