My Strategy to Kick Cereal out of Our Breakfast Routine

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Lisovskaya Natalia)

Before it came time to put my plan of kicking cereal to the curb into action (read more about why we’re doing this), I gently warned the boys (and repeatedly, out of necessity) that we’d all have to be creative and open-minded. I tried to get them excited about eating something different and turn the whole thing into an adventure; as any parent likely knows, it’s all in how you spin it, and they take their cues from us.

Once I gave them a real representation of sugar content in cereal by measuring out granulated sugar by the teaspoon, Desmond started reading labels on the boxes more actively and asking questions.

I assured them that I was not expecting us to abandon cereal forever and completely, but that we needed options in the rotation with fewer processed sugars and more nutrition — breakfasts that would sustain them through the morning until their very brief, mid-morning kindergarten snack time. I told them I would consider the experiment a success if most days of the week, including the weekend, we did not reach for breakfast from a rectangular box.

First, Stock the Breakfast Arsenal

Desmond will eat almost anything and doesn’t have boundaries with food, so I wasn’t anticipating much pushback from him. Miles, on the other hand, locks onto favorites fast and requires a little more coaxing, but he usually comes around if I can get him involved and excited.

I showed them all the different foods in our cabinets and refrigerator that we had been mostly neglecting in favor of cereal: jars of nuts, homemade granola, rolled oats, chia/flax seeds, and dried fruit. Because the experiment took place during early spring, it was easy to make oatmeal more frequently in the morning.

I reminded them of plain Greek yogurt, which they both love, along with whole-grain waffles from our farmers’ market, which one of the vendors makes with yogurt from another vendor. Those made an appearance, too. The boys were on board. We were getting somewhere.

Deploy the Choose-Your-Own Adventure Tactic

We lined all the dry ingredients up on the counter like soldiers ready for duty, and Miles instantly got excited — the kid has my enthusiasm, what can I say — and declared the next morning he was going to make up his own recipe for breakfast. I had made some granola; took the recipe right from this site, using one with a low amount of sugar. (Have you read the labels on store-bought granola?)

That was the beginning of what he locked onto as his new favorite: some permutation of yogurt/honey/granola/fruit/seeds/maple syrup, although not all at once. (I urged him to choose one sweetener — honey or maple syrup.) Desmond, who habitually ambles downstairs a good 15 minutes after his brother, saw what was going on and wanted in on it. Once seasonal fruits start showing up at the farmers market, the need for any sweetener will be eliminated. (Insert evil laughter here!)

Follow up with an Eggs-for-Breakfast Approach

Other go-to items on the agenda included eggs, which my kids like, but we eat them for dinner during the week more than breakfast. I planned to change that. Young kids are innocent and therefore mercifully unburdened from a lifetime of food nutrition myths, so no one was arguing with me about cholesterol or second-guessing the choices. They also trust me.

We sometimes ended up with scrambled eggs with whatever random veggie I could quickly throw in, whether it was chopped-up grape tomatoes, some herbs, or leftover roasted veggies from the previous night’s dinner.

Continue to Offer New Additions

I stocked the freezer with sprouted-grain English muffins and bagels, which pack more fiber and protein than their mass-produced counterparts and don’t typically contain any added sugar. I’m not about to malign carbs or cut them out, because they have value, but I am going to advocate for their nutritional density and depth. These were mostly new products for my kids, and they enjoyed them.

We discussed doing some gussied-up toasts with toppings, such as avocado and nut butters, even permitting a roughly once-a-week everything bagel. Desmond got into spreading avocado on top of his bagel, sprinkled with dried herbs; the latter part was his idea, not mine.

One item I came up with was a success, but I suspect it may be a one-hit wonder. I made a grilled sandwich on multigrain organic bread, slathered with natural peanut butter and either thinly sliced bananas or apples. It’s a gloppy, dense thing to eat and takes a little more time to put together than their impatient, grumbling bellies are often willing to wait for. They haven’t asked for it again, but I didn’t push it, either. You might just have to be in the mood for it.

Evaluate: Is This Really Working?

About two weeks into the project, we had a breakdown, complete with whining and tears. Miles seemed overly fixated on the yogurt with granola and a drizzle of honey. Desmond seemed to be in the zone of wanting to eat whatever I was eating, which sometimes means a protein shake with almond milk, turmeric root, and some combo of greens/fruit. That’s fine by me.

Still no one, not even my husband, who’s an itinerant breakfast eater, has opened a box of cereal in days. I wonder, however, if our days are numbered, and we’re going to have a full-fledged revolt on our hands sometime soon.

Up next: How our no-cereal experiment turned out, with thoughts on what worked and what didn’t.