Culture

The Cereal Conundrum

As a breakfast classic, cereal has become a staple food in American homes. It comes in diverse forms—from sweetened puffs to crunchy cheerios—and because of its simplicity it holds a versatile place among meals. Since it acts as the kick-start to the day, forming the base of the diet, it can have a crucial contribution to a person’s nutritional status. Unfortunately, after a trip to the local Wegmans, I discovered imbalances in the nutritional quality of cereals and the prices attached to them.

My initial observation when entering the cereal aisle was simply its extensiveness. There were enough cereals to fill the entire length and height of the aisle, bringing into view dozens of flashy brands, nutrition claims, and cereal-bowl images. The multitude of choices could be paralyzing, so two deciding factors emerge—familiarity and price. Those factors could be exclusive or intertwined. For example, a low price could cause you to pick the same cereal every time, or a memorable positive taste could diminish any concerns about money.

If you are on a low budget the vast options narrow down to the cheapest boxes at $1.99 each, which are generic Wegmans imitations of other cereals. However, if you have kids in tow, the brown humble Wegmans boxes pale in comparison to the vibrant animated boxes screaming sweetness and fun. Although Wegmans has an equivalent to Fruity Pebbles, your children do not trust its box’s lack of Flintstone characters. A tantrum ensues, and as the kid cries for the colorful box, your wallet feels a little tighter. It also does not help that the bright box is eye-to-eye with your child, while the plain Wegmans boxes are huddled in the middle shelves.

In the middle of all of this, a third deciding factor slips into your mind—health. Scanning the Wegmans box section, you look in vain for anything but sugar-heavy cereals. Suddenly you spot on the very top shelf and in the back corner, “Bran.” That looks bland enough, but would your husband like it, or your children for that matter? Right next to “Bran” is “Crunchy Raisin Bran”, which sounds much more promising. You quickly check the nutritional content, only to find that it has triple the sugar, double the carbs, and double the fat than “Bran”. Even more, the 100% Vitamin contents in “Bran” drop to a quarter in the “Crunchy” version! What happened—weren’t raisins supposed to make things healthier?

Curious, you look outside Wegmans cereal to the white, mature boxes lining the upper shelves, with catchphrases “heart healthy”, “high fiber”, “whole grain” floating around a scrumptious-looking spoon of cereal. Excited, you grab the white Fiber One box and see a beautiful array of 100%, all in the right places. You grab the box with confidence, only to look down and see $3.79 staring back. Disappointment and frustration flood your conscience, and you return Fiber One, grab your child’s hand, and put Wegmans “Bran” in your cart. If you sprinkle a little sugar on the bran maybe your family won’t notice the difference.

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