We did a thing as a family. It was called “The No Sugar Cereal for Breakfast" experiment.
Why did we feel the need to do this?
Two years ago I was motivated and able to make breakfast or have healthy options on hand all the time. But then miraculously (seriously, I only have 1 ovary that works) we got pregnant with baby #5 and I became less able to do breakfast, shop for food or wake up in the morning----> for 22 months. Yes... this pregnancy was a high-risk, highly complicated mess of miracles. I was given the diagnoses of Placenta Accreta compounded with Placenta Previa trying to bring that baby into the world. During this time my 4 other kids had to be self sufficient. They got themselves up, got breakfast, and got off to school and back from school. No help from me. And they ROCKED IT.
As awesome as that is- I gave optimal nutrition a back seat as I clung to survive and didn’t have the brain space to do it all while keeping myself and this baby alive on bedrest for 4 months plus recovery after the intense surgery to remove the baby safely from my diseased womb as a preemie, and save my life in the process as I would inevitably hemorrhage during the surgery.
Life happens my friends. It just DOES. Sometimes health and good food choices just are going to ebb and flow. And guess what? You can always change, and get back into a better groove.
And we did just that! When I started feeling better, and able to get up and exercise and resume a somewhat new normal, I started noticing two of my children getting headaches more often than they had before. Like almost migraines. Calling me crying at school and either needing medicine at school, or they would come home and sleep it off. I noticed a LOT of morning attitude issues with intense hunger upon waking. I noticed them saying they were starving at school way before lunchtime and asking for snacks to take to school. AND the amount of cavities we come up were outrageous. This was late spring 2018. During the summer while we were all home together, I started looking at my kids food choices closer. I know from way too much experience that food plays into kids attitudes, academics, confidence, energy AND adolescent depression more than people give it credit for. So I knew that their foods were the place to begin looking for the source of the headaches and crummy attitudes.
These things are important to me as a mom.
I discovered that the breakfast cereal I was buying and providing my kids on average has 11-14 grams of sugar per serving size (one of them had 16 g per serving). What is crazy- is that their serving size listed on the box/bag is almost always less than 1 cup. Usually around 1/2-3/4 c. Some have more sugar, some have less. (But again, don't get fooled by the less sugar cereals... they sometimes advertise that, but they really just lowered their serving size. Crazy, right?) Then add MILK. Cows milk always has about 12-13 grams of sugar per cup. On average, a child will pour about 1 cup of cereal and 1/2- 3/4 c of milk into a regular sized bowl. Depending on their actual serving size and milk amounts, I derived that an average bowl of cereal has approximately 20-22 grams of sugar. And you know what? Even instant oatmeal packets have about 12-14 grams, and you add any milk to that? BOOM. You are around that 18-20 mark again.
I know the American Heart Association suggests 22-25 g of sugar be the DAILY limit for children 2-18yrs old.
And based on our current science understanding of human blood sugar maximums for good health, and bone health and teeth health, and immune system and weight issues- adults are advised to keep their sugar intake around 25-30 grams.
Obviously this ONE bowl of cereal filled that sugar intake for the entire day in about 5 minutes. Just imagine where their sugar intake is by the END of the day? 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich contains about 12 grams of sugar. Add a snack cup pudding or sugarized peach cup and their lunch is also well over 20 grams of sugar. Let the school add another milk jug and you have a highly sugarized child at 12:30 in the afternoon. THEN add the treats the teachers use as incentives... and oh my word. My mind was going crazy with these realizations. Then let us look at our dinners. We had pasta and fruit and breads and potatoes and rices.
*A little side note here- that will have a post of its own one day: Please realize that our country has traditionally served heavy carb dinners in error of human nutrition needs. It stemmed from the early agricultural roots, where families had only 1 large meal a day, and included all the food groups. The problem... we never stopped doing it, even when we didn't work physically any more for 16 hours a day and have 1 large meal a day. As such, we have grown accustomed to the traditional family dinner including heavy amounts of carbohydrates, even though it totally makes NO sense to fuel up our bodies right before we sit around and then go to bed. And now a lot of people continue to eat, and even give their kids an optional bed time snack after dinner!*
So by now, you've fed your kid upwards of 35-40 grams of sugar during the day, sometimes a lot more than that. And thats not a holiday! Their poor bodies are working SO efficiently to break all of it down and get their bodies regulated- but by age 8-9 or so they will start to get tired. Our liver is only designed for normal amounts of sugar to convert. Childhood obesity is at an all time high, and kids are suffering. Then they get the inevitable weight gain tendency during puberty (yes, it happens to everyone in one way or another) but if it is exacerbated by a habit of high sugar intake, you'll have not only a cranky teen, but a self conscious one who is overweight. And when they go into adulthood it becomes a constant battle of weight gain and sugar cravings as their bodies are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic, insomniac, and the list goes on.
This is a BIG DEAL.
I prepared a few notes, and one Monday evening and told them all of these things and talked about the diseases associated with high blood sugars and asked if they’d be part of an experiment. They agreed. It’s been 6 months now. :) The initial experiment was only 1 month- 4 weeks. But in the initial 4 weeks we could ALL clearly see that the morning attitudes changed. Headaches have not even happened ONCE🤯. The kids have actually told me that they love the new breakfasts and feel so much better at school. They don't get tired and they aren't' starving until right before lunch. My teenager is starting to be mindful of her food choices and my 5 yr old understands that he needs protein and fiber filled grains at each meal. Even breakfast. :) I'm totally chalking this up to the MOM WIN section of my life.
Why share it with you?
Because we aren't super humans. We are normal people living in a civilized OVER-abundant country like you. We are a busy family of seven with two working parents, dance lessons, music lessons, soccer practice and carpool pickup with a 2 yr old on the side type of American family living in the suburbs of a modest city. Our sugar cereal problems are NOT unique. I see that cereal isle each week when I do our weekly grocery shopping. That stuff is pulled off the shelves in bags as big as my two year old as fast as pizza's go out Friday night. Americans are obsessed with cereal for breakfast.
But you might not realize you are feeding your kids too much cereal like I was. If you child is overweight, or sleeping horribly, or having diagnoses such as ahhd, add, or insomnia, or diabetes at a young age, take a look at their daily sugar intake. And changing their breakfast alone, could be a HUGE factor in eliminating a huge chunk of sugar from their day.
I honestly think if we only took milk products and cereal and packaged snacks from our stores we would see a HUGE turnaround in the obesity and disease epidemic in our country.
I want to make it known that during our test, I wasn't aiming to have NO sugar, as sugars are in all of our foods, especially the fiber filled carbs that we and our kids need for energy and growth- but just to take their breakfast from 20 grams, down to 8 or so. I made a goal to have a breakfast that includes up to 12-14 grams of sugar sometimes for something fun, but never more.
What did we do instead of cereal?
This is where I decided to look into other breakfasts for my kids, and make it a priority that we don't eat cereal and milk more than 3-4 times a month. Saving it for those crazy days when something simple just is what is needed. And so far, since August 1, 2018, we are still going, and we have cereal on Saturday mornings when I want to have my morning to myself. I also ONLY buy cereal that has less than 13 grams of sugar per serving, with 2-3+ grams of fiber per serving as well. And they can only have 1 bowl.
Things I look for NOW in their breakfast is the overall sugars (less than 8 per serving), the fiber to combat the sugars( at least 2, but I shoot for 4 grams+ per serving), and higher protein content ( 4+ grams per serving). I don't worry too much about the calories or fat or salts. Kids bodies and even adult bodies do really well with higher calorie/salt items first thing in the morning.
Here are some of the breakfasts we have now:
*Sausage egg sandwiches on Whole wheat english muffins *Kodiak Waffles with homemade syrup (again, the syrup from the store has WAY more sugar and way WORSE sugars than homemade aka High Fructose Corn Syrup or ANY corn syrup at all!) *Breakfast burritos with bacon and eggs in a tortilla *Cream of Wheat with brown sugar (1 tsp of sugar has 4 grams of sugars)Old Fashioned Oatmeal (yep- made on the stove, takes about 5 minutes) with sugar and frozen berries with vanilla extract or semi-sweet chocolate chips and peanut butter
*Crepes (we affectionately call them Elephant Ears) with sliced berries or a frozen berry sauce I throw together on the stove with some sugar, berries and a touch of cornstarch/water) and whipped cream or Quik brand chocolate syrup (this is the only chocolate syrup I've found that is real sugar and cocoa powder)
*Muffins and yogurt (I use whole wheat pastry flour for fiber and do all sorts of varieties- frozen berries, mini chocolate chips, pumpkin, cinnamon vanilla, apple streusel. I flavor plain greek yogurt with TruLemon drink flavor packets.)
*French toast with a high fiber bread
*and 1-2x a month I will do a refrigerator roll like a Pillsbury Orange Rolls, mom's microwave brown sugar rolls or something like that that is fun, but still around that less than 12 grams of sugar threshold.
I hope this helps you my dear reader, to keep your family from the sugar trap our country is in!