Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cereal: it's not just for breakfast anymore

Back in the 90s, during one of the many strange interludes of empty free time I enjoyed in those heady days, I decided to undertake a most unusual experiment. I wanted to determine, somewhat scientifically, the best breakfast cereals in terms of taste, texture, and overall healthiness in order to get the full benefit from my bowl. Now, mind you, this was before Seinfeld was a household name, before we knew that his kitchen cupboards were crammed with little nuggets of fruity/oaty/grainy goodness. I was sure that nothing like this had ever been tried--I mean, why would Consumer Reports waste their time on something as insignificant as cereal? So, I sat down each morning for about one week with a new cereal in my bowl, testing each flake, puff, and O for the ideal combination of wholesome goodness and dynamite taste. Now, I can't remember with any accuracy just exactly what cereals I pitted against others, but I can say that after a period of intense taste-testing, I concluded that Apple Jacks was the winner. Yes, Apple Jacks. It beat out all the other competitors in pure taste and palatal enjoyment, but also beat out bran and oat cereals in terms of vitamin and mineral content. What would John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of Corn Flakes, say if he knew that I rated Apple Jacks higher than his precious creation in every category? Would he spew milk through his nose? Apple Jacks was/is a Kellogg's product, so I think that old John Harvey might be somewhat proud, but also maybe a little shocked that his 19th century program of health, exercise, laughter therapy, colonic irrigation and Corn Flakes (See the great book The Road to Wellville by T. Coraghesian Boyle and the BAD film version starring Matthew Broderick) had evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry with a circular sugar-coated apple-flavored O as the apex of its labors. Well, John Harvey, I grew up on Apple Jacks and other Kellogg's sugar bombs, and I am happy to say I am still alive and in fairly decent health.

Now, I am not about to say that cereal is any healthier than, say, waffles or eggs and bacon--I am as doubtful about the motives of cereal producers as I am about any corporate product. Nevertheless, I've never heard of anyone falling face first into his bowl of cereal and breathing his last, along with a healthy amount of milky syrup. Besides, there's something a bit nostalgic about pouring cereal into a bowl, hearing that unmistakable clatter, immersing the nuggets of joy in cow juice, and sitting down--well, anywhere-- to consume the nearly instant repast. It reminds me of a thousand Saturday mornings back in the 70s, watching the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, Sigmund and the Seamonsters, The Groovy Ghoulies, and Land of the Lost while chowing down on heaping spoonfuls of cereal. And, it wasn't just Saturday mornings--it was any morning that my mom had no time to cook, and afternoon snacks, and midnight snacks, and...well, all the time, really.

Back then, my favorites were what you might expect--Cap'n Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Sugar Pops (before the "corn" was added), Lucky Charms, Boo and Franken Berries, and Cookie Crisp (when Cookie Jarvis was the mascot). Nowadays...well, nowadays I still love those brands, but my tastes have matured a bit. And, I still love eating cereal at all hours. In the interest of all those who might be wondering, "Is it OK for me to have cereal for every meal? Will people think I'm a kook? Will they assume I can't cook just because I prefer the quick fix of the cereal bowl?" I offer the following suggestions.

Best Cereals for Breakfast: I've found that, personally, I am partial to fruit-flavored and peculiarly sugary cereals in the morning--Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks, Frosted Flakes and the like. Contrary to popular belief, most of these cereals contain moderate amounts of sugar, generous servings of fiber, and healthy doses of vitamins and minerals. Besides, there's nothing like breaking your fast with a blast of sweetness.

Best Lunch/Snack Cereals: For lunch or a snack, I like a hearty cereal, such as Cheerios, Corn Flakes or Bran Flakes. These are lower in fats and sugars, and don't produce the kinds of afternoon sugar comas that sweeter cereals can undoubtedly cause. If you have teeth of steel, Grape Nuts are also good in the afternoon.

Best Dinner Cereals: For dinner, you want something with a variety of ingredients that might pair well with toast or some other side dish. Raisin Bran, Honey Bunches of Oats, Just Bunches, or granola-based cereals are excellent choices. Even the haughtiest gourmand will find that these cereals provide satisfaction for the belly as well as the palate.

Obviously, this list is not comprehensive, and I invite you to develop your own cereal menu. When time is an issue, when you want something that will stick to your ribs, something that won't break your budget, something that is better for you than most everything else on the shelf, why not try cereal? You could institute a cereal night in your household, offer your kids wholesome cereal snacks in lieu of unhealthy candies and sticky sweets, start a whole cereal revolution. Cereal--it's grrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!!!


Jim said...

The best breakfast cereal for grown-ups that ever lived is that granola raisin stuff that I buy at Whole Foods. This is a scientific fact. I've asked Whole Foods to consider only selling this brand in their cereal aisle, but I think they're too chicken to embrace the truth.

Sugar Smacks are good at night, and are best consumed while listening to Art Pepper on your balcony while you contemplate the city below.

Bingo said...

I'll have to try that, Jim.