Breakfast Food Confidential: What's Really in Kids' Faves and 9 Healthier Alternatives

Few would dispute the importance of a healthy breakfast, especially where kids are concerned. But mornings? They are so, so busy, and it’s easy to turn to grab-and-go foods that you know your kids will eat. But the thing is, just because a food is marketed as a “breakfast” item doesn’t mean it’s a good choice. In fact, some so-called breakfast foods have more calories, fat, and sodium and less protein than a bowl of ice cream. Check out some of the worst breakfast offenders and healthier suggestions for your busy family after the jump.

  • Orange Juice 1 of 18
    Orange Juice

    Because it comes from fruit, it's easy to think of orange juice as healthy, but when you compare approximately equivalent amounts of orange juice and soda, you can see that, because of the high sugar levels, OJ is basically soda with Vitamin C.

    Image: USDA

  • Try Instead: 2 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Protein-rich smoothies can offer a lot of nutritional punch along with a little bit of sweetness, making them a more filling and healthier breakfast beverage. For optimal nutrition, try making your own smoothies at home where you can use the freshest ingredients and ensure that there's nothing but the good stuff in your smoothies.

    Make a maple lime papaya smoothie

    Image: Kathy Patalsky

  • Granola Bars 3 of 18
    Granola Bars

    Ideally, granola bars are a satisfying, on-the-go breakfast with whole grains and nutritional powerhouses like nuts. In reality, many granola bars are teeming with added sugar, hydrogenated oils, and, well, actual candy.

    How to zero in on a better bar

    Image: Evan-Amos

  • Try Instead: 4 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Select a better granola bar or go homemade. Granola bars should have plenty of protein -- they're meant to be satisfying. Look for a granola bar that doesn't list sugar as the second ingredient and has whole grains and plenty of protein -- here's how to select a good one. Or consider making your own granola bars and tailoring them to the tastes, allergies, and nutritional needs of your family.

    Make homemade granola bars

  • Sugary Cereals 5 of 18
    Sugary Cereals

    Since sugary cereals are made for and marketed to kids, you'd think they'd be a great, kid-friendly breakfast option. Think again. Besides refined carbohydrates, artificial dyes, and additives, some breakfast cereals are more than 56 percent sugar by weight. That's right--sugar can comprise over half of the total ingredients! In fact, many are so unhealthy that you'd be better off serving actual cookies to your kids for breakfast.

    More on making smart cereal decisions for kids

    Image: Zanastardust

  • Try Instead: 6 of 18
    Try Instead:

    With only 1 gram of sugar per serving and plenty of whole grains, plain Cheerios are a simple breakfast option you can feel pretty good about. For an even more nutritious breakfast, make your own granola.

    Make homemade granola

  • Sausage Patties 7 of 18
    Sausage Patties

    Since they are low in carbs and sugar, sausage patties can seem like a healthy and fortifying breakfast option. However, a serving of one store-bought sausage patty can have more than 230 calories, has nearly 20 percent the RDA of sodium, and a whopping 22 grams of fat. 

    Image: USDA

  • Try Instead: 8 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Hard-boiled eggs are a great way to get some protein at breakfast time. And at only 80 calories each, you could eat five and still consume fewer calories than you would from two sausage patties. They also have lots of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and selenium. For a healthy breakfast that's high in protein and gives you a serving of veggies, try baked eggs with greens.

    Make baked eggs with greens

  • Instant Oatmeal 9 of 18
    Instant Oatmeal

    Instant oatmeal is a whole-grain breakfast that's fast and easy to make. So it can be a great option for busy families. Unfortunately, many of the most popular brands can also have loads of sugar -- not cool.

    Learn more about unhealthy "health" food for kids

    image: Nillerdk

  • Try Instead: 10 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Plain instant oatmeal with a touch of honey is a fast and healthy option. Or, make your own flavored instant oatmeal (It's easier than you think!).

    Make coconut chai instant oatmeal

    Image: Stacie Billis

  • Toaster Pastries 11 of 18
    Toaster Pastries

    Toaster pastries frequently come in packs of two, but just a single pastry can have 200 calories, 16 grams of sugar, 5 grams of fat, and 160 milligrams of sodium, not to mention high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (read: trans fat). Compare that to, say, ice cream which has 130 calories, 14 grams of sugar, 7 grams fat, and 35 milligrams of sodium per 1/2 cup serving.

Image: Evan-Amos

  • Try Instead: 12 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Seriously, almost anything. For something fast, try a whole wheat English muffin with a smear of peanut butter, a handful of almonds, and a drizzle of honey. For special occasions, consider making your own toaster pastries, which have less sugar and can be made with wholesome ingredients like whole wheat flour, honey, and real fruit.

    Make homemade pop tarts
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal

  • Doughnuts 13 of 18

    You probably aren't surprised to hear that doughnuts are not very good for you. But you may be surprised to learn exactly how bad for you they are. A single plain cake doughnut can have as many as 190 calories, 11 grams of fat, 210 milligrams of sodium, and 7 grams of sugar. And really, who in the history of the world has ever eaten just one doughnut?

    Image: Shane Adams

  • Try Instead: 14 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Doughnuts are a food that should be enjoyed only occasionally. If you or your kids are eating them regularly, you may have grown hooked on that sugar buzz. The best way to quit an unhealthy sugar habit is to go cold turkey and just stop altogether. If you need to substitute another kind of food buzz, try spicy or sour foods instead. Tabasco will give you a little rush with just one calorie. If you have a little time, shakshouka is a satisfying egg dish with a little kick.

    Make shakshouka

  • Muffins 15 of 18

    If a blueberry muffin feels a little decadent and cake-y, that's because it is essentially cake. A large, commercially prepared blueberry muffin can have 540 calories, more than two pieces of chocolate cake. And for all those calories, you're not really getting much in the way of nutrients.

    Image: Renee Comet, NIH

  • Try Instead: 16 of 18
    Try Instead:

    One great way to reduce your sweets intake is to limit yourself to those you make at home. Having to do a little work for your sweets means you aren't cutting them out entirely, but it makes you less inclined to eat them daily. As a bonus, homemade muffins allow you to cut down on unhealthy sugars, and give you the chance to add healthy ingredients like whole grains and fresh fruit. Don't have time to make your own muffins? A whole wheat bagel is a great grab-and-go option.

    Make apple quinoa muffins

  • Flavored Yogurt 17 of 18
    Flavored Yogurt

    Yogurt is a healthy breakfast option, but many yogurts, especially those marketed to kids have so much sugar, they're more like desserts. Some brands of flavored yogurt can have as many as 90 calories and 14 grams of sugar in a 4 oz. serving.

  • Try Instead: 18 of 18
    Try Instead:

    Read labels and find flavored yogurt options that are made with real fruit, are free of dyes, and have less sugar. Better yet, buy plain yogurt and add just a touch of honey or some fresh fruit.

    Learn more about the benefits of yogurt

    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal

Image: Zanastardust

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