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From the food editor: Millennials may shy away from cereal, but it's not because they are lazy

One cup of Froot Loops contains 10 grams of sugar and not much fiber. [iStockphoto.com]

One cup of Froot Loops contains 10 grams of sugar and not much fiber. [iStockphoto.com]

Cereal is having a mid-life crisis.

The onetime breakfast stalwart is fading fast with younger generations, especially millennials, according to a recent New York Times story.

"Breakfast cereal, both as a cultural marker and a profit center, is at a crossroads. Since the late 1990s, its popularity has been slowly fading. Sales, which totaled $13.9 billion in 2000, dipped last year to about $10 billion.

Younger consumers are not as attached to cold cereal for breakfast as their forebears, analysts and cereal makers agree."

Seems like a solid premise, right? A lot of the 20- and 30somethings I know (including myself) don't rely on processed food staples like previous generations did, not to mention things like cereal that contain unpronounceable ingredients or more grams of sugar than a Snickers. In fact, a lot of them don't eat breakfast at all.

But there was another reason for the cereal shunning outlined in the Times story.

"Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it."

Come again?

The Washington Post also picked up the story, and pointed to that line in particular as the most troubling part. Well, it is. The idea that people aren't eating certain foods because they can't run a bowl under the sink is ridiculous, and depressing.

But is this really a fair assessment? Maybe not.

For one thing, we don't know the ages of those surveyed. The millennial generation is rather loosely defined, containing people born anywhere from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. That's the difference between a 16-year-old high schooler who probably doesn't prepare his own meals and a 32-year-old with a career and a mortgage and a morning breakfast routine. I can imagine how feelings about cereal — and dirty dishes — would vary drastically.

The idea that cereal isn't popular with millennials because the generation is lazy didn't jibe with the millennials I know, either. When I posted the Post story on my Facebook page a couple days ago, I immediately received a handful of comments from friends, most of them between ages 25 and 35, most of them with the same "Um, this doesn't seem right" thoughts.

One said she thought the article would say we eschew the boxed breakfast because we grew up eating it, and are now sick of it. (As a former Cocoa Pebbles fiend, I can confirm this is valid.)

Another said "I don't eat it because I'm not a huge fan of milk plus the aforementioned crazy amount of sugars and other unhealthy ingredients." (I, too, rarely have milk in my fridge.) And this: "I guess if I say I eat bananas instead of sugar and yellow dye No. 5 for breakfast the response (will) be that they come in disposable containers."

You could say it struck a nerve.

But for me, the most upsetting part of the Times story is that it inadvertently paints cereal's demise as something to mourn, when the truth is most cereals are a lousy breakfast option. Despite the push from large corporations like General Mills to remove artificial flavors and colors from its products, one cup of Trix still contains 10 grams of sugar and hardly any fiber.

We should be starting our days with protein- and fiber-heavy options like oatmeal and scrambled eggs. Though the latter does require the use of both a pan and a plate, which means two dishes to wash. Are you okay with that?

Contact Michelle Stark as mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

From the food editor: Millennials may shy away from cereal, but it's not because they are lazy 02/25/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016 10:09am]
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