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Why Cereal Is on the Decline

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Cereal may have been a childhood go-to for breakfast, but sales have fallen in recent years as adults are turning to other options or skipping breakfast entirely. A recent article in the New York Times found that millennials are often choosing smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, and highlighted a study finding that 40 percent of millennials don't eat cereal "because they need to clean up afterwards." This finding was picked up by the Washington Post, which went on to cite convenience as one reason for choosing other options.

Are millennials and their older brethren simply lazy? Or is it something else? The answer is complex and individual. A woman quoted in the New York Times article pointed out that people don't want to start their day with industrially processed grains. She has a good point. With heightened interest in foods that are locally sourced, unprocessed, and produced in an environmentally conscious way, it's hard to see where cereal fits in with millennial foodies. There are also many new options for breakfast that are either based on a specific diet, international cuisines, or the latest recipe for cult followers of overnight oats.

The convenience factor of your first meal of the day can't be overlooked. The time between waking up and getting out the door is at a premium and sitting down to eat something simply takes time. And who wants dirty dishes in the sink all day? No one. Bars, smoothies, and sandwiches can be eaten with one hand while you walk to the bus or subway, or eaten at your desk. The ability to multitask while eating plays an important role in breakfast choice.

Other thoughts on why cereal is losing popularity:

  • In articles about what they eat for breakfast, dietitians and trainers rarely mention a bowl of cereal.
  • Many cereals are loaded with sugar and marketed to children. Some people may consider cereal a breakfast for kids.
  • Though soy- and nut-based milks can be substituted for cow's milk, it's possible people don't want to use them with cereal.
  • Cereal has a vintage cool factor, but more trendy breakfasts (breakfast bowls, frittatas, omelets, pancakes) tend to show up on your Instagram feed.

Breakfast is a key time for starting to get in essential daily nutrients and giving your body fuel after a long night. An ideal breakfast is a nutritionally balanced meal with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats (think Mexican scramble—scrambled eggs with black beans, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheddar, and guacamole with whole-wheat toast). A bowl of cereal is primarily simple, processed carbs with little protein and saturated or "unhealthy" fat found in the milk (unless it's fat-free). It isn't compatible with a low-carb diet, and most cereals, even eaten without the milk, do not fit into a gluten-free or Paleo diet.

However, whole-grain cereals with milk can be part of a healthy breakfast, as long as they are paired with protein such as scrambled eggs or tofu with veggies. Steer clear of anything frosted or '"chocolaty." Top your bowl with fruit for added fiber and Vitamin C to help your body absorb iron.

Check out the best ways to shop for healthy cereal.

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Deborah Tagliareni MS RD

Deborah Tagliareni, a Registered Dietitian and Founder of Milestone Nutrition, received her bachelors degree from Northwestern University and Masters in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.  More →

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