Nutritionist Ranks the 15 Most Popular Kids' Breakfast Cereals

With growing health awareness, dietary choices for our kids are scrutinized more than ever. Breakfast, often hailed as the most important meal of the day, predominantly features cereals due to their convenience and appeal to children. However, not all cereals are created equal, especially in nutritional content.

Together with nutrition scientist Lauryna Nelkine, the Healthnews team meticulously evaluated ingredients that support children’s health, such as fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals, as well as those that should be minimized, including added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats.

For our analysis, our team selected the 15 most popular cereals, taking into account their sales volumes and ratings on major American retailing platforms.

This report aims to deliver a clear, actionable assessment of popular breakfast cereals available in the market, helping you make the best choices for your children's healthy start to the day.

Key takeaways: healthiest choices

The following cereals were determined to offer the most health benefits or pose the least harm, according to the analysis. Please note that while certain cereal brands may excel in specific nutritional aspects, as indicated in the tables provided, they may also lack in other areas.

Healthiest cereals ranked

Bottom picks

Now, let's uncover which cereals fell short in terms of nutritional value.

most unheathy cereals ranked

Unexpected findings

In our research, we found some surprising facts about certain cereal brands.

unexpected finds in less healthy cereals

The complete comparative table of nutritional evaluation

BrandServing size
Total fatSaturated fatTrans fatPolyunsaturated fatMonounsaturated fatCholesterolSodiumTotal carbohydrateDietary fiberTotal sugarsIncl. added sugarsProteinVitamin DCalciumIronPotassiumVitamin AVitamin CThiaminRiboflavinNiacinVitamin B6FolateFolic acidVitamin B12Pantothenic acidZincPhosphorusMagnesium
Multi Grain Cheerios39 g
1.5 g--0.5 g0.5 g-150 mg32 g3 g8 g8 g3 g4 mcg200 mg18 mg180 mg10%10%100%100%100%100%100%235 mcg100%100%100%--
Kellogg's Corn Flakes42 g
------300 mg36 g1 g4 g4 g3 g3 mcg-12 mg60 mg--30%30%30%30%200 mcg115 mcg30%----
Honey Bunches of Oats42 g
3 g--
0.5 g1.5 g-180 mg33 g2 g9 g8 g3 g2 mcg10 mg16.2 mg90 mg40%-40%35%40%40%400 mcg240 mcg100%-10%6%6%
Lucky Charms36 g
1.5 g--0.5 g0.5 g-220 mg30 g2 g12 g12 g3 g4 mcg130 mg3.6 mg--------45 mg-----
Kellogg's Frosted Flakes37 g
------190 mg33 g1 g12 g12 g2 g2 mcg-7.2 mg30 mg--20%20%20%20%-120 mcg20%----
Cinnamon Toast Crunch41 g
4 g--1 g2.5 g-230 mg33 g3 g12 g12 g2 g4 mcg130 mg3.6 mg-10%10%20%10%10%20%20%45 mcg20%-20%--
Post Raisin Bran61 g1 g-----
240 mg48 g9 g20 g9 g5 g2 mg30 mg10.8 mg340 mg-------------
Corn Chex Gluten Free 39 g
1 g--0.5 g--280 mg33 g2 g4 g4 g3 g2 mcg130 mg10.8 mg-10%10%20%10%10%20%20%45 mcg20%-20%
4%4%
Kellogg's Special K39 g
0.5 g-----270 mg29 g<1 g5 g4 g7 g2 mcg-10.9 mg10 mg10%10%20%20%20%20%435 mcg260 mcg20%----
Kellogg's Froot Loops39 g
1.5 g0.5 g----210 mg34 g2 g12 g12 g2 g2 mcg-4.5 mg60 mg-25%20%20%20%20%80 mcg45 mcg20%----
Nestlé Nesquik30 g
0.8 g0.3 g----70 mg22.6 g2.6 g22 g6.7 g2.6 g0.75 g138 mg3.3 mg---0.33 mg0.45 mg4.5 mg0.42 mg-60 mcg-1.9 mg---
Reese's Puffs, Chocolatey Peanut Butter Cereal39 g
4.5 g0.5 g-1 g2 g-220 mg30 g2 g12 g12 g3 g4 mcg130 mg3.6 mg90 mg-------45 mcg-----
Post Fruity Pebbles36 g
1.5 g-----190 mg31 g-12 g12 g1 g2 mcg-1 mg20 mg50%10%35%40%40%25%240 mcg140 mcg80%-15%--
Cascadian Farm Berry Vanilla Puffs43 g
1.5 g-----180 mg37 g2 g11 g11 g2 g-4%2%--------------
Berry Berry Kix Whole Grain1.5 cups2 g---0.5 g-190 mg34 g2 g8 g8 g2 g10%130 mg10.8 mg-10%10%-----------

Ingredients that are beneficial in children’s diet

#1 Fiber

  • Post Raisin Bran leads in dietary fiber content, followed by Multi Grain Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
  • Kellogg’s Special K has lower fiber content compared to other options, while Post Fruity Pebbles cereal contains no dietary fiber at all.
best cerals for fiber intake

Dietary fiber, found in plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts, and seeds, can also be added during manufacturing. Fiber plays a crucial role in our diet by increasing satiety, enhancing nutrient uptake, and reducing the risk of constipation.

Typically, both children and adults consume less dietary fiber than recommended. According to USDA data, boys aged 4–8 consume an average of 13.9 g of dietary fiber per day, while the adequate intake is 25 g per day. Boys aged 9–18 consume 16 g of fiber per day, whereas the recommended intake ranges from 31 to 38 g.

Similarly, girls aged 4–8 consume an average of 12.6 g of dietary fiber, while the recommended intake is 25 g per day. Those aged 9–13 get 14.8 g, with a recommended intake of 26 g; and girls aged 14–18 consume 13.2 g, with an adequate intake recommendation of 26 g per day.

Useal nutrients intake from foods and beverages

Our analysis revealed that Post Raisin Bran has significantly higher amounts of dietary fiber (9 g) per serving than other breakfast cereals. This could significantly contribute to meeting daily fiber intake requirements in children.

Multi Grain Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch also ranked in the top three, each offering 3 g of fiber per serving. This is closer to the amounts provided by the majority of cereal brands on our list, which range from 2 to 3 g of dietary fiber.

Meanwhile, Kellogg’s Special K provides less than 1 g of dietary fiber per serving, while Post Fruity Pebbles cereal does not contain any dietary fiber in its formulation for children.

#2 Protein

  • Post Raisin Bran and Kellogg’s Special K offer the highest protein per serving.
  • Post Fruity Pebbles has the lowest protein content.
best cereal for protein intake

Protein is an important macronutrient for children to meet the needs of their developing bodies. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily intake of 19 g of protein for 4–8-year-old girls and boys, 24 g for 9–13-year-olds, and 46–52 g for 14–18-year-olds. Although conventional breakfast cereals primarily provide carbohydrates, those including whole grains or nuts may offer increased protein.

Post Raisin Bran and Kellogg’s Special K have the highest protein amounts per serving, at 5 g and 7 g, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum, Post Fruity Pebbles contains the lowest level of protein, with only 1 g per serving.

#3 Important vitamins and minerals

  • Multi Grain Cheerios contains the most significant amounts of calcium.
  • Multi Grain Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Reese’s Puffs are fortified with the highest vitamin D.
  • Nestlé Nesquik may have a label error, saying it has 0.75 g of vitamin D per serving.
cereal rich in important vitamins and minerals

Vitamin D and calcium are micronutrients crucial for the development of children's bones, muscles, tissues, and immune systems.

However, dietary trends show that children often fall short of meeting the daily requirements for calcium, particularly those who do not consume dairy due to allergies, familial cultural heritage, ethical concerns, or current food trends. In such cases, parents might consider enhancing their children's diets with supplements or incorporating certain staple fortified foods proven to boost calcium intake.

Achieving adequate vitamin D through diet alone is exceptionally challenging; therefore, the primary sources are sun exposure, regular supplementation, or the consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods.

The recommended dietary allowance for calcium is 1,000 mg for children aged 4–8 and 1,300 mg for those aged 9–18, while the recommended daily intake of vitamin D for children aged 2–18 is 15 mcg.

Our evaluation showed that Multi Grain Cheerios breakfast cereal significantly contributes to calcium intake by providing 200 mg per serving. However, several cereal brands, including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Kellogg’s Special K, Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, and Post Fruity Pebbles, do not fortify their products with calcium, showing 0 mg on their nutritional labels.

Among the brands we reviewed, Multi Grain Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Reese’s Puffs were fortified with the highest amounts of vitamin D. They offer 4 mcg per serving, which helps meet almost 30% of the daily recommendation for children.

Cascadian Farm Berry Vanilla Puffs is the only brand in our study not fortified with vitamin D.

An interesting finding is the label on Nestlé Nesquik, which suggests it contains 0.75 g of vitamin D — equivalent to 750,000 mcg, far exceeding the daily recommended intake of 15 mcg for children. This is likely a labeling error, but it's an important detail that may warrant further investigation.
Nesquik nutritional table

Ingredients that should be limited in children’s diet

#1 Added sugar

  • The highest added sugar cereals are Lucky Charms, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Kellogg's Fruit Loops, and Reese's Puffs.
  • The least sugary cereals are Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Corn Chex Gluten Free, and Kellogg's Special K.
cereals ranked by added sugar amount

Added sugars are abundant in highly processed foods. Examples include table sugar, honey, syrups, and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children younger than 2 years should not consume any foods or drinks with added sugar. For children older than 2, less than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugars.

How would that translate to real life? Considering the estimated daily energy needs of children, a sedentary 6-year-old would require approximately 1,200–1,400 kcal per day. This means that children in this age group should consume less than 120–140 kcal (equivalent to 30–35 g or 8 teaspoons) of added sugar per day.

recomeded daily calory intake by age, sex, daily activity

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests an even stricter limit on added sugar intake for children — reducing the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total daily energy intake. This translates to roughly less than 15–17.5 g or less than 4 teaspoons of added sugar per day for a sedentary 6-year-old.

From our reviewed list of cereals, 6 cereal brands stand out: Lucky Charms, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, Reese's Puffs, and Post Fruity Pebbles.

These brands contain the highest levels of added sugar. In just one tiny serving size, they provide 12 g (3 tsp) of added sugar.

This amount almost reaches the maximum daily added sugar levels recommended by WHO for a sedentary 6-year-old, which is less than 5% of daily energy requirements.

Research studies indicate that both adults and children often exceed recommended serving sizes when free-pouring breakfast cereal. Consequently, the actual consumed amounts of added sugar may exceed those listed on the label for a single serving.

This means that children may consume excessive amounts of added sugar, which may contribute to an energy surplus and, in the long term, increase the risk of childhood obesity and related metabolic conditions. Inadequate intake of beneficial nutrients results in inadequate dental health, leading to dental caries.

The breakfast cereal brands with the lowest amounts of added sugar on our list — Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Corn Chex Gluten Free, and Kellogg's Special K — all provide 4 g (1 tsp) of added sugar per serving.

#2 Sodium (salt)

  • Kellogg's Corn Flakes have the highest sodium content, followed by Corn Chex Gluten Free and Kellogg's Special K.
  • The cereals with the lowest sodium levels are Nestlé Nesquik and Multi Grain Cheerios.
what cereal to choose for balanced sodium intake

While sodium is an essential nutrient for the normal functioning of our cells and helps regulate electrolyte balance and blood pressure, children require only very small amounts of dietary sodium. Our food supply offers an abundance of highly processed foods that are commonly high in sodium, such as chips, sauces, and cookies.

The WHO recommends that children aged 2–15 decrease their sodium intake to maintain blood pressure within the normal range. According to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the recommended sodium intake is 800 mg/day for children aged 1–3, 1,000 mg/day for those aged 4–8, 1,200 mg/day for 9–13-year-olds, and 1,500 mg/day for 14–18-year-olds.

Daily sodium intake recomendation by NASEM

Kellogg's Corn Flakes contain the highest sodium levels, 300 mg per serving, followed by Corn Chex Gluten Free at 280 mg/serving and Kellogg's Special K at 270 mg/serving. None of the cereals on our list contain sodium levels above the recommended daily intake for children.

However, consuming more than one serving per day — which is very common among children, as the serving size often differs from the portion size they pour to fill the bowl — can lead to excessive sodium intake and other unfavorable nutrient intakes. The portions typically exceed the brands’ recommended serving sizes of 30–40 g, which are quite small (similar to a small handful) and difficult to measure accurately.

The cereals with the lowest sodium levels are Nestlé Nesquik, with 70 mg per serving, and Multi Grain Cheerios, which contains 150 mg per serving.

#3 Saturated and trans fats

  • Kellogg's Froot Loops is the only cereal in our study containing hydrogenated coconut oil, similar to partially hydrogenated oils, which the FDA has banned since 2023.
  • Nestlé Nesquik cereal contains palm oil, a source of saturated fats and a contributor to deforestation.
cerals not the best for saturated fats intake

In general, both adults and children are recommended to consume foods low in saturated fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, it is advised to consume less than 10% of daily calories from saturated fats.

For a moderately active 4-year-old child, this would translate to less than 140 kcal or less than 16 g of saturated fats per day. Moreover, it is recommended to completely avoid the consumption of trans fats, which can be found in commercially processed foods and are listed in the ingredients list as "partially hydrogenated oils."

Most of the cereal brands on our list contain no or only minuscule amounts of saturated fatty acids, which is not surprising considering that breakfast cereals are primarily made from carbohydrate-rich grains rather than fats. Saturated fats are mostly present in foods of animal origin, such as butter, or in tropical oils like palm and coconut oil.

Only Nestlé Nesquik cereal contains palm oil, which is a source of saturated fats and also contributes to deforestation.

In fact, Kellogg's Froot Loops contains hydrogenated coconut oil as one of its ingredients. In 2023, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils should no longer be used in foods as they are no longer recognized as generally safe.

The hydrogenation of plant oils results in the formation of trans fats, which are linked to adverse health effects such as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends replacing trans fats with unsaturated fats.

So, as you pour that cereal tomorrow morning, remember: a little knowledge goes a long way in nurturing our children's well-being.

The report is independently produced and is not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the manufacturers mentioned herein. Should you have any questions or specific requirements, please feel free to contact us here.


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Comments

Sara
prefix 1 month ago
This is the most ridiculous ranking. The reason Froot Loops are unhealthy has much more to do with all the dyes and sugar. The hydrogenated oil is awful too, but it's not the same as PHO. To rank Lucky Charms as good in any way, shape, or form, is flabbergasting. Who wrote this?