When you eat breakfast, you are "breaking the fast" from when you went to bed the night before.
The most important meal of the day, breakfast gives your body and brain a wake-up call. Research has proven that children who eat breakfast perform better in school. Cereal is one of the staples for this important meal.
What should you look for when selecting a cereal?
The famous stars, athletes and characters on the box are fun, but you need to look beyond them. Here's how:
First, look at the Nutrition Facts label on the side or back of the package.
This is where you'll find protein, fat and sugar content as well as fiber and vitamins.
Look at the section which contains the words "Total Carbohydrate." Under this heading is a line stating "sugars," which tells you how much sugar is in one serving of your cereal.
Below is an example from the cereal Apple Jacks.
Cereal (without milk)
One serving - 1 oz. (1 cup)
Calories per serving - 110
Dietary Fiber - 11 g
Sugars - 14 g
Total Carbohydrates - 25 g
As you can see in the above example, one serving of Apple Jacks has 14 grams of sugar.
What does this mean? How many teaspoons of sugar are in 14 grams?
It is important to know 4 grams of sugar equals 1 measuring teaspoon.
To figure out the number of teaspoons of sugar in one serving of Apple Jacks, divide 14 grams by 4.
The answer is 3 1/2 teaspoons of sugar per serving.
Rule of thumb
Many nutritionists and dentists now recommend that you choose cereals that contain 6 grams of sugar per serving.
Six grams equals 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar.
Second, look at the fiber content. You should try to select cereals that have at least 3 grams per serving.
Remember, though, the more the better in this case. Adding fruit, berries or nuts to your cereal is also a good way to add fiber.
Look for the words whole wheat and whole grain within the top 3 to 4 ingredients on the list.
The ingredient list is written in descending order of predominance by weight, with the ingredient that weighs the most listed first.
So, finding whole wheat or whole grain in the top 4 of this listing indicates higher fiber content.
Third, look for cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
If you have a picky eater, this is a great idea to ensure he or she is getting the nutrients they need.
Fourth, serve your cereal with 1 percent or skim milk if your child is older than 2 years of age. Children younger than 2 need the essential fatty acids in whole milk for brain development.
Hectic school mornings can make eating breakfast a hassle, but dry cereal with added milk is an easy way to get your body and brain going for a good day at school.
Browning, a registered dietitian, is director of the Susquehanna Health Community Health Improvement.