Breakfast cereal is so many things: a childhood staple, a convenient snack, an economical meal, a favorite of Jerry Seinfeld, and much more. Athletes yearn for placement on cereal boxes, and kids buy them just for the prizes inside. Collectors covet rare and out of print boxes (the only one I ever kept was the Michael Phelps Frosted Flakes box that got pulled), while cereal companies analyze every detail about the box colors and shelf placement of their products to maximize sales (ever notice that the healthy cereals are on the top shelf and the sugary ones on the bottom for kids to grab?).
Anyway, it’s delicious. So now, my good readers, I will celebrate my favorite breakfast cereals, and in the interest of balance, point out the ones that just aren’t doing it for me.
1. Frosted Flakes – Still the standard for awesome cereal. If I had to eat only one for the rest of my life, this would probably be it.
2. Lucky Charms – Okay, the cereal part ain’t all that, but when I was a kid whose parents usually bought healthy cereals like granola and those fruit-stuffed mini wheats (What were those called? That shit was good), nothing seemed more amazing and magical than a cereal laden with colorful marshmallows. And even though they don’t really taste like marshmallows, that weird crunchy texture is oddly appealing, with or without milk. Oh, and the Irish stereotype character is pretty ridiculous.
3. Honey Smacks – I think these used to be called Sugar Smacks, and then I remember when they started just being called Smacks. Whatever you want to call them, they’re damn good. I usually get the generic Malt O’ Meal bags of imitation Smacks these days, or sometimes I switch it up and get Golden Crisp, which deserves an honorable mention not only because it’s pretty much the same as Smacks, but also because of their delightful mascot, Sugar Bear. “Can’t get enough of that Golden Crisp…” Compared to him, the Smacks frog is faintly creepy. Why would I want a frog in my cereal?
4. Cap’n Crunch – In Tucson, where Liz and I spent our formative years, a fantastic restaurant called The Grill serves as one of the hubs of the downtown social scene, and we spent a good deal of time there. They had a menu item which I’ve yet to find the equivalent of in New York…a giant bowl of Cap’n Crunch. It was pretty much a salad bowl full of what seemed to be an entire box of the stuff, and a crapload of milk. That was a good meal right there.
5. Golden Grahams – At first I almost accidentally listed Cinnamon Toast Crunch, because I get the two confused sometimes, but I definitely prefer Golden Grahams. The graham cracker flavor, the sweet sweet honey cinnamon whatever they put on it, and its tendency to turn the milk really sweet all make this a fantastic cereal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I can attest to having eaten it for all three meals within the past couple of weeks.
6. Crispix – I love this cereal, but I don’t see it very often anymore. Does that mean it’s been taken off the market, or will I see its crunchy face again? Either way, it’s so much better than Chex, if only because the rice side compliments the corn side so well. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s magic.
7. Honey Bunches of Oats: Just Bunches – I was already going to list Honey Bunches of Oats because, even though I’m getting tired of eating it since it’s often the cheapest cereal at the store and I end up buying it a lot, it’s still damn delicious. But then I recalled that they one-upped themselves and created the kind of cereal that I thought existed only in dreams…Just Bunches, which gets rid of all those boring flakes and gets straight to the point. Hey, isn’t this whole thing kind of a ripoff of Clusters, with its cute squirrel mascot? I think they might have done a Just Clusters version at some point. Hmmm….
8. Frosted Cheerios – Yes, I included another frosted cereal. I would include Frosted Mini Wheats as well, but they lose points because their frosting is usually pretty insufficient. Not so with the delightful Frosted Cheerios, which I remember trying as soon as they appeared in the grocery store for the first time and loving. Before that, Honey Nut was as sweet as Cheerios got, but this was the kind of thing a kid could like. They are also excellent as a dry snack.
9. Corn Pops – These are a hell of a lot better than Kix, which are okay and everything, but they don’t have nearly enough sugar. Corn Pops on the other hand are loaded with delicious sugar, and they have an awesome texture that doesn’t turn soggy too easily. Highly recommended.
10. Cracklin’ Oat Bran – Sure it’s kind of like health food, but once you try these sweet bricks of what appears to be something the DEA would seize in a bust, you’ll realize they’re really tiny bricks of deliciousness. I don’t know what they put in them to make them so tasty. Crack? I mean, because of the name.
Special Mention: Those variety packs of miniature cereal boxes. There’s nothing sweeter than having your pick of six or eight cereals in the morning. I also love when places like hotel buffets and restaurants serve mini boxes. Although I don’t think I ever attempted to turn my box into a bowl like they suggest. That just seems weird.
Special Mention 2: Count Chocola. As with Boo Berry, I don’t really like the cereal itself, but the concept is great.
1. Grape Nuts – Clearly the blandest and dullest cereal out there. I once fell for their commercial and tried to make hot Grape Nuts, but it wasn’t any better than soggy cereal. Hot granola, on the other hand…yum.
2. Plain Shredded Wheat – When I was little and I found out you could buy huge bricks of shredded wheat that came two or four to a package, I was fascinated. I probably read about somebody putting sugar and milk on it in a book and thought it sounded like the coolest thing ever. So I made my mom buy me a box, and after pouring about a cup of sugar on one and attempting to eat it, I realized that there wasn’t much of a point. Now I wonder why they’re still being made and who would buy such a boring product. Still, they are pretty comical looking.
3. Corn Flakes – Meh. No flavor to speak of here, and I can’t eat them without thinking about Road to Wellville. Why waste your time with these when you can get the same thing, but frosted?
4. Fiber One Bran Cereal- Cardboard no, delicious…no. These things look and taste like twigs. Now, to be fair, I’ve tried their new products, with flakes and clusters and all that, and they’re perfectly tasty. But this old version just looks like you’re eating a bowl of grubs, or worse, animal droppings. Not appetizing.
5. Cookie Crisp – I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again…cookies aren’t cereal! Even if they’re weird dry tiny cookies like these. Instead of wasting money on these loser cookies, just buy a bag of Chips Ahoy and pour milk on them…much tastier. But it’s still not cereal.
6. Rice Krispies – Now, I love Rice Krispies Treats, like any other American who grew up after World War II, but as for the cereal itself, I find it comes up short. I like the noises it makes, but then the combination of the texture and the size of the grains makes me feel like I’m chewing on tiny styrofoam pellets, with about as much flavor.
7. Good Friends – I have no issue with the cereal itself, I’m sure it’s perfectly lovely. But that name! Plus the way the people are leering at you from the box makes you think that they’re more than just “good friends.”
8. Total – There’s nothing particularly wrong with the flavor of Total, and clearly it is quite healthy, but their commercials used to get on my nerves. Nobody’s going to eat a mountain of cereal just to equal the vitamins in one box of Total!
9. Special K – This cereal doesn’t taste terrible, but I have two problems with it. One: their ads imply that the cereal is some sort of miracle weight loss solution, when really it’s just cereal. Two: the name is just funny now that there’s a prominent rave drug named after it.
10. Reese’s Puffs – If cookies don’t have any business being in cereal, candy definitely doesn’t. It’s also deceptive. The image on the box implies that the cereal will taste like Reese’s cups, when in reality it’s just cocoa puffs with some peanut butter puffs mixed in. And the box also makes me want to eat my cereal out of a giant hollowed out Reese’s cup, which I suppose I could do if I made my own peanut butter cups in a pie pan…to the kitchen!