Kellogg is pretty famously responsible for introducing cereal as a breakfast option in the United States. As the myriad of cereal choices at any modern grocery store can attest, the company has had a big impact on how we eat breakfast. And now, the company wants to get its hands on dinner.
The Kellogg Company announced this week that it would be a great stress-free time saver if you (and your children!) would eat some cereal for dinner. The brand would like this so much, in fact, that it’s giving out handsome cash rewards to customers who pledge their commitment to eating cereal in the evenings. (White tablecloths optional.)
“As the season of routines returns with busy days of carpool, parent teacher conferences, homework help, you name it—so does the dreaded ‘what’s for dinner’ debate,” reads Kellogg’s press release. “Fear not, Tony the Tiger®, Toucan Sam®, Mini® and the rest of the Kellogg’s cereal gang are giving chicken the night off to turn weekly dinner dread into cereal for dinner instead!”
Starting on August 25, once a week, Kellogg will award $5,000 and a year’s supply of Kellogg’s cereals to a lucky participant who shares their cereal-for-dinner journey on Instagram with the hashtag #KelloggsCerealforDinnerEntry. Winners will be selected for five weeks, with the promotion ending on National Better Breakfast Day, which I’m sure you already know is September 26, duh.
Gimmicky though it may be, the campaign does bring up an interesting question: Why not have cereal for dinner?
The ideal family dinner vs. the reality
Dinner has an interesting reputation. It’s regarded by TV commercials, old magazine ads, and cookbooks as the meal families eat together. In TV series made in or depicting the 1960s, the dinner table looms large: Mom puts something protein-filled and practical on the table (meat, potatoes, vegetable), and she, Dad, and the kids all eat happily as a unit. Wholesome, hearty, and habitual.
“Good families have a proper evening meal, all members gathered around the dinner table,” writes Jeffrey Melton in Humor in America. “Good parents reserve dinnertime for wholesome conversation about the day. It is a forum to work toward solving problems and to reaffirm the grace and power of the family unit. A celebration of middle America, the family mealtime is a profound expression of togetherness. I know this from watching American sitcoms.”
Whether or not the dinner table as a gathering place has ever been as foundational as TV makes it seem, food and beverage brands have increasingly acknowledged with each passing decade that it’s a hard standard to achieve. A lot of modern food marketing is geared toward parents who simply don’t have the time, either to take care of themselves or to sweat over a meal that can be gathered around.
Eggo recently released a liège-style waffle that you eat right out of the package, not because untoasted waffles are more delicious (they’re whatever) but because busy parents don’t even have time to toast a frozen waffle for themselves or their kids in the morning.
The thing is, Eggo isn’t wrong. As I type this, I should be starting the spaghetti and meatballs I promised my kid I’d make to celebrate the first day of school. I will end up making spaghetti and meatballs, but I don’t really have the time, not in the way I want to. And maybe cereal would be a relief some nights.
Cereal for dinner isn’t a new concept. A restaurant in my town had cereal on its now defunct kids menu with the description, “Hey, it’s their night out too.” I think about it a lot—how it reminds me to let my kids access the same break I’m accessing by going out to dinner instead of cooking. But still, I’ve really never thought about cereal for dinner as something we should do at home. Or at least, something we should admit to doing. Why is that?
Eat cereal for dinner if you want
“Cereal is for breakfast,” you say. Should it be? Cereal has gotten plenty of bad press, after all. Cereals with lots of added sugar aren’t necessarily a nutritious meal no matter when you eat it throughout the day—so what makes it more acceptable at breakfast time but not the dinner hour?
If it doesn’t seem “wholesome” enough for dinnertime, then maybe we need to decide what kind of “wholesome” we’re after. Is it really the pot roast? Or is it the togetherness? If it’s the latter, look, I’m sorry to get sentimental about a bowl of Froot Loops, but maybe giving ourselves a break and eating cereal for dinner once in a while might be our pathway to spending a little more time at the table, enjoying one another’s company.
When I heard about this silly campaign, I didn’t expect it to become a hill I’d die on. But now that I’m thinking about it, yes, cereal for dinner is what we need. Notably, Kellogg’s didn’t push its un-fun cereals in our face, such as Special K and Kashi. The campaign’s imagery is built around the company’s most sugary, technicolor cereals. But no matter which bowls you serve up, the break from tradition is its own kind of fun.