So the other day my brother was telling me about a new grocery item he had stocked on the shelves of his local Walmart in Fort Smith, Arkansas: a breakfast cereal version of a popular Wendy’s treat with the rather clunky name of Wendy’s Frosty Chocolatey Cereal. Touted for its fiber, this latest addition to the most important meal of the day consists of chocolate-covered multigrain pieces and marshmallows – with added sugars, of course. It is the second time in as many years that Kellogg has partnered with another national brand: Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies Cereal is also available.
Said brother and I are from opposite ends of the family with an entire generation stretching between our ages, so when he asked what cereals we girls used to eat at home – I aged a couple more years! But as I reminisced, I began to recall:
Mother was quite the conventional grocery shopper. Our ready-to-eat cereals included Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Puffed Wheat, and – surprisingly – Sugar Crisp.
She remained unswayed by childish cajoling for trendy items such as Trix and Cocoa Puffs. We did experience a brief Alpha-Bits phase during which the letters became soggy when I spelled words in my cereal bowl. In fact, I have always disliked soggy cereal. I gobbled down my Raisin Bran before the flakes soaked up the milk my dad had brought from the barn, and little brown things would fall off the Puffed Wheat and float around in the milk. Yuck! By the way, we were allowed to sprinkle sugar over our cereal – except for the Sugar Crisp, of course.
And there were rules. Not too much sugar. No drinking the rest of the milk right out of the bowl. And breakfast cereal was for breakfast – not a snack later in the day and certainly not as an alternative for whatever Mother had prepared for supper.
I remember Mother eating healthily – Special K and Grape-Nuts — but I don’t recall my father eating cereal. Instead, he often reached back to his Great Depression upbringing by breaking saltine crackers into his cereal bowl and pouring coffee over them. Also reaching back to the Depression, I just assumed cold cereals were a modern-day convenience – in contrast to hot cereals like oatmeal, which Mother fixed for the family but didn’t herself eat.
However, there it was in Google: at the turn of the century, Post put what I consider healthy cereals on the breakfast map in the form of Grape-Nuts and Shredded Wheat. As the new century dawned, Kellogg brought cornflakes to the American table, eventually also introducing 40% Bran Flakes as the “delicious way to gentle regularity,” and the snap-crackle-pop of “The Talking Cereal,” Rice Krispies. Puffed Rice, another pre-Depression contribution from Quaker, came along in 1909. And General Mills added Wheaties, “The Breakfast of Champions,” in 1924 – although the iconic pictures of famous athletes did not grace the box until three decades later with the first honoree, Bob Richards, Olympic gold medal pole vaulter. A side note worth sharing: a 1991 survey revealed that most Americans didn’t realize Wheaties were made from wheat!
Cereal continued to be big business during WW2 with the introduction of Cheerios and Raisin Bran. I guess what surprises me most are that many cereals I consider modern came into being during my childhood on River Road. To answer my brother’s question – Frosted Flakes (they’re grrreat), Trix (are for kids), Cocoa Puffs (I go cuckoo), Life (Mikey likes it), Fruit Loops (follow your nose), and Cap’n Crunch (stays crunchy, even in milk) all began to appear in supermarkets in the 50s and 60s.
I remember the cereal aisle in German Lebensmittelgeschaefte – yep, that’s the German word for grocery stores – as a fourth the size of ours. And our German partners often referred to all breakfast cereals collectively as Cornflakes. But over here, the number of breakfast cereals doubled between the year I started teaching and the turn of our newest century. By some estimates, there are over 5,000 cereals now in existence!
Of course, many of them are versions of a main cereal, such as Honey Bunches of Oats: with Almonds, with Strawberries, with Vanilla Clusters, Just Bunches are a few variations from the original product. And there is no end to the TV characters, movies, substances, and other foods that have been formed into flakes, puffs, or loops of some kind and marketed as cereals. The children of America have eaten Dora the Explorer, Green Slime, Smurfs, Mr. T, Oreos, Minions, Pac Man, and Shrek right out of their cereal bowls. These cereals, however, are wannabees, mere flashes-in-the-pan, as it were. Year after year, the good old stalwart Cheerios tops the most popular cereals lists. After all, they are heart-healthy for oldsters and finger-accessible for youngsters.
I turned the tables on my brother, asking what breakfast cereals he and my parents ate after all of us girls had left home. He enjoyed Cap’n Crunch, Golden Grahams, and Rice Krispies. My mother still ate healthy cereals, her later choice being granola. Here’s the shocker: my dad ate wheat cereals in two forms, shredded and puffed. I am still stunned …
As for me, I plan to purchase a box of Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios. And I will eat them in the afternoon without milk in great handfuls straight from the box.
Such are the rewards of old age!