What Pediatricians and Nutrition Experts Think of Carnation Breakfast Essentials

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“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is something we’ve been told since we were kids ourselves. Not just a saying, there’s much truth to the idea that eating breakfast sets you up for success and better health, especially when it comes to children.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), eating breakfast is associated with everything from increased attention span, healthy body weight, sharper memory, and improved test scores.

Yet we all know that our busy lifestyles often prohibit the ability to feed our kids a balanced meal in the morning, or even a morning meal at all in some cases. In fact, almost half of all families skip breakfast on a regular basis. That doesn’t always mean that children are not eating, though. They may be eating on-the-go, eating an early morning snack in lieu of breakfast, or eating on their way to school.

If you are a parent who is in this familiar situation—without adequate time to prepare a hearty morning meal for your child—you may be looking for healthy, on-the-go alternatives to breakfast. As such, you may have wondered about breakfast nutrition drinks like Carnation Breakfast Essentials.

Is Carnation Breakfast Essentials a good choice for your child to either substitute or complement their morning meal? Is this product a good option for a picky eater, a child with medical needs, or any child who is having trouble getting adequate nutrition from food alone?

We spoke with two pediatricians and a registered dietitian nutritionist to give us the pros and cons of Carnation Breakfast Essentials, and the best way to utilize this product for your family’s health and wellness.

What to Know About Carnation Breakfast Essentials

Carnation Breakfast Essentials are drinks that can be used as nutritional supplements. They are not meant as meal replacements. Carnation Breakfast Essentials products come in two basic forms: a pre-mixed bottle drink and a packet that can be dissolved in your beverage of choice (usually milk).

The drinks come in several different flavors, including chocolate, strawberry, cookies n' creme, and mixed berry and can be consumed warm or cold.

In addition, the drinks come in a variety of nutritional options: a version with added probiotics, a high protein version, and a low sugar version. All products except the high protein products are recommended for children aged 4 and up; the high protein products are recommended for children aged 9 and up. All the products are gluten free. And although the chocolate flavor adds caffeine, it’s a small amount (less than 4mg per serving).

Depending on the flavor or variety, each Carnation Breakfast Essentials product has slightly different nutritional information, but each product contains 20% or more of daily protein needs, plus 21 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.

Pros and Cons

As with any nutritional supplement, there are pros and cons. Here’s what our experts have to say.

Pros
  • Tastes (reasonably) good

  • Comes in many flavors

  • More appealing than Pediasure

  • High in calories and protein

  • Can be helpful to kids with small appetites, picky palates, or specific medical conditions

Cons
  • High sugar content in some varieties

  • May cause long-term issues with real food

  • No significant health benefits except for specific medical conditions

  • Should not be consumed regularly in lieu of a meal

 Pros

Dr. Paul A. Rufo, pediatric gastroenterologist, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and member of the Verywell Family Review Board recommends Carnation Breakfast Essential products frequently to his patients.

“It tastes reasonably good and comes in three flavors,” says Dr. Rufo. “It doesn't have any medical connotations, and that can make it more appealing to kids than Pediasure.”

Carnation Breakfast Essential’s high caloric content and high protein count are a win, according to Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner and founder of Genki Nutrition and member of the Verywell Fit Review Board. Carnation Breakfast Essentials has “five flavors, which can be helpful as a supplement for kids with small appetites and/or picky eaters,” Valdez says.

Dr. Cory Fish, Chief Medical Officer at Brave Care in Portland, OR, doesn’t recommend Carnation Breakfast Essentials for the majority of his patients. However, he does think it may have benefits for some children.

“For a very small amount of children with specific chronic medical conditions, these drinks can provide a useful add-on to regular nutrition,” says Dr. Fish. “In these cases, though, your child’s healthcare provider will make specific recommendations about what the best supplement is the best choice.”

 Cons

The high sugar content of some varieties of Carnation Breakfast Essentials is something that gives Valdez pause.

“Be wary that this mix contains 18–19g of sugar, depending on the flavor.” Valdez also cautions that these products should only be used as nutritional supplements, and that they “may become habitual as a main meal for parents, which can cause long-term issues with real food.”

In Dr. Fish’s opinion, except in cases of children with specific medical conditions, there isn’t significant benefit from Carnation Breakfast Essentials. He is concerned about the products “interfering with the ability to learn to eat a variety of solid foods in littler children, malnutrition, and an excess of sugar which has all sorts of health consequences from effects on teeth to diabetes.”

Dr. Rufo agrees that the product should be used only as a nutritional supplement, and warns that regularly consuming Carnation Breakfast Essential products in lieu of a meal could be a problem. Kids “likely won't be inclined to each much afterwards,” he says. “For this reason, I often recommend offering this after a meal.”

Special Considerations

In addition to the general pros and cons of giving your child Carnation Breakfast Essential products, we asked our experts other questions about the uses of the product.

Are There Some Children Who Would Benefit From Carnation Breakfast Essentials More Than Others?

“This product would be a good breakfast choice for a child who is picky, is not eating enough calories for healthy growth, is deficient in certain nutrients, diagnosed with failure to thrive, and/or skipping breakfast due to time constraints,” says Valdez.

Although Valdez contends that whole foods should always be emphasized whenever possible, realistically sometimes getting your child to eat whole foods is not always successful and using a nutritional supplement like Carnation Breakfast Essentials can be helpful.

Dr. Rufo agrees that the products are good for children who skip breakfast, particularly on-the-go teens. He believes the high-protein products would be a good choice for teen athletes.

How Can You Optimize the Nutritional Value of Carnation Breakfast Essentials?

All the experts we spoke to recommend using this product as a supplement rather than a meal replacement, which is also how Carnation Breakfast Essentials recommends using the product.

Depending on your child’s particular needs and goals, there a few ways you could modify the product, according to Valdez and Dr. Rufo:

  • If your child needs more calories, mix the packet with whole milk to add 70 more calories per cup.
  • If you are concerned about sugar, use the low-sugar product, which drops the sugar content from 19g to 7g.
  • If your child is not a fan of cow milk, or if you would like a potentially healthier alternative, you can use soy milk or almond milk.

A Word From Verywell

So what does this all mean for you and your family? Is Carnation Breakfast Essentials a good choice for your family?

Like everything else, it all depends on your family’s particular circumstances and needs. Deciding to give your child this product as part of their breakfast, or any other meal, will depend on what your lifestyle is like, what kinds of foods you normally serve in your home, and your own child’s particular tastes, level of pickiness, and any other medical considerations.

As Dr. Fish emphasizes, if you are dealing with a child who has medical vulnerabilities and you are considering supplementing with Carnation Breakfast Essentials, you should consult your doctor about the best way to use this product. And as with any nutritional or medical decision, if you have any concerns about your child’s diet or the use of a product like this, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician.

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  • Breakfast for Learning. Healthy Children website. Updated March 11, 2019.