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The first-meal of the day is changing. Long ago, bacon-and-eggs were popular (and they still are for those anxious about carbohydrates, or for those staying in hotels where others will wash the greasy pans). Then there were periods of battle between toast-and-something or breakfast cereals and milk. Ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals are still the most popular start to the day, but sales are described as, ‘soggy’1 as items that are more portable gain ground: breakfast drinks and biscuits can be orally crammed while running late to the station or school. Or perhaps these on-the-run breakfast products are needed to balance the portable communication bars so constantly held in the other hand?

Other themes have put pressure on manufacturers of RTE cereals. Demands for salt and sugar reduction, demands for gluten-free variants, and shifts in consumer perceptions that carbohydrates are less healthy, and that more proteins is always a good thing.

But most-recent data report that RTE cereals contribute only 8% of free sugars intakes to the diets of children under 10 years of age, and less than 6% to the diets of teenagers2. And what appears extraordinary, is the view of some consumers that the three minutes it may take to eat cereal and milk in the morning, is two minutes too long.

But are these shifts in breakfast patterns a threat to the nutrient quality of diets, which may be a particular issue for the diets of children and teenagers? There is a near-constancy of data supporting the benefits of regularly including nutrient-enriched cereals into diets. Child and adolescent RTE cereal eaters appear be at lower risk of being overweight3,4. Also, breakfast cereal eating is associated with higher intakes of some micronutrients. In a study of more than 1200 European 12-17 year olds4, the RTE cereal-eating teens had higher intakes of various B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium and potassium. A review of various commonly-consumed breakfast cereals5 confirms their contributions to a wide variety of micronutrients, as well a typically contributing to intakes of fibre, whole grain and protein.

Not eating breakfast cereals does not mean not eating these nutrients: there are plenty of other food sources of course. But because they are such a rich and reliable source, it just means that regular intakes are a quick and easy short-cut to the assurance that children and teens have an early-morning head start to better diets. RTE cereal eating may be especially beneficial in the diets of those trying to limit energy6, and in those on low incomes, where there may be a lower variety of other nutrient-dense foods7.

It will be interesting to watch and monitor the national diet and nutrition surveys and see how changing breakfast choices may impact on the nutrient intakes of different groups within the population. In the meantime the slightly unexplained tight-squeeze of time in the morning certainly needs to be battled-against. Some planning of a calm breakfast, the night-before, is one way to encourage the interest of children and teens in sitting down to a few spoons of cereal. The technique of do-as-I-do must also be borne in mind by advocating parents. Lastly, some concessions to variety of products and comforting aura’s helps (suggestion: breakfast Swedish-style with candles and the strict rule of no-electronics at the table!).


Information sources:

  1. Financial Times Oct 3 2014. Daneshkhu S: Cereal sales go soggy as breakfast shrinks. (accessed 9.11.15)
  2. Bates B et al (2014) National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Result for year 1 to year 4 (combined) of the rolling programme 2008-2012. PHE & FSA, London
  3. De la Hunty A, Gibson S, Ashwell M (2013) Does regular breakfast cereal consumption help children and adolescents stay slimmer? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Facts 6, 1, 70-85
  4. Michels N, De Henauw S, Breidenassel C et al (2015) European adolescent ready-to-eat cereal (RTEC) consumers have a healthier dietary intake and body composition compared to non-RTEC consumers
  5. Ruxton C (2014) The Role of Breakfast Cereals in Improving Public Health. Complete Nutrition, 14, 3, 69-71
  6. Reeves S (2015) The Role of Breakfast Cereal in Contributing to Nutrient Shortfalls Associated with Low Calorie Diets. Complete Nutrition, 15, 3, 59-61
  7. Holmer BA, Kaffa N, Campbell K & Sanders TAB (2012) The contribution of breakfast cereals to the nutritional intake of the materially deprived UK population. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66, 10-17
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