By Julianne Allen
This one simple word has so many different interpretations.
When I was growing up, breakfast was often a quick bowl of Raisins ‘N Spice Quaker Instant Oatmeal and a glass of OJ before school. On Saturdays, it meant eating my dad’s pancakes. On Sundays after church, it meant putting our name “on the list” and waiting for what seemed like an eternity at Denny’s or Bob Evans to eat runny eggs and kick my brother and sister under the table. In college, it meant a Diet Coke and whatever else was in my mini-fridge at the moment.
But for me, in my middle age, nothing says breakfast like one big bowl of cereal. Or two. Or three.
I can eat cereal at any hour of the day. It is versatile, relatively inexpensive, requires no refrigeration or special storage, and there are a gazillion different kinds from which to choose.
Many of the varieties are good for me: low in fat, “fortified with 13 different vitamins and minerals, fiber, calcium, iron, brain-boosting-amino-OMEGA-heart-healthy-cholesterol reducing-nutrients” and so on.
Of course, many of them are just boxes full of artificially shaped, colored, flavored, sugar-coated yumminess.
I have no real preference as on any given day I could enjoy both the good and the bad and on most days I have a little of both.
I like nearly every kind, except for those with freeze dried fruit or lots of nuts or twig-looking things or with “muesli’” in the title.
I suppose I do have a particular affection for the sugary sweet kinds probably because my mother wouldn’t let us eat anything sweeter than Life back in the day and after years of growing up watching Saturday morning TV I got tired of missing out on the Lucky Charms and Trix and Super Sugar Crisp (now politically correctly re-named Super Golden Crisp).
So I tend to rebel at times and go for the Gold- the Golden Grahams that is.
It would probably be easier to just take the lid off of the sugar bowl and dig in as many of my favorites are the equivalent of eating tablespoon upon tablespoon of sugar.
But the sugar isn’t crunchy or colorful and there’s nothing to read on the sugar bowl. And there certainly isn’t a prize inside.
Big deal, right? Almost everybody likes cereal, and probably eats it once in awhile too. Maybe I should be a little more specific. Cereal to me is like pizza to most everyone else.
It’s my favorite food. I eat it at least once a day, usually twice, sometimes for breakfast, lunch, and my midnight (ok, ten o’clock) snack.
I crave cereal. When I am not eating it I think about when I will eat it again. Sometimes when I am eating something else I stop chewing and say to myself “I should have just had a bowl of cereal!” and I will usually end up doing so later in the day to make up for it.
I have always loved cereal, but I think I really became hooked on it when I was pregnant with my first child.
Like many first-time expectant mothers, I was particularly obsessed with what I was eating.
All of the books I read about eating during pregnancy were sure to point out the exact amounts of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that one should consume to insure that their unborn child was given the best shot to emerge from the womb quoting Shakespeare and pitching a no-hitter.
I would keep track of how many servings of this, that, and the other I had consumed on a daily basis so that I couldn’t be accused of denying my baby every chance to gain early entry into Harvard.
Usually I fell a bit short (c’mon, how much iron can one person consume in a day before everything starts tasting a little “tinny”).
So at the end of the day I would have a bowl or two of healthy cereal to make up for some of what I had missed.
I didn’t allow myself anything too exciting (no Sugar Smacks for my baby, no sirree. Sugar=BAD).
The cereal served multiple purposes, easing my worried, crazy, hormonal mind, feeding the little one everything she had missed (except the sugar she probably really wanted) and helping to keep the “morning” sickness that in my case was more like “early evening” sickness at bay.
During my second pregnancy all of the keeping track of what I ate and measuring and charting went out the window.
I tried to do the best I could do but found myself not doing anywhere near as good of a job at meeting all of the daily requirements.
So cereal usually saved me again, although this time I would often throw the Wheat Chex to the wind and suck down a bowl or six of Cap’n Crunch.
This may explain why my two-year old would prefer to hit me square in the jaw rather than hug me and has developed a crabby attitude and vocabulary worthy of a sailor who has spent way too much time at sea. Thanks, Cap’n!
Even though now I am not pregnant my cereal habit has continued and gotten a bit out of hand.
Earlier I mentioned cereal requiring no special storage and in most cases that is true. In my home, however, my cereal supply outgrew the shelf in the pantry that provides plenty of space for most every other normal cereal-eaters’ boxes. I took over another shelf in the pantry but then we ran out of room for other food.
I couldn’t curb my purchases -- this is not possible for me if I have a coupon or if my favorite kinds are on sale. I have to have a box of all of my favorites on hand plus a back-up box of each of these favorites in the event my husband or the kids finishes a box and -GASP- neglects to tell me that we have run out. All of this requires much more space than a standard size pantry cereal shelf.
So now my cereal has its own storage area located on the landing leading to my basement. There are currently 28 boxes of cereal there, plus another 26 on the shelf (of COURSE I didn’t give up that shelf!).
I actually threw a few stale boxes out prior to this official count to make my number sound more respectable (or less cuckoo).
But there are really and truly 54 boxes of cereal in my home right now. I wish I could say I was running some sort of local food co-op or saving up box tops to win an iPod or something. But I’m not.
Hey, some people have wine cellars. I have a cereal storage unit (CSU for short).
I used to throw a blanket over my cereal supply in the basement when the girl’s friends came over so my daughter wouldn’t have to answer questions about why her mommy has so many boxes there.
My friends laugh at me too, but I know that they won’t be laughing at me when the end of the world is nigh and the only place they can get something to eat is the landing of my basement where they will find me happily munching away on my Cheerios or Raisin Bran or Frosted Flakes.
Natural disaster knocks out power and blocks the roads for days and no one can get to the store for food? No problem. Pass the Honey Combs. No utensils or milk required. Who’s laughing now, huh??
So where might I find so many different brands of cereal that I MUST have?
I find my cereal all over town. I have to shop at five different stores locally to find everything I like.
And I make my retired father buy the brands I can’t find here at the different grocery chains where he lives over an hour away. So my kid’s grandpa not only brings them little gifts when he comes to visit. He brings their mother cereal. Love you, dad. I’m so sorry I turned out this way. Now put down that Corn Bran and step away from the box.
Last summer I was THIS CLOSE to going to Battle Creek, Michigan, which as any cereal aficionado knows (or ok, maybe just I know) is the home of Kellogg’s, the world’s leading producer of cereal.
Being an Ohio girl born and raised (and a die-hard Ohio State Buckeyes fan) I normally do not venture into Michigan unless diverted there due to every other passable route in the northern hemisphere being closed. And even then I might check all available waterways to see if my destination was “swimable”.
Anyway, my mom found a beautiful lakefront vacation destination in Michigan and she was so hoping that the whole family could go together and spend quality time and oh by the way, maybe the girls would enjoy a side trip to Battle Creek to see Tony the Tiger and tour the Kellogg’s plant? Suddenly the Michigan trip didn’t sound so bad as I started researching this and realizing that I could actually be there where the magic happens and meet Tony and get samples and oh, kids doesn’t this sound great?
We went to Disney World instead. Darn those Disney Princesses and their frilly dresses. Darn them!
I guess I quite literally am a little “cuckoo” for Co-Co Puffs.
I tried to stop eating cereal once for a few weeks. I felt like I was eating too much of it and that I was eating it more out of habit than out of actual hunger. I ended up sick as a dog that month, losing seven pounds to some sort of mystery illness.
Mystery my foot. Was it a coincidence that I ended up so sick the same month I gave up my cereal habit? Nope. I think they call it withdrawal.
I don’t need that kind of drama in my life. So I’m back on The Crunch.
Aye aye, Cap’n.
Local mom Julianne Allen lives in Olmsted Township with her husband and two daughters. In addition to taking care of her family and being involved with her area PTA, Julianne has written several stories for NorthCoastMoms.com.