Americans are in love with cereal again during the quarantine. Is that a good thing?

Cereal fans are indulging at breakfast, having a bowl for dinner or reaching into a box for a midnight snack.
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/ Source: TODAY

If breakfast had a theme before the pandemic, it would have been “grab and go” for many U.S. households.

It’s different now as people working from home actually have time for a sit-down breakfast, and they’re rediscovering their love for cereal during the quarantine.

Dollar sales of breakfast cereal surged 28% for the eight weeks ending on April 18, 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019, according to Nielsen. That's a turnaround after "soggy" sales of cold cereal in recent years.

“Breakfast is back,” declared MediaRadar, which tracks advertising trends, noting that “Americans love breakfast cereal right now” due to a combination of factors, including eating most meals at home, craving comfort food, looking for quick and easy meal options and stockpiling shelf-stable fare.

Companies are responding with more commercials: Ad spending for breakfast products in March was 19% higher than during an average month in 2019, the company said.

“We believe during this period of unknown, families are turning to cereal to instill a sense of fun, familiarity and trust,” Ricardo Fernandez, president of the U.S. cereal division at General Mills, told TODAY in a statement.

“We are seeing cereal being consumed at various times throughout the day, which is important for families right now who are looking for versatility, and self-service during busy days.”

The Cheerios franchise, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms and Trix are doing particularly well right now, Fernandez said.

The Kellogg Company declined to comment citing its quiet period before the company’s earnings announcement on Thursday.

Cereal fans who indulge at breakfast, have a bowl for dinner or reach into a box for a midnight snack need to be careful about their choices, nutritionists cautioned.

“Breakfast cereals are all over the map. If you want to be confused, you just go to the breakfast cereal aisle,” said Lisa Young, a registered dietitian in New York and author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim.”

“You can have a really healthy cereal… or you can have a cereal that’s literally a cookie in disguise.”

Cold cereal is hard to portion control, so even though a serving size might be a cup, people can easily pour three cups into a bowl, amounting to 500 calories, she noted. It can also very easily become a “much and crunch food” like chips, pretzels and cookies, leading to mindless eating and unnecessary calories, Young noted.

She advised people to look for cereal that’s 100% whole grain, contains at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and has as little added sugar as possible.

The labeling can be confusing. Last year, Kellogg agreed to stop marketing its sugary cereals as “healthy.” The products affected included five flavors and variations of Raisin Bran, 16 types of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smart Start cereals and 24 types of Nutri-Grain bars.

Whatever your choice of cereal, Young recommended keeping a measuring cup near the box and measuring one cup of your favorite flakes, loops or puffs — rather than pouring them straight into the bowl — to get an idea of what a true serving looks like.

If you’re looking for a truly nutritious start to your day:

Young had these breakfast suggestions:

  • One cup of whole-grain cereal with either low-fat milk or yogurt, topped with fruit and some nuts
  • A scrambled or hard-boiled egg with a slice of whole-wheat toast and some avocado
  • Fruit and yogurt with some flaxseeds
  • A slice of whole-grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter with a side of fruit

Do people really need to eat breakfast?

Once called the most important meal of the day, the debate over whether breakfast is really necessary continues. Dr. Mehmet Oz has made a resolution to skip it this year, believing the advice to eat it has been an "advertising ploy."

There's conflicting research on the morning meal's impact on weight, with some studies showing breakfast skippers are more likely to have a higher BMI, while others reporting eating breakfast can lead to weight gain. Some dietitians believe it should be the largest meal of the day.

Young had a different take. It’s important for kids to eat breakfast, but it’s fine for adults to skip it if they naturally prefer to eat later in the day, she said.

“If you’re not hungry in the morning, you don’t have to shove it down your throat,” she noted.