I enjoy a good bowl of cereal once in a while. My favorite cereal is Cookie Crisp because it’s gratuitously not a cereal. It’s a pile of sugary “chocolate chip cookies.” Just add milk.
As a kid I ate cereal every morning, and nothing healthy. Our family had Cocoa Puffs, Cocoa Krispies, Lucky Charms and personal favorite Waffle Crisp. Even Frosted Mini Wheats, with their glossy coating of sugar in every bite, weren’t completely healthy.
After cereal the day would stay consistently unhealthy. I’d eat a sandwich full of salty Turkey Hill bologna and American cheese, wash that down with two Tastycake chocolate cupcakes, then come home from school and tear open a family-size bag of Herr’s salt and vinegar potato chips. Along with being a walking advertisement for the Pennsylvania food industry, I was a ticking time bomb, growing less active, more tired and increasingly unwell every year.
Only around 2010 did I begin to reverse my eating habits. I still crave – and enjoy – a bag of salt and vinegar chips once in a while, and I may stop and buy a Tastycake product once every couple months. But these days I eat pretty well. I start the day with plain non-fat yogurt, then add granola, oatmeal or a low-fat muffin. A piece of fruit is a snack. For lunch I’m usually eating salad or a small, veggie-first sandwich. Sometimes I’m just munching on vegetables or healthy proteins like tuna, cheese or nuts. And I cook nearly all my dinners, keeping small portions and balancing greens with proteins, incorporating few but necessary carbs.
I don’t eat cereal anymore. Yes my favorite cereal is Cookie Crisp, but I may have it once every two years. And that’s if my wife isn’t around (she rolls her eyes at my Cookie Crisp addiction).
But I spoon yogurt into a bowl, mix it with some honey and eat that. Then I have to wash the bowl and spoon. Later I have to wash every dish I use during the day and evening, as I work at my home office. And I don’t own a dishwasher. I’m forever washing dishes.
Here’s a newsflash: Despite all the dish washing I do, I don’t like washing dishes. And I don’t eat cereal anymore. Maybe that means I’m lazy. But I’m not. And Millennials aren’t lazy, and it’s time to stop the tired trope.
Recently the debate raged over Millennials and their shocking decision to stop eating cereal. Why did they stop, asked the New York Times? Apparently because they don’t want to wash the bowl and spoon.
Then the lazy arguments fired right back up.
The “Millennials are lazy” argument is lazy in itself, especially in regards to – of all things – cereal. First, why does it suddenly matter whether people eat cereal? It’s typically – especially if we’re talking ultra-sugary cereals – one of the worst things anyone can regularly eat. It’s marketed almost exclusively to kids younger than 16, unless we’re talking “adult” cereal, which even then is marketed to the over-55 crowd. There should be no reason why anyone actually cares about whether Millennials are eating cereal.
But now it’s a thing, and the argument is, once again, that Millennials are lazy because they don’t want to clean a bowl and spoon.
The expected response, primarily from the Baby Boomer and Generation-X community, has mirrored target practice. Once again Millennials are being chided for perceived laziness, but this is actually a failure to understand trending shifts in behavior. This isn’t new – thinkpieces and hot takes from across the internet have berated Millennials for perceived laziness in the workplace, with money, in school and at home.
But what previous generations aren’t noting is that the trending shifts in behavior are almost completely influenced by, or reactions to, the poisonous behaviors of those previous generations. We live in evolution, and the generational evolution indicates that Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers are much more responsible for the problems they see in Millennials. It’s possible these previous generations don’t want to see it or admit it, but that’s the truth.
Here’s a truism: For most of the population, regardless of generation, cleaning any dishes is not fun. It’s a waste of time and a waste of resources, especially if you don’t own an automatic dishwasher, which is the case for many Millennials.
Let’s go back to the 1960s, when families – GI Generation parents and Baby Boomer children – occasionally sat in the living room to eat dinner and watch television. Fast food and the TV dinner exploded in popularity because of this behavioral shift brought on by the television’s near-instantaneous ability to entertain and inform every day and night. Fast food and the TV dinner evolved as time passed. By the 1990s, when Early Millennials were the children in Boomer-parented families, sitting in the living room for dinner became expected culture. Pizza night happened more than once a week. TV dinners, Lean Cuisines, pot pies and Hot Pockets became a staple of dinner.
And, as more women moved into the workforce to take higher-paying jobs, parents began to ask their children to “fend for themselves.” Sometimes parents weren’t even home by dinner, but if they were, they had little time to prepare anything. By the 1990s many families were tossing dinner onto a dartboard. This started the growth of the home-cook movement, as executives noticed a market for parents who had little time to prepare meals, but still wanted to cook for their families.
With this came the growth of the to-go movement. Yogurt cups had been around for years, but in the 1980s they exploded, primarily because the food was associated with the mainstream health and fitness movement championed by on-the-go Baby Boomers. Then yogurt cups were marketed to kids – Millennial kids – with sprinkled and fruited cups they could take to school. And they had to – Baby Boomer parents had little time to make a gourmet lunch every day.
I know because every day I went to school with that bologna sandwich and Tastycake combination. And for years it wasn’t even a traditional sandwich but – you guessed it – a package of Lunchables. Why did Lunchables explode? Thank the on-the-go Boomer parent.
On-the-go foods were always with Millennials, part of their culture. But that’s primarily because their Baby Boomer parents bought the product because they needed less time to do the hard work and more time to get to work.
Maybe some would say the Baby Boomers were … I don’t know … lazy?
Today Millennials use on-the-go products because it frees them up a little more. But they still cook, and they cook relatively healthy. Will they throw on-the-go foods in their childrens’ lunch bags? Probably. Because evolution. But maybe options are healthier now. Maybe there’s more knowledge about what’s good for you.
Maybe cereal just isn’t the best thing for kids.
So, again, why do we care that Millennials don’t eat cereal?
Our Baby Boomer and Generation-X influencers care because it allows them to take shots at Millennials. It gives them self-satisfaction and, maybe in some twisted way, keeps them at the head of the food chain for now. We know Baby Boomers don’t want to get out of the way. This just proves it again.
But this time they’re terribly wrong. Millennials aren’t lazy; they’re just trying to clean up your old mistakes.