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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 11/16/2009

School meals: the breakfast sugar overload

By Valerie Strauss

The first thing that jumped out at me about today’s Washington Post story about kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts was “sugar.”

How much sugar was in the breakfast given to fourth-grader Alex Brown?

He had a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, amount not mentioned; but a single serving, 1 cup, has 14 grams of sugar. That’s not especially high in the sweetened cereal world,
but it’s not great.

The breakfast also included graham crackers, amount not mentioned. But the amount of sugar per serving, which is one little square, in Nabisco graham crackers is 2.2 grams.
Then there was the juice. The article said the boy had milk and juice, amount and kind not mentioned. But one serving, which is 1 cup, of Minute Maid orange juice has 22 grams of sugar.

If the child had a cup of Lucky Charms, two graham cracker squares and an 8-ounce glass of Minute Maid orange juice, he would have consumed 40.4 grams of sugar for breakfast.

Unfortunately, that would surpass the daily amount of sugar that is recommended for a child of his age by the American Heart Association:

*Preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume more than 4 teaspoons--or about 19 grams--of added sugar a day.
*Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 3 teaspoons--or about 14 grams--a day.
*Pre-teens and teens with a daily caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,000 a day, should consume no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons--or 24 to 38 grams--a day.

And it is safe to assume that kids don’t stop eating sugar during the day and night just because they’ve had their recommended amount at breakfast. The daily amount can be astronomical. (One 12-ounce can of soda has around 39 grams of sugar.)

It is terrific that government officials want to ensure that children eat breakfast.

And we all know it is the most important meal of the day (even if we don’t eat as if it is) and that kids who are hungry, or on a sugar high can’t do their best in school.

Still, these government-funded breakfasts have way too much sugar. And what about in your home? What do you and your kids? How hard is it to get your kids to eat breakfast?

By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Health  | Tags:  breakfast, d.c. schools  
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It's hard to get kids to eat breakfast. The milk and the cereal has about 10g of protein which is about a third of what they need daily, so even if they run over on the sugar they have other nutrients.

Better to feed kids something they'll eat and help them learn. Of course it would be nice if they all went to the drinking fountain and swished out their mouths as that's a lot of sugar to be sitting on your teeth all day.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 16, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

The sugar, white flour, and general crap that seems to end up in the kid's school-provided breakfast drives me crazy. I try to make sure she has something good -- oatmeal or a cereal with a good dose of whole gains are typical favorites -- but she still is offered (and gladly eats) an overly processed "breakfast cookie" or muffin or something similar. This is under the Maryland Meals for Achievement breakfast program. I get the importance of making sure everyone has a good breakfast, but, PLEASE, if the school is providing it, then it should genuinely be GOOD.

Posted by: tcr25 | November 16, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

One of my "other duties as assigned" at the Virginia public school I work at is breakfast monitor. Today, the students had "Jump Start" kits from Kellogg. They included:
A sugary cereal of choice (Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes), milk, apple juice, and a Pop Tart. Seriously? No wonder they're starving (and off the wall) by lunch! Other typical meals include mini pancakes and syrup, a churro like twist, and a cinnamon bun.

My school is a Title I school. Breakfast and lunch is often the only substantial meal our students get. Shouldn't those meals be full of protein and whole grains to keep them on track for the whole day?

Posted by: HistoryTchr | November 17, 2009 1:29 AM | Report abuse

It's not just the breakfast. The sugar and white carb overload is sickening. Mac n Cheese, Pizza, Corndogs... Ew bleck. An equal concern is the WIC list for groceries. They can by Sunny D, but not orange juice? Canned beans, not fresh? Cheese product, not cheese. Preservative bologna, but not fresh chicken breasts... It's horrible.

Posted by: naptownsailor | November 17, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Eww! Lucky Charms are gross.

I remember when that cereal came on the market. It was like candy in cereal. I would never want even a spoonful of something like that in my mouth. Graham crackers for breakfast? Who's coming up with a menu like that?

Posted by: cmckeonjr | November 17, 2009 7:01 AM | Report abuse

This is what I hate about articles like this...did anyone notice the term:

"...more than 4 teaspoons--or about 19 grams--of added sugar a day."

What the heck is "ADDED" sugar??? I've never been able figure out what the difference between added sugar and regular sugar is. Fruit has sugar, therefore juice will have sugar. From what I can tell sugar is sugar.

Does the amount of sugar reported on the box of Minute Maid OJ represent "added" sugar or the sugar that naturally occurs in an Orange??

I'm under the impression we want children to eat fruit. But since it has sugar, should we be avoiding it??

It's these types of subtly "added" words that can change the entire meaning of a sentence and create confusion. Perhaps it's just my own ignorance, but I can't believe that there are other parents out there who aren't confused by this whole subject.

Thank you for contributing to that confusion.

Posted by: steve991 | November 17, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

"Kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts"

Are all of the kids eating with my tax money? Or just the needy kids?

I remember when costs were slightly subsidized but parents still had to give us some money to cover the costs of the meals.

Something doesn't smell right with this setup...

Posted by: ProveMeWrong | November 17, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Steve991: you are right about the confusion. Here's what this confused parent found out.

The deal with actual fruit seems to be as follows: Yes, fresh fruit has sugar. But, first of all, any given piece of fruit will have much less sugar than even a small glass of juice (e.g., it takes 2-3 oranges to make a cup of OJ), so a glass of juice represents a concentrated sugar hit, and if taken first thing in the morning, it comes after several hours of sleep (fasting), so the effect is that much greater. People with blood sugar problems are advised against juice first thing in the morning for that reason. Granted, most kids do not have blood sugar problems and are able to take that hit more easily, but then again, more of them are beginning to develop blood sugar problems, so perhaps some caution is in order.

Second, a piece of fruit will have its membranes, fiber, all that other good stuff that has to do with how sugar is absorbed, which juice does not.

Third, sugar in fruit is not exactly the same type of sugar as your table ("white") sugar that would be "added" to Pop Tarts etc (glucose vs. sucrose or other types of sugars) -- something to do with glycemic index (how fast and by how much it raises blood sugar). So it is actually not quite true that "all sugar is sugar".

So what is a parent to do?? If you are after nutritional perfection, then, of course, you would strictly banish Pop Tarts, soda and juice, "limit" actual fruit (i.e., more veg than fruit), bake your own whole-grain bread, mill your own flour, move to a farm, etc. -- you get the picture. For the rest of us -- we'll all just muddle through as best we can, doing as much research as we can along the way and trying to get as much of the diet thing right as schedule and family peace permits.

Posted by: Ossian | November 17, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The problem is we don't have "Cafeterias" anymore in our schools that can prepare scrambled eggs, ham, sausage or bacon, etc. Everything now has to contain preservatives and have a shelf life of 6-12 months.

Posted by: wilson1409 | November 17, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Schools should be teaching kids. That includes teaching them which foods are good for them, and which foods are garbage.

Feeding them breakfast candy is teaching them the wrong lesson.

How hard would it be to provide a whole-wheat, non-sugary cereal (or, better yet, hot oatmeal), skim milk, and a piece of fresh fruit?

A sugary breakfast merely causes an insulin spike, which leads to lethargic, hypoglycemic kids 20 minutes later. And there's recent evidence that sugar spikes cause permanent damage to the brain. It's criminal that the schools are doing this to our kids, when healthy alternatives are just as affordable, and just as readily available.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 17, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

DupontJay: How hard? IMHO, not very. My daughter's preschool provides a variation of that exact breakfast every day.

Posted by: sarahe | November 17, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I also noticed that the breakfast was sugary, although I am glad these kids are getting something. What about types of cereals like Cheerios or raisin bran? Or raisins instead of juice? If the children are hungry, they will eat it! Adults shouldn't pander to the idea that it has to be junky for kids to eat it. My kids are picky, but I still give them healthy options. I am guessing that the foods served for the breakfasts have to be non-refrigerated, dirt cheap, long shelf life, quick and easy to serve (esp. since we are talking about classroom time) and probably some stringent labeling and preparation guidelines, but gosh, there has to be a better way.

Posted by: TakomaParkMD | November 17, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Agree with TakomaParkMD. My mom never gave me that much choice and as a result I ate very healthy, mostly because there was nothing else offered.

I am still shocked that school meals are so unhealthy. It's no wonder kids are fat.

Posted by: queenb3 | November 17, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

@naptownsailor - when was the last time you looked at the WIC approved food list for your state? They have improved a lot in recent years. In fact, cheese product is specifically NOT allowed on all the ones I just looked at. Here's Virginia's: Virginia also says dried beans, not canned; and no meats (bologna or chicken). Maryland allows both canned and dry beans. Please research before you spout off. All you have to do is google WIC approved foods [state]

Posted by: rubytuesday | November 17, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

While I agree that Lucky Charms and Graham Crackers are not the healthiest breakfast in the world, I just want to point out the sugars in orange juice are NOT "added." High Fructose Corn Syrup is an "added" sugar. The naturally occurring sugars in fruit and their juices are not "added".
The way this blog post is written - throwing all "sugars" in the same category, makes the most nutritious part of this child's breakfast (the orange juice) sound like the real horror (gasp - more sugar than Lucky Charms!). While fruit juice is full of simple sugars and should not be consumed in excess, I'm sure everyone would agree that a glass of orange juice is a good addition to a child's breakfast. Your brain does need some simple sugars to function.
It is a shame to compare the synthetic sugar in Lucky Charms to the natural sugars in orange juice and make it sound like giving your kids orange juice with breakfast is bad for them.

Posted by: foodaddict | November 17, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

School meals aren't the most nutritionist meals on the block . . . for most kids. But I just can't get too upset about them. Healthy eating needs to start at home. This is where this is some control as to what kids actually eat or don't eat, not at school. No matter what is officially offered at school, once kids reach the savvy age of about 6 they will learn to trade for or buy what they want from their friends. And what they want will be more healthy if this is what they are learning to eat at home.

Posted by: CAN50 | November 17, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Why not just follow the UK and establish government monitors to show up and your home unannounced, demand entry and proceed to analyse everything in your fridge and everything you promote at home to your child to ensure that YOU are taking your parenting seriously.


Posted by: ProveMeWrong | November 17, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Two recent WashPo articles stated that 50% of kids are on Foodstamps - the other said 50% of the kids are obese.
Suspicions confirmed????

Posted by: thornegp2626 | November 17, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

When I was in school, the schools got surplus dairy products from the government, so all the meals were full of butter. They also were very starchy--a sandwich with breaded fish, cornbread, and creamed corn would be a normal menu. (And federal regulations required that every student be served exactly the same thing, and most schools insisted on giving the same amount to every student in the grade, so the 4-foot sixth-grader got the same amount as the 6-foot sixth-grader.)

Several times, after a nutrition lesson, some of us would point out the nutritional deficiencies of the school menu. The answer: "There are plenty of kids in this school who don't get anything else to eat all day, and they certainly don't complain!" I never understood why junk food was better for you if it was all you ate than if it was just a small portion of your food.

Apparently nothing has changed.

(Yes, it has. On the first day of school last year, one of the elementary schools in my area RAN OUT of food before the end of the lunch period!)

Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 18, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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