At HealthBarn USA, one of my favorite nutrition games to play with the kids is called “Cereal Detective,” found in my book Appetite for Life. Kids get to see first-hand how much sugar goes into their food—particularly their breakfast cereal. If you are trying to help your child make the switch from sugary cold cereals to more healthy alternatives, or if you’re just trying to explain why some cereals are a better choice than others, this hands-on activity speaks louder than words!
Time: 15 minutes.
Materials: White table sugar, a measuring teaspoon, a cereal bowl, and a variety of breakfast cereals with varying sugar content (ideally 5). Just pull out whatever cereals you have on hand, but make sure you have at least one low-sugar pick like original Cheerios.
Adult Prep: Just lay out all the materials!
Ask your child to guess the order of most to least sugars just by looking at the front of the cereal box. (Note that some cereal companies have started to put sugar content on the front of the box, so make sure that info is covered up.)
Next, have them line up the boxes based on their guesses, from most to least sugar.
Now let them do some hands-on detective work to find out if they were right! Ask your child to look at the nutrition facts label for each cereal and point out the sugar content, which will be in grams. Also, ask your child to look at the ingredients list and note where sugar is listed. Tell them they now have all the evidence they need to solve the mystery!
Given that 1 teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugar, your child can show off his math skills and calculate the number of teaspoons of sugar in one serving of cereal by dividing 4 grams into the number of grams of sugar to determine how many teaspoons. (For instance, a one-cup serving of Froot Loops has 12 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of sugar.) Have them scoop the correct number of teaspoons per serving into the empty cereal bowl. Let them try it with a few different cereals to see how sugar content varies and how good their guesses were.
When they’re done analyzing all five cereals, have them reorder the boxes to reflect their detective work. When we do this activity at HealthBarn USA, the kids can hardly believe their eyes as they scoop teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar— and many parents are just as surprised!
Cheerios are a great choice, with 1g of sugar per serving.
…while Froot Loops have 12g of sugar per serving! That’s 3 teaspoons of sugar!
What kids learn: When they get to see how much sugar is added into some of their favorite cereals per serving, and when they understand that too much sugar (especially for breakfast) makes them feel crummy after it wears off and can affect their bodies in negative ways (mention cavities!), they get the message more powerfully than if they are just told. You can do this activity with table sugar and a measuring spoon with other sugary foods—especially sodas and other sweetened beverages.
If you like this activity, Appetite for Life is filled with more games and activities that make learning about good nutrition fun for the whole family.
Stacey Antine, MS, RDN, author, Appetite for Life, founder, HealthBarn USA, director, HealthBarn Foundation, and recognized as top 10 dietitians nationally by Today’s Dietitian magazine for her work with HealthBarn USA.