We Kicked Cereal to the Curb, and Here’s How It Went

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Carrie Havranek)

After a few weeks of habitually disregarding the cereal collection in our lazy Susan, we were completely in the zone; we had expanded our repertoire, eating a lot of different things. I hadn’t bought a box of cereal in at least three weeks, and although I did not experience the revolt I was sensing in my previous post, I did occasionally get some questions in the morning as to whether or not we’re “still not eating cereal.”

And in lieu of cereal, Miles kept pressing for bagels, but that’s nothing new, really. That’s okay; I anticipated all of it. I told them we’re going to try to keep at this for as long as we can, and reminded them that the growing season was on its way, which would give us more to choose from.

(Image credit: Carrie Havranek)

What Worked

Having a fully stocked pantry with lots of options was key. We did lots of cinnamon or nutmeg-spiced oatmeal with pears or apples. Plain Greek yogurt topped with a low-sugar granola worked well, along with either a little bit of maple syrup or honey (the boys liked to swirl those things into the yogurt).

Anything with peanut butter — or, if we were out of it, almond butter — was pretty much a guaranteed success. Eggs always rocked, but the boys weren’t always in the mood for them, so we ended up eating them less often than I’d hoped.

Sprouted grain bagels and English muffins became vehicles for the aforementioned spreads; sometimes avocado made a cameo. And bacon was never turned down.

One morning Desmond asked, “I’d like a bagel with avocado on one side, cream cheese on the other, sprinkled with dried herbs and a little crumpled bacon, if you have it.” (I had to laugh. What child says this?) I told him, “I’m sorry, I haven’t made bacon this morning and we don’t have time. Get up a little earlier tomorrow if you want that.” So the next morning I made some bacon and multigrain pancakes, served with their choice of either real maple syrup or homemade apple butter.

Letting go of any semblance of morning meal planning was mandatory. Meal plans are fairly essential, even loose ones, for managing weeknight meals. The logistics at dinner are more complex and require a slightly tighter hold. Also, dinner is the one time of day when I usually cook, with varying degrees of peanut gallery input about what we eat. The meal plan keeps us on track; like any other American family, we’ve got various schedules to juggle, whether it’s karate or soccer or yoga or dad working late because he has a meeting.

But in the morning, all bets are off. We are all home (unless Dad is traveling for work) and so we can manage things more easily. I never know what they want to eat in the morning, so making a plan is asking for trouble. Cranky kids who argue about eggs versus oatmeal versus who’s getting the last English muffin are no fun.

Besides, giving them some autonomy for breakfast, within a range of options, ensures that they feel like they are a part of the process. Because they are. They feel validated and invested in what’s happening and feel as though they’re being taken into consideration. It’s a good way to get them to understand the ramifications of their food choices, even on this super-micro level, one time a day.

One other important detail: Being a morning person helps. I started getting up early once the boys slept through the night as babies so I could revel in the silence before the chaos. Complicating the morning by adding something like pancakes or eggs — i.e, cooking a breakfast as opposed to pouring it out of a box — wasn’t a tremendously stressful change of routine. I just started pumping them for preferences as soon as their eyes opened. (This is only half-annoying; Miles always wants to know what he is eating when a meal is impending). If you are a night person, you might find you need a different approach to this experiment.

New Foods My Kids Loved

Three brand-new foods that were a success: sprouted-grain English muffins, sprouted-grain bagels and, for Miles, rye bread was a revelation (he already likes pumpernickel so rye was not a big stretch).

What Didn’t Work

In the past, when I dabbled in this territory without going fully into it, I had prepared millet for them in the morning, in an effort to expand their horizons. That did not go over well — I think it was the crunchy texture of millet that turned them off. (They’re totally okay with millet in muffins, though.) I even attempted to prepare a savory oatmeal one morning, but my cinnamon-addicted Miles would not have it and Desmond was having a rather blah morning and was not really curious.

Suffice it to say, fancy-pants food magazine iterations of savory cooked grains — whether it’s oatmeal or quinoa or freekeh — with miso, shredded carrots, and sesame seeds, or fresh grated parm, olive oil, and rosemary, are not going to fly in my house with the elementary school set. I might try it again. Or I might not. It might just be too off-the-grid for kids. Or it might be fine one day, and terrible the next. As the popular movie advises us, let it go. Gettin’ fancy ain’t gonna fly.

Making anything ahead of time did not work for us. Kids are a bit of a paradox; as much as they have their favorites and ask for them, they are often capricious and change their minds multiple times before settling on a food choice. At least mine do. I had imagined putting together mini-frittatas the night before in a muffin tin, and baking them off in the morning. It’s something I’ve made a few different times a few different ways for dinner, and they usually get excited about it. I didn’t do it, because I instinctively feared getting stuck with a tray full of uncooked eggs. I could have made them for dinner, but then that takes us back to the original problem, doesn’t it?

The Takeaway

What this has taught me is that people, even small ones such as children, are creatures of habit. You likely know what yours are, and what theirs are. Some days it felt like we replaced a cereal habit with a yogurt and granola habit, and on those mornings I tried to steer things toward a different choice. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Miles sometimes gets in a groove with things and then ditches them; I’m guessing his taste buds got tired.

However, as much as the boys attach to foods such as cereal, in my house they are paradoxically also very much go-with-the-flow kids when it comes to food. It may have to do with the tone we set when they started eating regular food; they are accustomed to variety. If that’s not the vibe in your kitchen, all this may shake out in another way. We now have a growing list of favorite, go-to choices, as opposed to a several choices of breakfast from boxes.

It’s been at least a month, and there’s no revolt. I’d call that a success.