I’m not sure if my parents plied me with Cheerios as a baby while I squirmed in my high chair, a metal tray in front of me. Did I pound the tray with my sippy cup, demanding Cheerios? Did I scream and wail for those round, crispy bits of oats? I don’t know, but it could explain my lifelong love affair with cereal.
Truly, what is more delicious, more soothing and more satisfying than a large bowl of your favorite cereal with a generous splash of ice-cold milk? And as I discovered later in life, cereal is not just a breakfast food; cereal is the perfect food, as delicious at lunch or dinner, or, without milk, for snacking.
My children know and acknowledge my passion for cereal, sometimes making fun of me but often joining me. While they all have more sophisticated palates than I do, they too recognize the beauty of the best food on earth. My son-in-law, Sam, a cereal devotee like myself, never misses the chance to celebrate with me on March 7, National Cereal Day. If you didn’t know about National Cereal Day, well, you’re welcome.
I first came to depend on cereal when, at age 11, my parents broke up and my mother moved away. Alone with a hard-working (and often gone for the evening) orthopedic surgeon father, I was frequently responsible for my own dinner. I never felt the desire to cook, so dinner meant opening a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup or, much more often, pouring a big bowl of cereal. In the days before the explosion of cereal brands, our pantry was filled with Frosted Flakes, Wheaties and Raisin Bran. Mostly I stuck with Wheaties, the “Breakfast of Champions,” because they placed baseball players on the front of the box and sports stories on the back.
When I went off to three miserable years of boarding school at Andover, I was provided, should I have wanted them, three meals a day. I hated going to the Commons, where in the huge dining hall, we would go through a line, take our food and then have to go find a place to sit. For an introverted little pisher from Texas, it was the most horrifying three moments of my day. There were established cliques by the time I got to Andover (I came a year later than most), and they didn’t exactly reach out to the new kids on campus.
To avoid having to eat in the Commons, I started sneaking out the small, single-serving boxes of cereal that they stacked for our selection. Since you weren’t supposed to take food out of the dining hall, I would go off in a corner and stuff them in my pockets, in my coat or under my shirt. (These were the days before backpacks.) To my disappointment, the cafeteria seemed to have made a large wholesale purchase of Fruit Loops and Rice Krispies, two of my least favorite cereals. Nonetheless, alone and secure in my room, I would eat in peace, away from any glaring or unfriendly eyes.
When I got to the wonderful world of Claremont McKenna College, I found my home at the college newspaper. I worked at the Claremont Collegian three nights a week putting the paper together and usually arrived back at my dorm around one in the morning. In preparation, I had awaiting me a full box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Life—two of the top all-time cereals—and a quart of milk. I would down the whole box.
Finally out of a dorm at Stanford and into a downtown Palo Alto home with my best buddies from CMC, I literally lived on cereal and Top Ramen for two years, proving once and for all that man can survive on nothing but carbohydrates. Fortunately for my health, I soon married a wonderful cook.
Our four children fortunately didn’t have to depend on cereal for their sustenance. Growing up in the Citron home, though, my kids still saw me eat cereal a couple of times a day—breakfast and then my nighttime snack. By then our pantry was filled with multiple boxes of cereal, the choices now so broad and wonderful. Who could resist such new additions as Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Reese’s Puffs or Raisin Bran Crunch? Truly the golden age of cereals.
Today, I continue to treasure my trips to the cereal aisle at Safeway, the choices at once overwhelming and beguiling. Oh, I eat plenty of vegetables, and the buckets of added sugar I have consumed over my life seem to have had little effect on me. But I’m still in love with the food product that got me here and I don’t plan on stopping. And soon I’ll be sharing the gifts from Kellogg’s with my grandchildren, perhaps—if need be— behind their parents’ backs.
Cereal? Well, it’s still the breakfast (and dinner or snack!) of champions.