Bowl of CerealEveryone has heard the idiom – we widely laud breakfast as the most important meal of the day. However, as any parent can confirm, there is not always time to craft the kind of perfectly balanced culinary experience you might see in a TV commercial. So what does that mean for those of us with little ones? More often than not, the easiest thing to do before a day jam-packed with school and activities is to let the kids chomp down on their favorite colorful breakfast cereal. They think it tastes great, you know that it’s easy, and everyone seems to be happy. It might be an excellent short-term fix but, if you take your family’s health seriously, you might be setting yourself and your loved ones up for some serious long-term trouble.

Most breakfast cereals, and almost certainly the sweet kinds that come in colorful boxes designed to make your kids go bananas for them, are obviously loaded in sugar and artificial additives. They might be marketed as wholesome, but a simple glance at the nutritional facts will make it clear that breakfast cereal tends to have more in common with many desserts than anything else. For some people, that might be okay. Many of us indulge in pastries as a breakfast option – dessert for breakfast is not an entirely unfounded concept. Unfortunately, there is even more to consider before you pour the family a bowl.

Breakfast cereals are extremely dense in carbohydrates, surprisingly so. Although the branding often implies that these are mostly minimally-processed whole grains, that is almost never the case. Instead, they are loaded with high-glycemic index carbs which are widely acknowledged as a direct contributor to obesity. The science is fairly straightforward. When grains are highly processed, as they nearly always are for goods as mass produced as breakfast cereal, our bodies absorb them incredibly quickly – too fast, in fact – as blood sugar. This leaves you hungry after a few short hours and craving another sugar fix. Low-glycemic carbs like, for instance, sprouted grains take much longer to digest because much more “processing” occurs within our body organically. So, you’re left feeling full and benefitting from all the healthy nutrients that didn’t get stripped in the production process.

However, good luck convincing your child to give up a breakfast rich in colorful marshmallows for one rich in fiber without a fight. So, what are your options? The best thing to do is gradually transition away from packaged food as a general rule. This hold especially true for breakfast, where you are setting yourself up physically and mentally for the rest of the day. The closer to the earth you can get, the better. Our bodies are designed specifically to run off whole foods, so they are the best source of fuel. Kids tend to enjoy things like fruit, for instance, which packs enough sugar to please their palate but also delivers a healthy dose of various vitamins. One the best characteristics of a truly balanced breakfast is protein. So, you can also try a breakfast built around eggs or lean meats (the scientific community has made great advancements in the realm of turkey bacon!).

Everyone wants to make their kids happy. From time to time, breakfast cereal as a treat is more than fine. Just remember that the habits your family members build today will be the lifestyles they are living tomorrow, so prioritize empowering them to make positive choices.