Want some cereal with your sugar? More than three teaspoons of sweet stuff is too much

How much sugar does your child eat on a daily basis? Would you ever let her have dessert for her first meal of the day? You may be doing just that, if you feed her certain cereals.

We all know that popular kids’ cereals can be loaded with sugar. The words “frosted,” “maple,” and “honey” often tend to masquerade for sugar, sugar, sugar. So, many of us buy cereals that contain oats and bran, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a healthy breakfast.

In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, the amount of sugar in most cereals nearly assures that your child might be eating the equivalent of a sugary dessert each morning.

When children eat cereal for breakfast, many are getting considerably more sugar than the daily-recommended amount. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume less than three teaspoons of sugar per day — which is much less than what is found in some single servings of these cereals.

“I was really surprised when I read the EWG report,” says Jean Sanderson, a mom of three from Chelsea in Manhattan. “I think I am being very careful when I shop, and I learned that two of the cereals that I regularly buy are on the list. Ironically, every time my kids ask for a box of cookies, I say no, but then let them eat cereal. Who knew?”

The worst offenders are Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and General Mills Wheaties Fuel. Each contains approximately 20 grams of sugar (five teaspoons). This amount is actually more than one Hostess Twinkie. In addition, three Chips Ahoy cookies (11 grams) have less sugar than one serving of Honey Nut Cheerios (12 grams).

However, there is no need for parents to stop buying cereal altogether, because many good-tasting cereals do meet federal guidelines for nutritional health. Among the top healthiest cereals are Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats: Unfrosted Bite-Size, Frosted Big Bite, Frosted Bite-Size, Frosted Little Bite, General Mills Cheerios Original, and General Mills Kix Original.

Just remember, supermarkets know that kids will naturally gravitate toward the brightly colored sugary cereals, so they place those boxes on the lower shelves at just the right level to catch a child’s eye. You just have to be one step ahead.

“Parents have to be investigative and make sure that what their kids are eating is of good value, because the companies and stores certainly aren’t doing it,” says Sanderson.

To read the Environmental Working Group report in its entirety, visit www.ewg.org.

Danielle Sullivan, a Brooklyn-born mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for more than 10 years, and was recently honored with a Gold award for her health column by the Parenting Media Association. She also writes for Babble.com.