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Think twice before feeding your kids this… | New World Seeds & Tubers

With thanks to Bill Waterson

According to Hobbes (the tiger in the cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes”), the cereal box states that chocolate frosted sugar bombs contain 100% of the daily recommended allowance of caffeine.

Chocolate frosted sugar-bombs make Calvin hyperactive.

Unfortunately it’s hard to get the point across through sheer exaggeration, because the truth sounds like an exaggeration. Several breakfast cereals marketed to children are in excess of HALF sugar. The sugar content is only part of the bad news; breakfast cereals tend to be fluffy and insubstantial; there’s practically nothing to buffer all that sugar before it hits your pancreas.

The bad news is that 23 of the top 27 cereals marketed to children rated only Good or Fair for nutrition. There is at least as much sugar in a serving of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and 10 other rated cereals as there is in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts. Two cereals, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight) and nine are at least 40 percent sugar. And that’s not the only issue. Although Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has only 4 grams of sugar per serving, it got only a Fair rating, largely because it is higher in sodium and has zero dietary fiber.
–Consumer Reports

Unfortunately some of the alternatives I have seen suggested are hardly better; they’re still a tad high in sugar, and if you add some fruit as recommended elsewhere to boost the fiber, then you’ve just added quite a bit more sugar too!

Hot oatmeal porridge is supposed to be wholesome, right? Unfortunately they’re problematic too; most of them now come in little packets embedded in bigger boxes–too much packaging!–and are now full of sugar and artificial flavors along with bits of dried fruit, some of it dyed and artificially flavored so that cheaper fruits (dried apples, typically) can pass for more expensive ones (strawberries, blueberries…).

When I go to Costco, I don’t see a single choice that looks appealing to me. Most of the cereals that seem to be marketed to “conscientious parents” simply SUGGEST wholesomeness, typically through the artwork on the box, and the mention of one token “healthy” ingredient–say a bit of flax seed–without disclosing the overall picture of imbalance.

It’s like my older daughter spotting the exact same product–a type of oily salted crisp snack–in a pretty white package with lots of depictions of green vegetables on it and fancy lettering at Trader Joe’s, as can be found at Safeway in a garish black-and-florescent-orange package with big bold cartoony-looking type.

One product that used to be marketed to the health-conscious was a type of vitamin-fortified rice cereal, originally modest in sugar but also rather modest in fiber or protein or anything else to slow down your digestion of all that starch. Nowadays, however, it’s even worse as it comes coated with sugar, with florescent (dyed? doesn’t look natural to me) bits of freeze-dried strawberries in it.

Here’s my choice of healthy, inexpensive breakfasts:

They’re rolled rye, not rolled oats, because I developed a sensitivity to the Avenin in oats. Long story… I’ve had a bad attitude towards oats ever since then, but for people who can eat them, they’re good too. Oats are high in protein. Problem is, as is true of most cereals (in the literal sense of “grain that comes from grasses”), the protein in oats is imbalanced; it doesn’t contain enough lysine. That’s why some folks mix an egg into their oatmeal before cooking it in the oven; that’s an old farmer’s trick for making a more substantial version of oatmeal porridge.

I added a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, raisins, lightly toasted walnuts, and soy-milk. The raisins add some sugar but with all the fiber and protein in this porridge, it doesn’t hit my bloodstream particularly fast, and the raisins and walnuts give it some varied taste and texture so that it’s not just “pasty porridge”. The walnuts add some protein and some essential fatty acids. And they taste good too.

This afternoon I talked to my buddy Tom Kleffman of Three Daughters Farm fame, who said that his preference for breakfast porridge is cooked ground flour corn.

He grows traditional Amerindian flour corns, coarsely grinds them, and cooks them into a porridge. One nice thing about corn is that it tends to be less allergenic than wheat or oats. Not surprising as I think its precisely the proteins in wheat and oats that tend to trigger allergic reactions; corn is lower in protein. Rice is probably even safer for folks with allergies, and some brown rice can be slow cooked with enough water to make a porridge out of it.

During our conversation about kids’ breakfast cereals, Tom mentioned “Cuckoo for cocoa puffs”, which was an actual slogan for a General Mills breakfast cereal. Sounds like an admission regarding what it does to your kids when that sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa hit their bloodstream.

I think one reason that parents buy their kids commercial breakfast cereals is “convenience”. You just buy them, and the kids serve themselves. It’s worth pointing out, though, that you can easily set up a slow-cooker to have hot porridge ready in the morning. Set out some items like dried fruit, coconut flakes, and toasted coarsely-chopped nuts to go with it.

For those who know what thermos-pots are, those would probably work too.

It’s not so much a matter of time-pressure, as it is planning.

I’ve written mostly about the nutrition aspect, but something else bothers me and I’ve got to get it off my chest: these commercial breakfast cereals are ridiculously expensive compared to value. Feel the box. Look at the net weight. Typically the product is so fluffy it is mostly air. Divide the price by the net weight. Think about it.

There’s a reason the manufacturers can spend so much money on advertising! For those who don’t know, children’s breakfast cereals are one of the most heavily advertised food items. They put commercials on children’s programming, with the intent of getting your kids to nag you to buy them the chocolate-frosted-sugar-bombs. Here’s another helpful hint: turn off the television. It’s a nuisance, especially to parents.

In comparison, rolled whole grains are dramatically cheaper, but you don’t have to feel guilty spending less money on your kids’ breakfast, because it’s so much healthier for them. It’s a win-win.

I have a feeling that all the breakfast cereals that deceptively look like they’re supposed to be healthy and wholesome are an indication that many parents really do care what their kids eat; they’ve just gotten into some bad habits for lack of knowing better and a need for a higher level of commitment to act on their good intentions.

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