What to Give Your Toddler Instead of Cheerios

by Ann Marie Michaels on September 27, 2008

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Raisins and Crispy Pine Nuts

Here’s a great snack for toddlers instead of Cheerios (which is terrible thing to feed to a child): raw pine nuts and organic raisins.

These pine nuts are raw, and have been soaked overnight in salt water, then dried in a dehydrator. This way they are chock-full of enzymes and don’t have the phytates that regular nuts have.

When your baby is a little older and staying up longer between naps, and you’re spending more time at playgrounds, it’s important to have portable foods that you can stick in your diaper bag. Which is why Cheerios are the perfect thing for Snack Traps (Snack Traps, de rigueur for traveling toddlers, are plastic cups with handles with a top that keeps the food in but lets toddler fingers reach in and grab it).

But there are better choices. Like the above nuts or seeds with raisins or other dried fruit (diced so not to cause choking). Sometimes I put diced raw cheese into her Snack Trap. Or leftover roast duck or chicken (cut up into small bits). Or leftover egg frittata or smoked salmon or bits of bacon. Sure, meats and cheeses are a bit messier than Cheerios — just bring a pack of wipes or some napkins. I also bring a pouch bib when we are on the go.

So, what’s wrong with Cheerios, you ask?

Here’s what Sally Fallon has to say about cereal:

Dry breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Cereal makers first create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o’s, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds (as in Shredded Wheat or Triscuits), or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each little flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.

In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt has tells us that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion. This is how all the boxed cereals are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. They are all made in the same way and mostly in the same factories. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.

She goes on to describe a few studies done on rats:

Let me tell you about two studies which were not published. The first was described by Paul Stitt who wrote about an experiment conducted by a cereal company in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole wheat, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A second group received puffed wheat (an extruded cereal), water and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given only water. A fourth set was given nothing but water and chemical nutrients. The rats that received the whole wheat lived over a year on this diet. The rats that got nothing but water and vitamins lived about two months. The animals on water alone lived about a month. But the company’s own laboratory study showed that the rats given the vitamins, water and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks — they died before the rats that got no food at all. It wasn’t a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock.

Results like these suggested that there was something actually very toxic in the puffed wheat itself! Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes, which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.

Another unpublished experiment was carried out in the 1960s. Researchers at University of Michigan were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.) But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment in the box than there was in the corn flakes. Source: Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry

That may be enough to make you swear off dry cereal for the rest of your life… but there’s another problem with cereal and toddlers. Apparently children don’t produce the enzymes to digest grains until they get their molars.

Jen Allbritton, CN, writes about when and how to introduce grains, nuts and seeds to toddlers:

These foods make up the last foods that should be introduced into baby’s diet, since they are most likely to cause digestive woes. Production of digestive enzymes gradually increases as babies grow. The last enzymes to be fully functional, which can take up to 36 months, are those that break down carbohydrates. Therefore, cereals, grains, and breads are still challenging for toddlers to digest. However, with proper preparation through soaking and sour leavening, your toddler can start to enjoy a range of grains. It is a common traditional practice to soak grains in water and a little yogurt or buttermilk for up to 24 hours, which jump starts the enzymatic activity in the food and begins breaking down some of the harder-to-digest components. This slow-cooked, slightly sour porridge can initially be eaten with butter and egg yolks mixed in or combined with other foods. Growing Wise Kids: Foods to Tantalize Toddlers and Preschoolers

Read the whole article by Jenn Allbritton
for more ideas and recipes for toddlers.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy September 27, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Yeah – a new entry! Note to self: Get a food dehydrator.

What do you think about Pemmican – have you used it before? I saw that at the table when I entered the contest – looks like it is some kind of energy type food? I’m googling how to use it without success.

I think I’ll get liverwurst, bologna and possibly a big order of ground beef from U.S. Wellness with my gc.



cheeseslave September 27, 2008 at 12:50 PM

I tried some pemmican from US Wellness Meats but honestly I was not crazy about the taste. I think if you like pemmican, it’s good but I didn’t care for it. Probably an acquired taste that I have yet to acquire.

Pemmican was the American Indian’s version of an energy bar. They would eat it when they were hunting.

“Pemmican. A food preparation (also spelled pemican) used in the wilds of the northern parts of North America, and made by cutting the meat of the reindeer into thin slices, drying the latter in the sun or over the smoke of a slow fire, pounding them fine between stones, and incorporating the material with one-third part of melted fat. To this mixture, dried fruit, such as choke or June berries, is sometimes added. The whole is then compressed into skin bags, in which, if kept dry, it may be preserved for four or five years.”


I’m going to get 5 pounds of liver and Braunsweiger with my gift certificate. Actually I’ll probably add on to my order and buy a total of 10 or 15 pounds. I can’t get them locally and I love them. They are good to feed to Kate, too.


Jenny September 27, 2008 at 4:58 PM

I am loving your site! I’m so happy I came across it. DS came home from the library with the Cheerios book the other day and I found it faintly distressing. I don’t think he’s ever had them, but they sure fascinated him. Mostly we do nuts and dried fruit, but occasionally we’ll do boiled eggs which he loves.


Ellen September 28, 2008 at 7:36 AM

Oh shoot. I knew I was pushing it with the Peanut Butter Puffins (I love them post workout) but thought since there were minimum ingredients in them that they were “ok”.


Katy September 28, 2008 at 9:39 AM

Long-time lurker, finally commenting–

After reading this post yesterday, I went to the store and ended up standing in line behind an overweight woman buying two cases of zero-calorie soda and a box of cereal. It’s so unfortunate that this kind of diet is still advocated by some for people trying to lose weight. Her diet probably leaves her unsatisfied, but she sticks with it because there’s so much propaganda saying that she needs to treat herself this way in order to be thin.


cheeseslave September 28, 2008 at 10:13 AM

Yeah it’s tricky. These “healthful” cereals are everywhere!

Sally says anything extruded is bad for us because it’s a damaged protein — our bodies can’t absorb the proteins properly.

The thing too about cereal is it is marked up so much and it is very low on nutrition. There are only a few cents worth of grains in cereal — and it’s marked up to $4-5/box. A real waste of money when you compare it to how much nutrition you actually get.


cheeseslave September 28, 2008 at 11:03 AM

Hi, Katy!

I wasn’t overweight but I did used to eat that way.

Ironically I am about 10-15 pounds overweight now but I know it’s to do with my thyroid/hormones since the pregnancy. Not too worried about it since I plan to get pregnant again next year. I’ll deal with it after the next baby. Or I just stay more “Rubenesque”. :-)

For me eating that way was about convenience. I was a single person working a whole lot of hours. It was easy just to eat a Pop Tart or a bowl of cereal (with 2% pasteurized milk) or drink a Diet Coke. Pasta out of a box, a pizza delivery, or cheese and crackers. Those were common meals for me.

I did eat out at better restaurants quite a bit. Usually once a week or every other week at least. I’d order foie gras, dishes laden with butter and heavy cream, and imported cheese plates. I didn’t spend money on shoes or clothes — I spent it all on food.

And I never ever bought margarine. I hated the taste. I always bought real butter and I loved to make quiches with heavy cream and pies with all-buttter crusts.

So that probably helped me do better than most on a SAD diet. But I still drank Diet Coke and pasteurized milk for years and years. And ate Pop Tarts. LOL!

This is what really inspires me to write this blog. There are so many people out there (myself included prior to last year) who just don’t know any better. We have to get the word out!


Laura September 30, 2008 at 1:58 AM

We pretty much live on pemmican when we travel (like right now). My kids are allergic to almost everything; we are GFCF, and have to avoid corn, soy, legumes, most fruits, etc.

Since we started eating pemmican and also grass-fed organ sausages (about 2 or 3 months), my 3 boys have had major growth spurts! We had been so worried about their lack of growth before, while we were living overseas and could hardly find safe foods for them. Now, I feel like throwing a party because my 7yo outgrew his new shoes already! :-D

Pemmican made from grass-fed beef will grow a kid pretty fast!


cheeseslave September 30, 2008 at 9:48 AM

Wow, Laura, that is great! Good for you!

I try to feed Kate liver 1-2 times a week. I’m about to order some liverwurst — I love it on toasted bread with butter (I’m going to give it to Kate on coconut-almond bread.

It must be hard with your kids allergic to everything. Have you ever considered doing the GAPS (SCD) diet to reverse their allergies?


Steven March 25, 2009 at 7:37 AM

Does anyone else have any experience with this?


Dylan White October 10, 2010 at 9:21 AM

colitis is damn right painful when you have it. i am really afraid of this disease`,.


Nailgun November 19, 2010 at 10:00 AM

I called Enjoy Life the other day about their Cinnamon Crunch gluten-free “granola” and learned that the rice-flour in it is extruded.

It was very good, but I’m glad I just had that little sample of it. I would honestly expect better from a healthfood company. I also learned that Nature’s Path “Mesa Sunrise” cereal is also high-temp extruded.

I’m hoping that more people start calling companies about this, because as the organic products -movement grows (organics are often /higher/ in protein, the major component which may be capable of producing toxins during stream-extrusion) this is going to become /more/ of an issue, not less.


Joy Rebello April 6, 2011 at 5:21 AM

I just wanted to add that I tried the usual snacks that other parents were feeding their children. I will admit I tried to go the conventional route at first.

Cheerios were good for throwing across the room, never for eating. Most of the typical kid foods were quickly tossed to the side.

My daughter enjoys taking a seed, nut, and dried fruit combo for her school snack. She calls it “bird seed”. It is often a combination of whatever we have one hand, which may include dried blueberries, dried cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc. Her classmates used to ask her what it was and she would reply, “bird seed”, which seemed to thoroughly confuse them.

Apparently, my child has an innate sense of what is good for her. She has also had a diverse appetite. I remember one of her first favorites being enchiladas verdes. Her absolute favorite food is an authentic Greek salad (not just a house salad with a square of feta on top with a black olive). She often carries a salad, either vegetable or fruit, in her lunchbag.

She won’t eat at all off the kiddie menu at many restaurants. We ate at a prominent restaurant in Florida and she was only interested in a Cuban sandwich and salad.

She even says, “I like vegetables. Why do the other kids not like vegetables?”.


LeahS July 11, 2011 at 9:31 PM

it is AMAZING how cheerios (and other grain cereals) are seen as critical for the littles…


marla latinakova May 22, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Yes, cardboard is healthier than cereals!


marla latinakova May 22, 2012 at 2:21 PM

And cheaper too!


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carol November 14, 2014 at 7:50 AM

Giving a child Cheerios is just giving them GMO pellets. Avoid them like the plague.


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