How Cereal Became The #1 Breakfast Food in the U.S.

160.2 - How Cereal Became the #1 Breakfast Food in the U.S.

This is the first part of a two-part lesson. In the part one, you learned how to use the common English expression: Gimme Some Sugar.


Words that are bolded in red are suggested vocabulary words for this episode.


Welcome back to the second part of episode number 160, how cereal became the number one breakfast food in the US. I normally say that I’m excited to talk about the different cultural aspects in the second part of expression episodes, but this one really hits home. Cereal arouses a sense of nostalgia in a lot of the Americans that I know; it brings about memories of childhood, simpler times, family breakfasts. It’s a wonderful topic of conversation that you can have with native speakers. Ask them: What was your favorite cereal when you were a child? And then maybe you can share something that you learned in today’s lesson.

Now, this is a short story with a lot of useful vocabulary. Take notes if you need, or be sure to sign up to Premium Content, you’ll find the link for that in the episode notes.


We’re going to start with a bit of vocabulary.

The word cereal has its roots in Latin. It comes from the word Cerealis, which is derived from Ceres, the name of the ancient Roman goddess of agriculture and grain crops.

Now, when the word cereal entered the English language in the 1800s, it was used to talk about any type of edible grain, from rice to barley, oats and more.

Today, cereal is widely used to refer to a variety of breakfast foods that are made from processed grains. We talk about cold cereal like Corn Flakes and granola, to hot cereals like oatmeal, Cream Of Wheat, and grits. Hot cereals can also be called porridges, which gives the impression that it’s hot, mushy, creamy, maybe.

Although, to be honest, I rarely hear people say hot cereal or porridge; most native speakers call each hot cereal by its name.

Oatmeal is a porridge made of oats, grits is a porridge made of ground corn, and Cream of Wheat is a porridge made of ground wheat kernels. It’s actually the name of the brand, but we just use it to talk about the general food. So oatmeal, grits and Cream of Wheat.

Now, of course, each of those is prepared with hot water or milk, and as I mentioned before, they’re porridges, so they’re creamy or mushy in consistency when they’re ready to eat. So creamy sounds great, mushy can have a bit of a negative connotation.

So you should know those terms, because if you talk about cereal in the US, most people will first think of the boxed stuff that you serve cold with milk. That’s the stuff we’re going to talk about today; the cold, ready to go stuff. Fresh cereal: It’s normally described as crunchy or crispy, and if it’s sat in milk for too long, do you know how we’d describe it?

We’d say it’s soggy.

Hurry up. Come to the table! Your cereal is getting soggy.

Soggy. Usually bread products with too much moisture are soggy.

Let me ask you, what comes to mind when you think of American Breakfast? I’ve taught over 3,000 English classes, and many of my former students would mention pancakes and eggs with bacon, toast, waffles. Yeah, they were right, we do have those things. You also need to try a bagel when you’re in New York, a breakfast burrito in the Southwest, biscuits and grits in the South.

But did you know that the average American eats more cereal than any of those things? Breakfast [00:05:00] cereal is a staple in the United States. According to the US census, as a country, we go through 2.7 billion boxes of cereal each year. Around 70% of US households in the US eat it, according to the US census of 2023.

Having grown up in the US, I’m not surprised that over half of Americans eat cereal at least once a week, or that over 30% eat it more than three times a week; my family fits into that statistic.

But the US didn’t always eat cereal.

When early colonists settled in what is now the United States, way back in the 16 and 1700s, it wasn’t uncommon to eat leftovers for breakfast. Leftovers refers to food from a previous meal.

Colonists would eat leftovers for breakfast with bread or perhaps cornmeal mush, something like grits. Oftentimes, these meals were savory, right? Savory refers to foods that are either spicy or salty, but not sweet. The colonists ate savory breakfasts.

That’s the end of the free transcript. Be sure to sign up to Season 4 to receive all of the bonus material for episodes 151-200.

My favorite childhood cereal. It's very healthy, obviously! 🙂