Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about cereal servings frequently. More specifically, how small recommended serving sizes are. I eat one serving of cereal for breakfast about as often as Queen Elizabeth listens to Metallica.
The amount of cereal in one serving is usually 3/4 of a cup or one full cup depending on what cereal it happens to be. I’ve noticed that the serving size is frequently adjusted for less healthy cereals. For instance, the serving size of regular Cheerios is one cup, while a serving of Honeynut Cheerios is just 3/4 of a cup. If you compare the nutritional content of several cereals make sure to consider the serving size (when I eat Honeynut Cheerios I eat the same amount as regular Cheerios, and I doubt I’m alone in this).
Here is a quick look at serving sizes illustrated with Cheerios. The bowl used for this exercise is a 99¢ Wal-Mart cereal bowl that has a 6 inch diameter at the top. In my opinion it has the perfect dimensions for a cereal bowl. First we have one serving (1 cup).
One serving of Cheerios (1 cup).
The only time I eat a bowl of cereal that looks like this is when the box runs out mid-pour. This is the type of breakfast runway models eat. Let’s try two servings.
Two servings of Cheerios (2 cups).
If I’m not particularly hungry I might settle for this as a light breakfast. But on most days I’d still be pouring.
Three servings of Cheerios (3 cups).
And at three servings the perfect level has been reached. Full enough to be called full, yet not overflowing. Three servings = a normal breakfast. If these were Honeynut Cheerios it would be a four serving breakfast.
So my normal bowl of cereal does not look like the recommended serving at all. I’ve noticed that television commercials for cereal seldom show a full serving. Most shots of people beginning to eat a full bowl of cereal are shot with the bowl hidden or from a low angle so the amount of cereal in the bowl is not visible. The shots that show the inside of the bowl are saved for late in the commercial when most of the cereal has already been consumed, or at least the viewer is supposed to assume this (sometimes there is nearly a full serving left in these shots).
On the front of boxes cereal bowls are often depicted. I think part of the reason these images are magnified is not to show you the texture of the cereal (like the disclaimer states), but rather to throw off your ability to judge the scale of the serving. I think this is also part of the reason many pictures include fruit on or in the cereal. Sure it adds color, but more importantly it also adds mass to the inside of the bowl.
Take a look at this Cheerios box.
A Cheerios box.
Does this box give you any feel for a serving size? In between the two bowls there is some fine print. Here is a close up.
A sneaky disclaimer?
The disclaimer says the picture has been enlarged to show detail. I guess that works better than the more truthful Enlarged to Disrupt Your Sense of Scale. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the public is dying to know what the pores in a Cheerio look like.
Underneath the disclaimer is confirmation that the picture is supposed to depict a recommended serving. A recommended serving in an odd shaped bowl that is not fully pictured that also contains added fruit which is not part of the serving. Oh I get it; it’s all so confusingly clear now.
I’d like to state that while I used pictures of General Mills Cheerios as examples in this post I do not think they are any worse than other cereal brands or products. I’m not trying to single out Cheerios, I just happened to have them in my kitchen.
The next time you walk down the cereal aisle at the grocery store look at the boxes and see how many clearly depict a serving size. When you see a commercial for cereal on television watch for a good example of a serving size (or go to YouTube and watch commercials there). Marketing departments are good at hiding things.
And now I’m curious whether or not Queen Elizabth has ever listened to Metallica.