Breakfast of Champions

I recently read that several classic breakfast cereals are in danger of being discontinued.  The list included such old favorites as Special K and Cheerios, and got me thinking about the breakfast foods I ate as a kid.

I grew up at a time when parents fed their children the caloric equivalent of a five course dinner before school every morning.  Much like the breakfast scene in “Pleasantville,” my mother’s idea of a morning meal included hot cereal, eggs, toast, hot cocoa and juice, and we were expected to eat them all.  Every morning, there was a large pot of oatmeal, Ralston, or cream of wheat on the stove, sometimes served with raisins, and often sprinkled with brown sugar.  Eggs were scrambled in a cast iron fry pan, and toast was sliced from huge loaves of homemade bread, and dripping in butter.  Prepackaged toaster pastry and instant breakfast were anathema in our home.

During the dog days of summer, we were allowed to eat cold cereal.  Corn flakes, Shredded Wheat and Cheerios were staples in our pantry, punctuated by special times when my mother brought home Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys.  And on very rare occasions, we were given the breakfast treat of all treats- the Variety Pack-little single serving boxes of cereal, mostly presweetened, with perforations to cut open so that (gasp!) after pouring in the milk, you could eat right out of the box.  We kids thought we died and went to Heaven.  We demolished a ten- pack in one sitting.

But in New England cold mornings outnumbered warm ones, and as soon as school started in September, my mother insisted on more substantial breakfasts.  To add variety to our menus, she often made dried beef gravy, a concoction of evaporated milk, dried beef and egg, served on toast.  We kids giggled at the Army’s name for this dish*, but we loved it.  Years later, I tried serving it to my own children, who sat at the table with tear-filled eyes, begging, “Do we have to eat this stuff?”

Probably my mother’s most creative breakfast idea came after I was out of high school. She decided to offer my younger brothers and sisters grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for breakfast.  Her reasoning was sound- the meal contained all the major food groups.  It was hot.  It filled bellies.  They loved it.  I don’t think any of us still eat it for breakfast, but it remains a family favorite for lunch or supper.

When I had my own family, I didn’t share my mother’s dedication to cooking huge breakfasts.  Abby had a habit of fainting if she didn’t eat right away in the morning, so waiting for eggs or a pot of hot cereal wasn’t an option. Instead, I made my kids “teddy bear toast”- a slice of toast slathered with peanut butter and a sprinkling of raisins to form eyes, nose and a smile.  I bought instant oatmeal.  And yes, I confess, sometimes I bought presweetened cereal.   I tried to limit it to snack time- I figured it was no worse than eating cookies.  All three kids would sit on the living room floor to watch an hour of Sesame Street, while munching on dry Cocoa Puffs from a plastic Tupperware bowl.  Then I realized if I stored the cereal and bowls on the bottom shelf in the kitchen, the children could get their own breakfast and I could sleep an extra hour on Saturday mornings.  It was one of my smartest decisions.

Now my kids are grown.  When they are home with me, we stumble around the kitchen in an awkward morning ballet, stirring coffee and toasting bread.  I breakfast on Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts.  It’s healthier for me.  It’s quick and easy.  It’s low in cholesterol and high in calcium.

But every once in a while, on dark New England mornings, I stir in my bed and long for the smell of oatmeal, bacon and coffee wafting from the kitchen.  Mmmm… Breakfast of Champions!

*If you do not know the Armed Forces’ name for this culinary masterpiece, ask any soldier.  Momma G does not write swear words in her blog.

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