Sugar in Children's Cereals

Popular Brands Pack More Sugar Than Snack Cakes and Cookies

December 12, 2011

Sugar in Children's Cereals: Healthy Breakfast Tips

EWG's Healthy Breakfast Tips

Avoid cereals that don't meet nutrition guidelines


Based on percent sugar by weight

1 Kellogg's Honey Smacks 55.6%
2 Post Golden Crisp 51.9%
3 Kellogg's Froot Loops Marshmallow 48.3%
4 Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's OOPS! All Berries 46.9%
5 Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Original 44.4%
6 Quaker Oats Oh!s 44.4%
7 Kellogg's Smorz 43.3%
8 Kellogg's Apple Jacks 42.9%
9 Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries 42.3%
10 Kellogg's Froot Loops Original 41.4%

[see full list of cereals ]

Source: EWG analysis of nutrition labels for 84 children's cereals.

Choose healthy cereals


All cereals on this list pass proposed federal guidelines* on sugar, sodium, fat and whole-grain content. They are free of artificial flavors, colors and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.


These cereals are also free of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients:

  • Ambrosial Granola: Athenian Harvest Muesli
  • Go Raw: Live Granola, Live Chocolate Granola, and Simple Granola
  • Grandy Oats: Mainely Maple Granola, Cashew Raisin Granola, and Swiss Style Muesli
  • Kaia Foods: Buckwheat Granola Dates & Spices and Buckwheat Granola Raisin Cinnamon
  • Laughing Giraffe: Cranberry Orange Granola
  • Lydia's Organics: Apricot Sun, Berry Good, Grainless Apple, Sprouted Cinnamon, and Vanilla Crunch.
  • Nature's Path Organic: Optimum Banana Almond, Optimum Cranberry Ginger, Corn Puffs, Kamut Puffs, Millet Puffs, and Rice Puffs.


These cereals are easier to find but may include ingredients that are genetically modified or grown with pesticides.

  • Kellogg's Mini-Wheats: Unfrosted Bite- Size, Frosted Big Bite, Frosted Bite-Size, Frosted Little Bite
  • General Mills Cheerios Original**
  • General Mills Kix Original**


While not considered children's cereals, these are good options for the breakfast table. They may contain genetically modified grains and ingredients grown with pesticides.

  • Post Shredded Wheat (all varieties)
  • Post Grape-Nuts Flakes**
  • Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares Cinnamon**
  • Post Bran Flakes**
  • Post Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Bunches**

Source: EWG analysis of nutrition labels for 84 children's cereals. 
* The federal Interagency Working Group proposed voluntary guidelines for sugar, sodium, saturated fat and whole grain content (IWG 2011). 
** These meet the Interagency Working Group's interim 2016 sodium guideline but not the final guideline scheduled to take effect in 2021 (IWG 2011).

Look for three things on cereal labels

Some cereals are better than others. When selecting cereals, nutrition expert Marion Nestle recommends parents look for:

  • Cereals with a short ingredient list (added vitamins and minerals are okay).
  • Cereals high in fiber.
  • Cereals with few or no added sugars, including honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, lactose, glucose, high- fructose corn syrup and malt syrup (USDA 2006a).

Cereals that meet these criteria can usually be found on the top shelves of the cereal aisle. They are harder to reach and not at eye level but often less expensive (Nestle 2006).

Make a good breakfast at home*

EWG recommends other quick, delicious and nutritious ways to start your child's day right, including:

Hot oatmeal


(not instant, cooked without salt)
  • 1 cup regular oatmeal
  • Chopped walnuts (about 7)
  • Fresh chopped fruit
    (organic berries or half an apple, depending on the season, are perfect)
  • 1 cup of low- or non-fat milk or dairy-free calcium-fortified milk
  • Calories: 376 (24 percent of daily requirement),
  • Protein: 17 g (grams)
  • Saturated Fat: 2.8 g,
  • Fiber: 6 g,
  • Sugar: 0 g of added sugar; 22 g of total sugar (fruit and milk),
  • Total sugar content will vary depending on the type of milk used (unsweetened 4 soy milk = 1 g, 1 percent low fat milk = 12 g).,
  • Calcium: 332 mg (26 percent of daily requirement),
  • Sodium: 386 mg

Time-saving tips: Make oatmeal in advance, refrigerate and heat it up in the morning. Or prepare oatmeal in the microwave -- mix 1⁄2 cup old-fashioned oats, 1⁄2 cup milk 1⁄2 cup water; microwave for 2-3 minutes on high; let cool; add fresh chopped fruit and nuts.

Smoothie with a twist


  • 1 medium banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (adds nutrients, fiber, and keeps your child fuller longer)
  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • Celery with unsalted nut or seed butter (peanut, almond, sunflower or tahini)

Give celery for breakfast a try. Time-saving tip: Ask children to fill their own celery while you make dinner the night before. Kids often enjoy helping out in the kitchen and are more likely to eat something they made themselves.

  • Calories: 380 (21 percent of daily requirement),
  • Protein: 16 g,
  • Saturated Fat: 3.6 g
  • Fiber: 8 g,
  • Sugar: 1 g of added sugar; 18 g of total sugar (fruit),
  • Calcium: 333 mg (25 percent of daily requirement),
  • Sodium: 196 mg
Scrambled egg and veggies wrap


  • 2 medium eggs, scrambled
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped spinach or chopped broccoli
  • Fresh shredded Swiss cheese
  • Wrap in a corn or whole wheat tortilla
  • 1 medium apple on the side
  • Calories: 306 (19 percent of daily requirement),
  • Protein: 17 g,
  • Saturated Fat: 5.6 g,
  • Fiber: 5 g,
  • Sugar: 0 g of added sugar; 3.3 g of total sugar,
  • Calcium: 247 mg (19 percent of daily requirement),
  • Sodium: 235 mg

*EWG's recommendations include eggs and nut butters, which are among the food groups that provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet according to "Principle A" of the federal Interagency Working Group's proposed voluntary guidelines. The saturated fat, sodium and sugar content of these foods are naturally occurring ("intrinsic"); the limits for added fats, sugars and sodium in the federal proposed guidelines are not applicable (IWG 2011). Nutritional content for these recommendations are from the USDA MyPyramid Tracker and Nutrient Data Laboratory (USDA 2011a and USDA 2011b).

Follow four steps for a healthy morning
  • Foods with fiber or protein will sustain your child until the next meal or snack.
  • Include a serving of seasonal fresh fruit or vegetables (frozen works as well).
  • Skip the fruit juice—just eat the fruit!
  • Don't be afraid of "dinner for breakfast." Many cultures include hearty options on breakfast menus.