Wean kids off sugary breakfast cereal by mixing it with the unsweetened version

Daphne’s hack struck a nerve, because sugar cereal happens to be one of my hot-button issues. I like to think I’m pretty moderate and open-minded about most things — including junk food — but sugar cereal sends me straight to the soapbox. How corporations can market that stuff to children as breakfast…grrrr.

BUT. Have I ever been at the grocery store with my kids and been convinced to buy a box of Halloween-themed Froot Loops with eyeball-shaped marshmallows? Just this once? YES I HAVE. So I appreciate Daphne’s situation, and her creative way past it.

I also recognize that there are few absolutes in parenting. Even the most health-conscious among us grab some Cap’n Crunch on the way to the checkout every now and then.

Whenever I bring my two five-year old boys to the market, I always seem to return with a new and alarming box of sugary cereal. A few weeks ago, it was a box of Cocoa Krispies, which I had real problems even pouring into a bowl for their breakfast!

At the last minute, I noticed a lonely, untouched box of regular Rice Krispies and inspiration struck. "Boys, do you want to have some new Chocolate and Vanilla Krispies?" (ding ding ding) Or, just plain Cocoa Krispies?" (wah wah wah) Of course, they were wildly excited to try the Chocolate and Vanilla option–and it was a hit!

Since then, I’ve been shamelessly mixing their sugary cereals with a plainer, generic version. We have Frosted Flakes + Corn Flakes, Apple Jacks/Froot Loops + plain Cheerios, Gorilla Munch + Kix. I also mix in one packet of flavored oatmeal with a half cup of plain oatmeal. At this point, my kids are well aware of what I’m doing, and it’s perfectly normal for them. In fact, I ran out of plain Rice Krispies this week and had to serve the chocolately version alone. A few minutes later, the soggy brown cereal was almost untouched in their bowls. When I asked what was wrong, their answer warmed my heart: "I don’t want to eat it. It’s too sweet!"

Related: Cookie Crisp cereal stands in for toddler snack cookies


  1. says

    We get plain cereal, i.e., cheerios and my kids mix flavored yogurt in it for their breakfast. They think it’s the best! We also do the half and half thing, and they will mix anything with cheerios.

  2. mama2etc says

    This is where the counter-top cereal dispensers really come in handy. We currently have Corn Flakes mixed with Frosted Flakes in one side, and Cocoa Puffs mixed with Kix in the other. My kids can get their own cereal, but I still control the mix ratio. Also, they seem to get tired of turning the knob to get the cereal into their bowls, which results in less cereal consumed (or wasted) at a sitting. I’m not big on cluttering up my counter with gadgets, but this one has been invaluable.

  3. Tiffany says

    That is so simple! I don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me before. We don’t buy cereal often, but even a little bit is usually too much. Thanks!!

  4. SJ says

    N loves to “mix” his cereal, which I started as a way to get rid of a sugary cheerios version diluting with regular cheerios. I personally have always like Special K with a little bit of frosted flakes mixed in – a little difference in texture and a bit of sweetness.
    The whole process of getting the cereal poured into the bowl has gotten tedious however – I may have to look into the countertop dispensers mentioned above.

  5. carrie says

    Great hack! When we were kids, my mom handled the sweet cereal issue by letting each of us (me and my brother) select one small box of the sugary cereal. She bought the giant size of Cheerios as well. We were allowed to eat the sugary cereal, but when it ran out, we had to eat Cheerios. I think we both still prefer Cheerios.

  6. Annette says

    In our house growing up, we were allowed to pick out a sugary cereal on our birthday as a special treat (similar to donuts or pastries), but it certainly was never viewed as something we had the option of eating every day. Now I prefer a healthy unsweetened breakfast, and sugary things make my stomach turn. My point is, if your kids aren’t used to eating it, they won’t develop a taste for it. Thanks, mom!

  7. kelly says

    A friend of mine has a household rule that her kids are allowed to have sugar cereal only as a birthday treat. They pick the type of cereal beforehand, open it on birthday morning, and once that box is gone, no more until the next birthday.

    That’s not much help for those looking to wean kids off the sugar cereal, but it might be a way to deal with the supermarket onslaught.

  8. Monera Mason says

    I avoid the sugar/junk by not shopping in the regular stores. My girls have no idea about Tony the Tiger, or Lucky Charms, or anything of the sort. They simply don’t sell it where we shop.

  9. Shannon says

    I let my kids have sugary cereals only on Fridays and that has been working great for years. We call it “Friday Froot Loops”.

  10. says

    My mom only let us eat Special K and Cheerios when I was growing up. Her rule was that we could have any cereal in which sugar was the 3rd ingredient or lower (made me read labels young!!). However, as we got older and clamored more loudly for sugar options, she relented and said we could buy them….but eat them as dessert, in place of cookies for example. This worked well: I got to feel like a normal kid and sample things like Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies (and my beloved S’mores Crunch), but I didn’t eat it for breakfast, I ate it as the candy that it is.

  11. Matt says

    LOL My mom used to do this to us 30 years ago. I always thought it was for health reasons, but talking to her about it a few years ago, turns out it’s just because we were poor. The healthy cereals were cheaper.

  12. D says

    I am with Lo. We eat sugar cereal as a dessert. My mom NEVER bought me any sugar cereal ever (which i why I buy it now!) and I think this is a nice compromise. Now that I am a mom, I know she was right. That stuff is total garbage. But for dessert, that is fine.

  13. reen says

    This is a great solution for reducing sugar intake, but it’s really all the other stuff in even the other cereals that scares me more than plain old sugar. My kids’ options are limited to the cereals on which I can actually read the labels!

  14. Melanie says

    When I was a kid we had plain cereal/oatmeal during the week, and on the weekends we got to have something sweeter, either chocolate chips in our oatmeal, or some “sweet” cereal (honeycombs, frosted shreddies, etc) mixed with our plain cereal. I always looked forward to the weekends!

  15. Allison says

    I’ve done this (for myself!) with apple sauce! The sugar free kind was just too tart for my tastes, but mixing it with the ‘regular’ stuff make a good blend. Now I can’t eat just the ‘regular’ stuff – its just too sweet (and I have a big sweet tooth!)

  16. says

    Too many advertisement on sweet cereals poising the kids in the mass media . Everyone should do something
    & train our young children to take less.
    Should we start the young one with less sugary stuff , their eating habit will well be like us .

    All the best be a good parent ,

    Tracy ho

  17. says

    On the rare occasions when we get fruit loops, Pumpkinpie always gets them mixed, too. or we will get sweet/healthy crossovers like mini-wheats. Lately, she’s been into mixing several cereals together anyhow, so a handful of mini-wheats among other non-sweetned is enough to sweeten the milk a touch and feel like a treat.

  18. Sheryl says

    Similar to some of the other commenters, my daughter gets 2 boxes of sugary cereal per year–one at Winter Break and one at Spring Break.

    And honestly, I get no arguments from her the rest of the year.

    This year for Spring Break she suggested forgoing the sugary cereal and instead, wanted to do donuts one day. Um, okay!

  19. says

    Awesome idea, specially since my kids love to mix-and-match cereals. I’ll try it as a surprise mix-and-match where they get one choice and I get the other. Still, we are forgetting that even the carbs in the non-sugary versions converts to sugars, so imagine the sugary kind…..
    Check out my blog on parenting skills: http://psychmom.typepad.com/psychmomreflections

  20. says

    Great idea! It is amazing the amount of sugary cereals that are sold now vs. back then. Even fruity Cheerios. We do fall victim to getting some since it’s a fast and easy breakfast but we try to limit it.

  21. Nancy says

    My mom used to do this, too, but she didn’t usually buy the kids’ cereals (every once in a while when they were on clearance or something). We’d mix the more expensive granola or muesli type cereal (also found on clearance) with plain corn flakes or Cheerios. Then Mom discovered Aldi where cold cereal in general was cheaper.
    Today, my family just doesn’t eat much cold cereal unless it’s on sale. Too much sugar/carbs period.

  22. Annette says

    All this venomous talk about “carbs” concerns me. The carbohydrates found in whole grains are an essential fuel for our bodies and minds. You can buy healthy, whole grain cereals and get a nutritious breakfast, especially if you buy brands like Health Valley that include nuts and flax seeds for extra protein/healthy fats. And by whole grain, I’m not referring to junk cereals smacking a “now with whole grains!” label on their box. The sugar pretty much cancels out the nutritive value.

  23. says

    That is a great idea. I am always having trouble getting my 2-year-old to eat healthy cereal. I might have to try that tip! Thanks for sharing!

  24. CJ says

    My grandma used to do this for us with chocolate milk (a major treat that we only got at her house). She would mix a little chocolate milk into the regular milk. I still prefer it this way, and my daughter loves to get “swirly” milk for a treat!

  25. Nancy says

    I’m a little upset at the commenter above who referred to those of us who were critical toward carbs or sugar in cereal as “venomous.” I don’t think anyone was particularly “venomous” about carbs – most of us realize that they are important and necessary. Myself, I have diabetes. I know from experience that cereals, even healthier whole-grain ones, tend to spike my blood sugar. I think it’s the combination with the milk (a simple sugar as well) that does it, but I’ve learned that it’s better for me to have toast and ham or eggs or some other protein – a combination with protein and a little fat that keeps the blood sugar from spiking (and crashing later, for some). The problem is not CARBS, per say – it is the overabundance of simple sugars in these cereals and the lack of balance (not enough protein in the breakfast) that should concern parents.