Can Babies Eat Cheerios?

a pile of original cheerios before being prepared for babies starting solids

Can my baby eat Cheerios? (I hear you…”For the love of my sanity, tell me Cheerios are okay!”)

Short answer: Yes! Babies can have Cheerios. Parenting is hard! Fun foods like Cheerios make it easier. (Never sponsored, ever.)

Cheerios have saved us several times. Gridlock traffic after a long drive. Flight delays. Or having to wait 3 hours before takeoff. And, you know, yesterday, when we just couldn’t muster up the energy to make a snack.

But are Cheerios good for babies? And when can we introduce them? Let’s dive in. 

Are Cheerios Healthy for Babies?

It depends. First, let’s investigate actual nutrition. 

Original Cheerios (the kind in the yellow box) are often cited as a healthy cereal choice for kids because it is low in sugar and has a decent amount of fiber.1 This is valid: compared to other cereals marketed to kids, Original Cheerios are often a healthier choice.

According to the Cheerios label, ¾ cup serving size of Original Cheerios offers:

  • negligible fat
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of sugar
  • 100 mg of sodium 
  • 6.3 mg of iron

Not off the charts nutritious, but relatively low in sugar and fortified with critical vitamins and minerals, including a notable amount of iron, a critical nutrient babies and toddlers need. So are Cheerios a great source of iron? Sort of. 

Iron added to cereal is in the non-heme form. Non-heme iron is not nearly as well absorbed as iron from heme (animal-derived) sources.2 Further, the natural phytates in grains (like the oats in Cheerios) inhibit iron absorption.3 4 5 6

So while Original Cheerios can help increase overall iron intake, it would be wise to focus on iron-rich whole foods as your child’s primary source of iron.

When it comes to nutrition for babies, we want to focus on foods that are high in fat to support cell growth and structure, high protein, and foods high in fiber. While Cheerios offer some fortified iron, overall, they lack the levels of fat, protein, and fiber we like to see in food for babies and toddlers.

What are the ingredients of Cheerios?

According to the label, the ingredients in Original Cheerios are:

Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats, Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

Oats. Check, all good there.

Corn starch, check.

Sugar. Not much, shrug.

Salt. Predictable, a bit high but nothing crazy.

Tripotassium wha…? 

Cheerios (and many other processed foods) contain tripotassium phosphate, a common food additive, and water-soluble salt used as a preservative, texturizer, and stabilizer.7

 Phosphates are abundant in processed foods and generally thought to be safe in limited amounts. However, this is a point of contention among consumer advocacy and food safety groups; when phosphates start adding up in the diet, they can start causing problems—and this is particularly true for babies and young children. Of note, the European Food Safety Authority recently published advice for the regulation of phosphate food additives, including tripotassium phosphate, stating a concern that these additives may cause the total daily phosphorus intake to exceed recommended limits.8

It’s worth noting that before the use of tripotassium phosphate, General Mills used a controversial ingredient called trisodium phosphate (a salt used in cleaning agents) in its Original Cheerios cereal recipe. After mounting public criticism, the company replaced trisodium phosphate with tripotassium phosphate. The criticism died down but what most people don’t realize is that the two are very similar. Both are ionic salts commonly used as a stabilizing food additive and have other commercial applications.9 10

Our take? Your baby will be exposed to phosphates sooner or later. Try to limit phosphate exposure by focusing on whole foods but don’t feel bad about offering Cheerios every now and then.

When can babies have Cheerios?

Cheerios may be introduced as soon as your baby can pick them up and bring them to their mouth. For many babies, this will be somewhere between 7 months of age and 9 months of age. If your baby can pick up Cheerios and bring them to their mouth independently, it’s okay to serve them. (And O-shaped cereals, in general, are fantastic for honing the pincer grasp.)

From a perspective of preventing picky eating, it would be wise to hold off on processed foods (including puffs) in favor of whole, fresh foods for as long as you can. Once babies get used to processed foods, it can be hard to dial back.

Caden, 8 months, eats Cheerios for the first time.
Cooper, 10 months, tries Cheerios for the first time.

Are Cheerios a Choking Hazard?

No. A Cheerio is a dissolvable food, requiring only a small amount of liquid (or saliva) to become a mushy texture, so there is little chewing or mashing needed to manipulate the food in the mouth before swallowing. The doughnut shape (with the hole inside each Cheerio) also reduces any risk. If you find Cheerios are sticking to your baby’s tongue and causing a fair amount of gagging; try soaking them in breastmilk, formula, cow’s milk, or water.

Kalani, 7.5 months, eats Original Cheerios.
Adie, 11 months, eats Original Cheerios.

Do Cheerios have GMOs?

It depends on the type. General Mills states that Original Cheerios (the kind in the yellow box) are not made from GMO grains.11 They are 100% oats, and oats are not commonly genetically modified. Original Cheerios do contain corn starch, however, which is one of the most commonly grown genetically modified foods.12 We reached out to the company to confirm and have yet to receive a response.

However, other types of Cheerios, including MultiGrain and Honey Nut, are made from GMO grains or oils, including corn, rice, or wheat.13 14 15 If avoiding GMOs (and, therefore, the pesticides that many GMO foods are designed to withstand) is important to you, opt for Original Cheerios or other organic cereal brands. To be labeled as “organic” in the United States, foods cannot be sprayed with toxins, cannot be genetically modified, and must abide by other environmentally-friendly guidelines.16

What about glyphosate in Cheerios?

Glyphosate is the most commonly used pesticide in the world.17 Its use continually increases with exposure and safety evaluations dating some 30 years ago.18 While many studies attempt to understand long-term health effects of glyphosate from food production, key takeaways include the following:19

  • Children are more vulnerable to chemicals than adults.20
  • Children tend to have higher levels of glyphosate in their urine.21
  • Early exposure is linked to many preventable diseases and endocrine disruption.22 23

Glyphosate is commonly sprayed on fields before planting oats – the main ingredient in Cheerios – and for corn or maize production for making corn starch – the second most abundant ingredient in Cheerios.24 25 26

The second test for glyphosate in oats conducted by the EWG found glyphosate in all 28 oat products sampled (including 10 Cheerios cereals) with 26 of the samples testing higher than is probably safe.27 It’s worth noting that the FDA’s glyphosate tolerance level is much wider than EWG.28 It’s also important to note that USDA Certified Organic practices prohibits the use of glyphosate.29

Can babies have Honey Nut Cheerios?

No. Our strong opinion is that it’s best to hold off on sugar cereals like Honey Nut Cheerios altogether. First, as the name suggests, Honey Nut Cheerios contain honey, which technically should never be offered to children under 12 months (even in processed forms). And second, practically speaking, Honey Nut Cheerios are full of sugar with a whopping 9 grams of added sugar per ¾ cup serving. As any experienced parent will tell you, sugar is a slippery slope with toddlers.

Our take? Hold off on the Honey Nut Cheerios and stick with the yellow box Original Cheerios. 

The Bottom Line on Cheerios for Babies

Making decisions about food for your family can bring up a lot of competing priorities. 

Health! 

Safety! 

Environment! 

Convenience! 

In our experience, it’s challenging to eat if all of your priorities are given equal emphasis. Simply put, you have to prioritize your priorities.

If more often than not, you are prioritizing fresh, healthy food, a little processed food here and there — including Original Cheerios — is fine. Your baby will be fine. But, if the scales start to tip and your family is eating more processed food than fresh food, it’s time to reevaluate. 

Unless, of course, that’s all you have access to. Food is better than no food.

Reviewed by:

Jamie Truppi, MSN, CNS 

Andrea Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC

Kimberly Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Rachel Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist

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  2. Guilliams, T. J. (2014). Supplementing Dietary Nutrients: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Point Institute.
  3. Finn, K., Callen, C., Bhatia, J., Reidy, K., Bechard, L., & Carvalho, R. (2017). Importance of Dietary Sources of Iron in Infants and Toddlers: Lessons from the FITS Study. Nutrients, 9(7), 733. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070733
  4. Guilliams, T. J. (2014). Supplementing Dietary Nutrients: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Point Institute.
  5. Myers, J. P., Antoniou, M. N., Blumberg, B., Carroll, L., Colborn, T., Everett, L. G., Hansen, M., Landrigan, P. J., Lanphear, B. P., Mesnage, R., Vandenberg, L. N., vom Saal, F. S., Welshons, W. V., & Benbrook, C. M. (2016). Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement. Environmental Health, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0
  6. Guilliams, T. J. (2014). Supplementing Dietary Nutrients: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. Point Institute.
  7. Tripotassium Phosphate. (1982). Evaluations of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). https://apps.who.int/food-additives-contaminants-jecfa-database/PrintPreview.aspx?chemID=2985
  8. Younes, M., Aquilina, G., Castle, L., Engel, K. ‐. H., Fowler, P., Frutos Fernandez, M. J., Fürst, P., Gürtler, R., Husøy, T., Mennes, W., Moldeus, P., Oskarsson, A., Shah, R., Waalkens‐Berendsen, I., Wölfle, D., Aggett, P., Cupisti, A., Fortes, C., Kuhnle, G., … Gundert‐Remy, U. (2019). Re‐evaluation of phosphoric acid–phosphates – di‐, tri‐ and polyphosphates (E 338–341, E 343, E 450–452) as food additives and the safety of proposed extension of use. EFSA Journal, 17(6). https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5674
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2020). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 24243, Trisodium phosphate. PubChem. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Trisodium-phosphate
  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2020). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 62657, Potassium phosphate. PubChem. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Potassium-phosphate
  11. Original Cheerios. (2020). Cheerios. https://www.cheerios.com/products/original-cheerios/
  12. High-Risk Crops & Inputs. (2016). The Non-GMO Project. https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/high-risk/
  13. Original Cheerios. (2020). Cheerios. https://www.cheerios.com/products/original-cheerios/
  14. Multi Grain Cheerios. (2020). Cheerios. https://www.cheerios.com/products/multi-grain-cheerios/
  15. Honey Nut Cheerios. (2020). Cheerios. https://www.cheerios.com/products/honey-nut-cheerios/
  16. Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means. (2012). USDA.
  17. Helander, M., Pauna, A., Saikkonen, K., & Saloniemi, I. (2019). Glyphosate residues in soil affect crop plant germination and growth. Scientific Reports, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-56195-3
  18. Vandenberg, L. N., Blumberg, B., Antoniou, M. N., Benbrook, C. M., Carroll, L., Colborn, T., Everett, L. G., Hansen, M., Landrigan, P. J., Lanphear, B. P., Mesnage, R., vom Saal, F. S., Welshons, W. V., & Myers, J. P. (2017). Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 71(6), 613–618. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2016-208463
  19. Gillezeau, C., van Gerwen, M., Shaffer, R. M., Rana, I., Zhang, L., Sheppard, L., & Taioli, E. (2019). The evidence of human exposure to glyphosate: a review. Environmental Health, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0435-5
  20. Landrigan, P. J., & Goldman, L. R. (2011). Children’s Vulnerability To Toxic Chemicals: A Challenge And Opportunity To Strengthen Health And Environmental Policy. Health Affairs, 30(5), 842–850. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0151
  21. Gillezeau, C., van Gerwen, M., Shaffer, R. M., Rana, I., Zhang, L., Sheppard, L., & Taioli, E. (2019). The evidence of human exposure to glyphosate: a review. Environmental Health, 18(1), 1–100. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-018-0435-5
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  23. Myers, J. P., Antoniou, M. N., Blumberg, B., Carroll, L., Colborn, T., Everett, L. G., Hansen, M., Landrigan, P. J., Lanphear, B. P., Mesnage, R., Vandenberg, L. N., vom Saal, F. S., Welshons, W. V., & Benbrook, C. M. (2016). Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement. Environmental Health, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0
  24. Glyphosate in Oats Factsheet – Prairie Oat Growers Association. (n.d.). Prairie Oat Growers Association. https://poga.ca/about-oats/glyphosate-in-oats
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  26. Original Cheerios. (2020). Cheerios. https://www.cheerios.com/products/original-cheerios/
  27. Roundup for Breakfast, Part 2: In New Tests, Weed Killer Found in All. (2018). EWG. https://www.ewg.org/release/roundup-breakfast-part-2-new-tests-weed-killer-found-all-kids-cereals-sampled
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  29. Coleman, P. (2012). Guide for Organic Crop Producers. USDA. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/GuideForOrganicCropProducers.pdf
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