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collection of breakfast cereal boxes
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Celebrating National Cereal Day with a sizable cereal collection at our house!

What time is it?  Cereal time!  My youngest daughter, Felisa, is a dedicated cereal eater.  She’s not a breakfast eater, though.  No way!  Offering her food before 10 a.m. should be done at your own risk.  She likes to eat cereal though and it has become a regular bedtime snack, a time that is now known as Cereal Time at our house.  A big bowl of cereal is just right to top off the tummy after a busy day of school and soccer to avoid middle-of-the-night hunger pangs.

History of Cereal

Did you know that cereal was originally developed at a sanitarium as a magical wonder food for the ailing masses?  Since then it has become such a considerable part of our daily diet that it warrants its own day of national recognition. National Cereal Day is celebrated in America on March 7, every year.

The diet of most Americans in the late 19th century did not fall into the current MyPlate guidelines of a well-balanced meal.  The typical breakfast of a wealthy person in the post-Civil War era was meat and eggs while the poor subsisted on gruel.  Neither option is optimal for long-term health.  The very first breakfast cereal was bran nuggets, invented by James Caleb Jackson in 1863.  Bran nuggets never gained popularity because they were very hard and dense and required overnight soaking before they could be eaten.  (Even today I would venture to say that bran cereal is not a top seller.)

Dr. John Kellogg, director of Battle Creek Sanitarium, and his brother, Will, are credited as the first inventors of cereal as we know and love it today.  In the 1890s they accidentally flaked wheat berry, creating a lighter, less-dense (and more edible!) grain product.  Subsequent experiments led to the ability to flake corn. They filed a patent and Corn Flakes were born!

The original corn flakes were not the slightly sweetened version we love today.  John and Will had a disagreement about adding sugar to the flakes.  In 1906, Will broke off from his partnership with John, taking the rights to corn flakes with him.  He started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (which would eventually become the Kelloggs company of today) and added sugar to the corn flakes (a decision still cheered by many even today!).

Like any good idea, the packaged breakfast cereal market had several competitors jockeying for position in this newly successful industry.  One name you might recognize is C.W. Post.  He was a patient at Battle Creek Sanitarium and after leaving there started a rival company called Post Cereals.  John Kellogg claims his process for making corn flakes was stolen by Post from his safe at the sanitarium.  (Industrial spies – apparently they’ve been around for ages!)  Post and Kellogg together are responsible for Battle Creek, Michigan’s nickname as “Cereal Capital of the World”.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, cereal manufacturing underwent a lot of changes to evolve the processed, sugar-filled cereals we love to eat today!  Consumers have demanded a shift back towards more wholesome whole-grain recipes in recent years but the cereals of today are not nearly as healthy as they were when corn flakes first came into being.

My personal history of cereal

What are your favorite cereals to eat?  Do you have any particular rules about cereal at your house? My house rules are that only 2 boxes should be open at a time and one of those needs to a flavor that can be eaten by hand out of a snack bag (breakfast on the go!).  Growing up, my mom would buy one or two boxes of “sugar cereal” at the grocery store and the rest were the healthier varieties (Grape-nuts Flakes, Raisin Bran  and Life were commonly found in the cereal cabinet).   Once we ate the sugary variety (Cookie Crisp anyone? Sugar Smacks?) that was it until the next shopping trip.  We could eat an entire box of sugary cereal easily within 24 hours.  Then it was back to the Raisin Bran for the rest of the week (picking out the raisins and dumping them back into the box of course!).

One last question before I go… Crunchy cereal or soggy cereal?  I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one – soggy all the way!

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Websites I visited while researching this post:

National Cereal Day (yes, there’s a whole website just for National Cereal Day)

John Harvey Kellogg on Wikipedia

The history of Kelloggs brand

The history of breakfast cereal on Wikipedia

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