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Sugary cereals appeal to children with colors, shapes, sweet taste


Q. I'm having breakfast problems with my children, aged 7 and 10. They insist on eating only super-sugary cereals. It's that or nothing, and they usually go from one movie-fad cereal to the next. Any suggestions on how to break the habit?

A: When a popular kid's movie hits the screen, it's now common for a cereal to follow in its wake. We find Ghostbuster, Batman, Dick Tracy, Ninja Turtle, Addams Family and even Bill and Ted's "Excellent" cereals on the shelves at the same time that the movies begin to pack them in at the local theater.

So, after seeing the movie or just watching it advertised, young shoppers come face-to-face with the cereal promotion in a well-timed, highly visible, end-of-the-aisle supermarket display.

Despite the variety in colors, shapes, tastes and textures, movie cereals and other super-sweet cereals are quite similar in composition. It's almost as if there were a master computer that takes the theme of the promotion, shuffles a few shapes, colors and textures and voila! Out comes the latest product.

A 1-ounce serving is about one cup in volume, depending whether it's puffed or flaked. In each serving there's usually about 110 calories and the super-sweet cereals contain from 9 to 15 grams of sugar (4 grams of sugar equal one teaspoon). There's a small amount of protein and fat (often from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) and little, if any, dietary fiber. The added sugar usually represents 33 percent to 55 percent of the )) cereal's calories. With such paltry nutritional assets, it's not surprising that the cereal companies fortify their product with vitamins and minerals. This, along with milk's major contribution of protein, calcium and other nutrients, round out the food value of this type of cereal meal.

Although cereal with low- or no-fat milk is a great way to start the day, these super-sweet, fortified cereals tend to be costly, over-produced and over-promoted.

No question you can save money and provide better nutrition by serving a basic grain cereal. See if you can switch from the pre-sweetened cereals to ones having under 8 grams of sugar per serving. Try using a high fiber cereal, one based on whole grains, and then add your own sweetening in the form of fresh or dried fruit. In this way, you get the complex carbohydrates from the cereal, along with the fiber, vitamins and minerals, and you can control the amount of natural sweetness from the fruit. By having a variety of fruits available and ready for use, you offer a choice. Your children might even be able to taste the cereal grain.

If your child is a hopeless movie-cereal addict and can't understand your concerns, consider using these cereals -- but ,, only in small amounts to "sweeten" an un-sweetened cereal. In the end, it's better to start the day with food than to leave the house with an empty stomach.

Q: Recently you wrote about how eating at certain times of the day can affect one's metabolism. Have there been any studies that I can use to admonish the kids with, on what happens when they eat dessert first?

A: Although eating meals at different times of the day can affect one's metabolism, I am unaware of any studies on the effects of when dessert is served. At our house, dessert is served on some, but not all, nights. As we try to avoid portraying it as a reward for a clean plate, we make no connection between the amount of food eaten and entitlement to dessert (at least that's the theory). Fruit is always available, regardless of whether dessert is served.

An interesting approach is suggested by Ellen Satter, in her book, "How to get your kid to eat . . . but not too much" (Bull Publishing). Rather than promising a dessert, she suggests that a small serving be placed on the table at the start of the meal. In this way, the child can decide when to eat it. If he or she grabs it at the beginning of the meal and realizes he's still hungry, he'll probably proceed to the main foods without further delay or bargaining.

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