Growing up, I usually chose my cereals based on what prize was in the box. As long as it was sugary and stayed relatively crunchy in milk, the toy that it came with was the deciding factor. Cereals made of flakes were out. Life cereal was a rarity regardless how much Mikey liked it. Cheerios may as well not have existed – seriously, it was like eating cardboard for a kid and there were rarely any prizes worth getting. When Honey Nut Cheerios was introduced in 1979, it increased the likelihood of that variation making it home but not by much. With all of the sugary cereals with great Disney, Star Wars, and other tie-ins, it may come as a surprise that these weren’t my favorite cereals.
Buying Cereal on a Budget
While I talk about having a choice in the cereals that we had at home, it was only because we had government support for the milk that cereal requires, and cereal was an easy “meal” that we, as children, could make without burning ourselves on the stove. Mom would watch for cereal specials, clip coupons, and use double coupons to get our cereal prices down to the bare minimum. When we went to the store, she would tell us, we could have one of a couple cereals and we would have to choose between.
When I became savvy enough to understand coupons, I was in charge of getting the best deal on cereal. A couple of times, I was able to manage our coupons in conjunction with sales to get cereal for free. One time, I got a whole bag of groceries, and the store paid me 25 cents, part of which was the rebate for bringing my own bag. (I was never able to duplicate those results, and I may have spent the quarter on a pack of Garbage Pail Kids later on.) So, when we got cereal for free, we rejoiced and ate it, even when it had no prize or was flakes. Though the flakes were cause for much less rejoicing.
Introduced to My Favorite Cereal
My grandfather was a wheeler-dealer. He would do jobs and accept almost anything in payment. We were often the recipients of his deal-making. When he came to visit us one time, he brought two giant cardboard boxes. Inside were boxes of Corn Bran with no prizes. We should’ve been happier that we had food, but we were kids. So, we said thank you because we were grateful to have food, even if we weren’t happy with the selection. I mean, “Corn Bran?” Nothing says old person cereal like regularity in the bathroom.
Still, this was the cereal we had, and being hungry was probably worse than eating Corn Bran. I opened a box one morning after we had finished our cereal choices, poured a bowl, added milk, and went to the television to watch cartoons. With the first bite, I was amazed. These sweet-tasting corn pockets were crunchy and full of life. They were just what a kid needed for a good morning, and they became my favorite cereal – maybe because they were given to us with all the love our grandpa could muster.
Of course, I had a favorite sugar cereal: Cap’n Crunchberries. Back in the day Crunchberries was a lot like Lucky Charms in that they both had a bland based combined with colorful sugar bombs. With Lucky Charms, you got the oat-based brown things without sugar and marshmallows. The challenge of Lucky Charms was to have a marshmallow in every bite and have enough marshmallows, so you didn’t have to eat the brown parts by themselves. The yellow base of Crunchberries was corn and sweetened. Its challenge was just the opposite. You wanted to eat all of the yellow pieces, so at the end, you’d have just the berries, which were sweet, fruity goodness – almost like eating real fruit.
I don’t know what happened to Crunchberries. At some point, all the pieces started to taste the same. Rather than being able to pick out the difference between the yellow pieces and the berries, it was one big sugary mess. Don’t get me wrong, I still like them; they’re just not what they were before. Or maybe my taste buds have changed.
If you want more stories about growing up in HUD housing and getting government help, check out “My Life in the Projects,” available here and at Amazon. These links will provide you with more stories about Saturday morning cartoons and cereal.
Leave your favorite cereal in the comments below.