Do you know what one of the most common questions I get from parents is? It’s what do you feed your family for breakfast. It therefore stands to reason that whenever I share on social media about our breakfasts without cereal (check out a breakfast story), I always get lots of comments and requests for help. So when I served these sauteed mixed vegetables and nuts for breakfast this week, and our 13yo daughter said “thanks mum, this looks amazing!”, I knew it was time to write this article about How To Transition Away From Breakfast Cereal.
Why change from breakfast cereal?
I first started to look at what I was feeding my family for breakfast just 3 years ago after reading Australian Dr Peter Dingle’s book – My Dog Eats Better Than Your Kids. Prior to that, we were a ready made breakfast cereal family. In Dr Dingle’s book, he shared about how eating most breakfast cereal was as nutritious as eating cardboard for breakfast. They are largely carbohydrates, and not necessarily long lasting carbs either. Many are laden with sugar or salt and many contain additives.
- 92% of the cereals reviewed contain more than 1 teaspoon of sugar in a serve (about 40g)
- a whopping 75% contain sodium (salt) above the amount recommended as best for an adult by the Heart Foundation (<=120mg per 100g)
- 83% of the cereals reviewed had a health star rating of above 3 – crazy right
- additives were not factored into this review
In a nut shell, many ready breakfast cereals do not offer much nutritional value. Given the sugar and salt content, it is also questionable about the value of the health star rating system for cereals.
When I was researching breakfast cereal stats, I also researched the history of breakfast cereal. I came across this New York Times article from 2016 and it opened with the following quote about ready made breakfast cereal:
“An American invention, breakfast cereal began as a digestive aid, acquired religious overtones, became a sugary snack and now toggles between health food and sweet indulgence.”
Based on the review completed by Choice, it would appear that in Australia, many of our breakfast cereals are bordering on the sweet indulgence side.
I should make it clear, I am not writing this article about throwing out breakfast cereal entirely. It really is about how you can transition to eating more real foods for breakfast and minimise the ready made cereals your family eats – see this article).
Aside from the lack of nutrition in most ready made breakfast cereals, another wonderful reason to have more non-cereal breakfasts is because 94% of children are not eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Having breakfasts that incorporate vegetables takes the pressure of trying to get 5 serves in their lunchbox and on their dinner plate. Imagine if you could have 1 serve for of veg at breakfast, one for lunch, then you only need to get 3 on their dinner plate. #winningtheveggame
Transitioning -v- Cold Turkey
Unless there is a critical health issue at play, my approach to changing what our family eat is to transition rather than go cold turkey. What I mean by this is that I make small consistent changes over a longer period of time. This way the changes stick and go largely unnoticed. Who needs extra drama and angst in the mornings right? Nope, nice gradual changes is what I am talking about in this article. Of course, if you’re up for the challenge of changing from breakfast cereal cold turkey, then by all means go for it.
The Transition Technique
Whenever I want to change what my family are eating, I use a technique called Adding in and Crowding out. I cover this in a lot more detail in The 5 Minute Health Lunchbox System eCourse. (Join the eCourse in November and get $100 off).
The technique works like this:
- Give them what they like
- Add in what you want
- Overtime, crowd out what you don’t want and keep giving them what you do want them to have but in smaller amounts.
This technique allows you to introduce changes largely unnoticed.
The ‘How to’ Transition Steps
1. Boost / Add Nutrition
In this first step, you keep giving them what they want – the cereal, but you add in some extra nutrition. This could look like:
- Replace added sugar or honey on top of the cereal with fresh fruit like bananas, strawberries, blueberries etc.
- Add nuts and or seeds (pepitas, sunflower, chia, flax) – they contain good fats and protein
- Reduce the amount of cereal and serve it with a nourishing smoothie. I use this recipe when I am allowing our kids to have cereal or crumpets:
- A small handful of mixed nuts or a large tablespoon of LSA
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 tblspn cacao
- ½ avocado
- 2 tblspns coconut cream
- 1 -2 cups milk (I use Coco Quench coconut milk)
Throw it all in a blender and blitz until thick and creamy – adjust the amount of milk to get the thickness you want.
2. Add in a Non-Cereal One Day A Week
Make one day a week as a non-cereal day. Choose foods that your kids like and have them on the non-cereal day. Make the day special. Here’s some ideas
- it’s Monday, let’s kick off the week with pancakes
- it’s Wednesday – Hump Day – so we’re going to celebrate making half way through the week by having homemade muesli with homemade banana nice cream (frozen bananas blended up to a creamy ice creamy consistency)
- it’s Friday, let’s have fun for the last day of the week and have baked beans on sour dough
3. Add In Another Non-Cereal Day
After a few weeks of having one day a week without breakfast cereal, add in another non-cereal day. Approach it in a similar way to step 2. Make the day special by talking up the breakfast option.
4. Change Up The Cereal You’re Eating
You know your family better than me, go at a pace that works for your family. When you think they are ready, take a closer look at the cereal you’re having by asking yourself “What’s In My Food?” Read the label. Are you happy with the ingredients? If not, find a better alternative and start ‘adding and crowding out’ the cereal choice. For instance, let’s just say you were having a packet muesli loaded with sugar, you could make up your own muesli (see this recipe) and then add in some of the packet muesli and your muesli into the breakfast bowl. Over time, reduce the amount of the store bought muesli and increase your muesli.
5. Keep Adding In Non-Cereal Days and Changing Up Your Cereal
Once you’re on a roll, don’t stop. Keep adding in more non-cereal days, and changing up the cereal so it’s more nutritious.
6. Set Boundaries
Kids being kids, they will want to keep having cereal. Be sure you have a clear position on what you want to happen if they have cereal. For instance, our kids know the rule is that if they want cereal (or crumpets), they must first have a nutritious smoothie before they can have the cereal. The beautiful thing about this boundary is that quite often after the nourishing smoothie, they do not need much cereal. Sometimes Rilien (our 9yo son) decides he doesn’t even want his cereal because he’s full.
Non Cereal Ideas
- eggs – so many options here – boiled, fried, scrambled, poached, baked etc
- sour dough toast – toppings include avocado, tomato and cheese, homemade baked beans, spag or savoury mince
- homemade baked beans
- vegetable platter with fruit and nuts
- sauteed vegetables
- halloumi with vegetable sides
- pancakes with yoghurt, fruit and nuts
- cereal toasts
- homemade muesli with yoghurt, fruit and nuts
- bircher muesli
- lazy bones banana bread
- porridge (use rolled oats not quick oats) topped with fruit and nuts
- leftover dinner