I am so pleased to appear on Singlemommyhood today, answering a question about school lunches. Singlemommyhood is an incredible resource for parents of “all stripes.”  Its founders, Dr. Leah Klungness and Rachel Sarah, are both renowned authors, accomplished speakers and wonderful women.  They’re also moms.

And now to today’s post…

Which is more dangerous: texting while driving or giving your children cereal bars for breakfast?

If you chose texting while driving, you’re right, obviously.  But giving your kids cereal bars can be pretty risky too.  Not risky to your children’s health – although cereal bars aren’t nutritional powerhouses, even when compared to some cookies– but risky to your kids’ habits. They could even be undermining your efforts to introduce new foods, get your kids to eat veggies…

That’s why cereal bars should be doled out as treats, not supplied as a daily staple.

Do this experiment:  give your children a bowl of oatmeal, an oatmeal bar, and an oatmeal cookie and ask them which 2 are most alike. Better yet, do this taste-test with your children blindfolded. It will tell you a lot about what habits your kids are developing.

From a taste, texture and appearance perspective – the factors that matter most to your kids – cereal bars might as well be cookies.

Manufacturers know this, which is why they make products that resemble cookies.  Then they market them to you by saying they’re healthy.  But are they really?

If you’re pressed for time, give your kids oatmeal cookies instead of cereal bars. They’re probably healthier.

Sound radical? From a nutrition perspective, if you pick the cookie correctly, you come out a winner.  From a habits perspective, at least you’ll tell your kids the truth: they’re eating cookies, not a healthy breakfast.

Check out the NuVal Scores* (out of 100 for top nutrition) for oatmeal, oatmeal bars and oatmeal cookies:


  • McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal … 91 (Start cooking the night before!)
  • Quaker Steel Oats 100% Whole Grain … 60
  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cinnamon & Spice … 24

Breakfast Bars & Breakfast Cookies

  • Quaker Breakfast Oatmeal Raisin Cookies … 20
  • Quaker Oatmeal To Go Oatmeal Raisin … 13


  • Kashi Tic Tasty Little Chewy Cookies Oatmeal Raisin Flax … 40 (Could the name be any longer?)
  • Health Valley Oatmeal Raisin Cookies … 34
  • Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Oatmeal Raisin Cookies … 20

I admit that I stacked the deck by starting with steel cut oats. And I realize there are plenty of unacceptable cereal scores out there – Cap’n Crunch gets a 10. There are also some great bars out there – Glutino Gluten Free Breakfast Bars Blueberry gets a 40. But…

  • Snack/Granola bars receive an average (median) NuVal score of 14.
  • Cereal, as a category, gets a NuVal average score of 25.

When you frequently feed your kids foods that resemble sweets and treats you move them AWAY from the fresh natural foods you wish they would eat and move them TOWARDS the junk you are trying to steer them away from. 

Want to know why your kids won’t eat broccoli? Think beyond dinner and examine all the foods they do eat for similarities in taste, texture and appearance.  See The Variety Masquerade for more on this topic.

  • Treat cereal bars as if they’re cookies: give one or the other in a day.
  • One or two cereal bars a week is enough.  There’s room for everything, just keep it in proportion to it’s healthful benefits.
  • Talk to your kids about the way different foods influence their habits. They’re not too young.

Remember, it’s not so much what you feed, as what you teach, that matters.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


* From time to time NuVal changes which scores they report on their website.  All scores have appeared some time during the past year.