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. And there’s truth to the idea that eating breakfast sets you up for success and better health. So a product like Carnation Breakfast Essentials (you may remember it as Carnation Instant Breakfast) is appealing.

In children, eating breakfast is associated with everything from increased attention span and healthy body weight to sharper memory and improved test scores. But our busy lifestyles often mean it's hard for kids to eat a balanced meal (or any meal!) in the morning. Almost half of all families skip breakfast on a regular basis.

That doesn’t always mean that children are not eating at all. They may be grabbing an early morning snack in lieu of breakfast or eating on their way to school. If this sounds familiar, you may be looking for healthy, on-the-go breakfast ideas.

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 use this product.

What Are Carnation Breakfast Essentials?

Carnation Breakfast Essentials come in two forms: a pre-mixed, bottled drink and a packet that can be dissolved in your beverage of choice (usually milk) to add flavor and nutrients. The drinks come in several different flavors, including chocolate, strawberry, cookies n' creme, and mixed berry, and can be consumed warm or cold.

Carnation Breakfast Essentials can be used as supplements to a balanced diet. They are not meant as meal replacements.

The drinks come in versions with added probiotics, extra protein, and low sugar. All 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 has 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 all 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 to adding Carnation Breakfast Essentials to your family's diet. Here’s what our experts have to say.

  • Tastes (reasonably) good

  • Comes in many flavors

  • More appealing than Pediasure

  • High in calories and protein

  • Helpful for kids with small appetites, picky palates, or specific medical conditions

  • 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


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

“It tastes reasonably good,” 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 “can be helpful as a supplement for kids with small appetites and/or picky eaters,” Valdez says.

Corey Fish, MD, 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 the drinks may have benefits for some children.

“For a very small number 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 supplement is the best choice.”


The high sugar content of some varieties of Carnation Breakfast Essentials gives Valdez pause. “This mix contains 18 to 19g of sugar, depending on the flavor,” he notes.

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 product.

Are There Some Children Who Would Benefit?

“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, has been diagnosed with failure to thrive, and/or is skipping breakfast due to time constraints,” says Valdez.

Although Valdez stresses that whole foods should always be the first choice, it's not always realistic. Sometimes getting your child to eat whole foods is not 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?

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's milk, you can use soy milk, almond milk, or another non-dairy alternative.

A Word From Verywell

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 child’s particular tastes, level of pickiness, and medical considerations.

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

1 Source
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breakfast for learning.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.