Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Part of this nutritious breakfast

The 1980's produced certain words and phrases that have entered into the lexicon of the English language.

No duh.


Totally awesome!

Go ahead. Make my day!

However, there is one phrase that may have slipped under your radar, but, to a typical television watching, cereal eating kid of the 80's, this is the one we heard more than any other:

Part of this nutritious breakfast.

As in, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, are part of this nutritious breakfast.

Or, Lucky Charms are part of this nutritious breakfast.

Or, Trix are part of this nutritious breakfast.

(Trix were also for kids, silly rabbit)

"Part of this nutritious breakfast" was spoken at the end of every cereal commercial, when, for the benefit of your parents, you were shown an ideal breakfast table setting. This Norman Rockwell breakfast consisted of two pieces of toast, or a blueberry muffin; a glass of orange juice; an apple or small bowl of fruit; two strips of bacon; a small plate of pancakes; scrambled eggs; and, almost as an afterthought, the bowl of the cereal of the week.


That looks like a Denny's ad.

Who had that breakfast? Ever? And who has room in their stomach for that amount of food? What did they think we were preparing for, extended arctic exploration? Most of those parts of that "nutritious breakfast" were a meal in themselves.

And the bowl of cereal that was shown was a moderate sized bowl, filled to a moderate level, with a moderate amount of milk. It was the precise amount of cereal you would pour if you were...shooting a commercial to try to convince moms and dads that they were not bad parents for buying their children a box of sugar and starch and red dye #40.

The side of the box, where the nutrition label was (which was a wealth of knowledge that only people with advanced degrees in chemistry could understand) also listed the number of servings contained therein: usually 12-16.

On what planet? The planet where people's stomachs are the size of super balls, and kids don't like sugar?

If you didn't consume at least half the contents of the box in one sitting, you weren't doing it right. 
There were two schools of thought here: first, was to get the biggest bowl you could find -- this was the hey day of Tupperware, so every house had a supply of yellow, blue or green, large plastic bowls, which held the cereal nicely. In a pinch, you could use a cooking pot.

The problem with this method was that there was so much cereal that you physically couldn't get to it all, before the stuff at the bottom of the bowl turned to a mushy goo. No doubt some kids preferred it that way. But as for me, I chose method number two -- a normal bowl, filled and refilled about four times. Both methods had their champions, and both accomplished the main objective -- to get to the prize at the bottom of the box.

I'm not sure why cereal companies felt the need to bribe children to buy a box of sugar, but this era was the zenith of cereal box prizes. I remember Star Wars iron-on patches. The headboard of my bed was adorned with a Superfriends sticker, that I got from a box of Sugar Crisp. There were wacky wall crawlers, and race cars and watches and a submarine that, when it was filled with baking soda, would dive and surface in the bath tub -- just like a real submarine, full of very seasick sailors.

I thought I would get in trouble if I got the prize without eating the cereal first, so I would eat and shake the box, then eat some more, and shake the box a little more.

Eventually a corner of the plastic wrapper containing the treasure would appear and I could justify retrieving it. I'm not sure who I thought was going to be upset (or even aware) if I had cheated, and opened the other end of the box, or dumped out all of the cereal, to get to the toy, but I was sure someone was watching.

Probably the Russians.

I've always wondered why Kellogg's and company didn't just put the toy at the top of the box? Maybe they were afraid that we wouldn't eat the whole box of cereal, if we didn't have something to work toward?


And maybe I'd have a few less root canals if I had limited myself to two bowls of Cocoa Puffs, instead of four or five.

It's hard to describe to someone who has not experienced it, the visceral joy -- every time -- of finding that treasure at the bottom of the cereal box. The cereal companies don't put toys in their boxes anymore. Today, you might find codes for online games, or movie tickets -- arguably more valuable prizes -- but there is a supreme joy that came from finding a new toy, that you just don't get from a string of numbers.

I feel genuinely sorry for anyone that has never dug to the bottom of a breakfast cereal box, and been rewarded with scratch 'n' sniff stickers, or bicycle reflectors.

Breakfast cereal was a major component of our lives and our entertainment. The boxes could be genuine works of art, and when you were eating cereal, you were doing one of two things -- either it was Saturday morning, and you were watching cartoons, or it was a school day, and you were reading the cereal box. This was where all of us came to know words like riboflavin, dextrose, hydrogenated, and ascorbic (not that we knew what any of those things were...though I did always wonder what would happen if you FULLY hydrogenated the vegetable oil...).

The eighties saw it's share of conflicts: The United States vs. The Soviet Union. Coke vs. Pepsi. Debbie Gibson vs. Tiffany. And in the ever escalating effort to get your breakfast cereal dollars, Post and Kellogg's and General Mills, in addition to offering great prizes, would make their boxes downright irresistible, with mazes and 3D pictures, word searches and hidden pictures and comic strips. Sometimes it could take you several bowls of cereal to get through it all. I don't think I ever had a box of breakfast cereal that I didn't read every word that was printed on the box. It was the full entertainment package -- the kid equivalent of dinner and a movie.

You cared so much about the cereal that you ate that they could even turn a new addition to an old cereal into a genuinely exciting pop culture moment -- remember the first time Lucky Charms shook things up by adding purple horse shoes?

The 1980's were the pinnacle of novelty cereals. The 1980's were the pinnacle of every kind of novelty. Every pop culture phenomenon quickly produced it's own box of cereal. Here is just a small sampling of cereals available:


Mr T.

E.T. Cereal.


Ghost Busters. 

GI Joe.

Indiana Jones (I wish I'd known about this one). 



Donkey Kong. 

Rainbow Brite. 


Strawberry Shortcake.

Shirt Tails. 


The Goonies. 

These were awful. Every one of them. That doesn't mean you didn't buy them, and it doesn't mean you didn't eat them. Such is the mania of a kid addicted to sugar and pop culture.

On top of this, manufacturers decided that kids no longer wanted to eat the traditional breakfast cereal   flavors -- sweetened corn and wheat -- and they began to sell boxes of the most bizarre flavors: Oreos. Ice Cream Cones. Nerds. Orange Juice?!

Why not just pour a bowl full of candy, add some milk? The result had to be about the same.  Besides, as long as you added some toast, juice, bacon, fruit and scrambled eggs, it was all part of this nutritious breakfast.

For better or worse (my dental bill says worse, but my tingling nostalgia sense says better) my childhood breakfast tastes like pink hearts, orange stars, yellow moons, green clovers, blue diamonds, purple horse shoes, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and that's just fine with me. 

No comments: