Throughout my childhood, my mornings began with a bowl of cereal. My older brother Sam would opt for Frosties. But I was a Coco Pops girl. What can I say? I just loved the way they made the milk turn chocolatey.
I don’t consider any of this particularly controversial. But sugary cereals that I and most of my generation grew up on have taken something of a kicking over the past few years in health circles.
They’re blamed for – or alleged to contribute to – our spiralling childhood obesity rate, followed by a lifetime of ill-health and an early death.
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Plans for a sugar tax on food could see the price of popular breakfast cereals such as Frosties and Coco Pops increasing, hitting Britain's poorest families
And here was I thinking it was just breakfast.
Last week they came under fire yet again, thanks to the Government’s National Food Strategy.
The 239-page dossier, written by Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of high-street fast-food chain Leon, offered some ambitious ideas – such as slapping foods with a salt and sugar tax, getting GPs to hand out prescriptions for fruits and veg, and compulsory nutrition lessons in schools. But it also took a dim view of sugary cereals.
Frosties were labelled as junk food – alongside soft drinks, crisps and chocolates. And junk food, it claimed, had hijacked the nation’s appetites, making us eat when we’re not hungry, increasing the risk of diet-related diseases. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme following the publication of the report, Dimbleby referred to Frosties as ‘pure sugar’.
Now, I’ll admit, Mr Dimbleby and I have history (not that he knew it). I’ve never quite forgiven him for having a pop at Marks & Spencer’s Percy Pigs a few years back. He claimed M&S ‘misled’ customers with claims that the sugar-laden jellies were made with natural fruit juice. I love Percys, and I’m sure anyone with half a brain doesn’t imagine they’re a health food.
Now he’s coming for Coco Pops? OK, I don’t eat them these days – or at least, not often – but I suddenly felt the urge to buy a pack. You can’t seriously say having Frosties for breakfast is the same as sending your kid to school on a bag of Walkers Ready Salted, can you?
I invited him to spar with me on the matter on our Medical Minefield podcast – and resisted the urge to be audibly crunching through a bowl of cereal live on air. He stuck to his guns.
Mail on Sunday Deputy Health Editor Eve Simmons, who grew up on Coco Pops has urged the government to abandon plans for a sugar tax on breakfast cereals because of the impact they will have on the poorest in societyInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
In the Dimbleby household – he lives in Hackney, North London, with journalist wife Jemima and their kids Dory, George and Johnny – they eat porridge for breakfast.
Henry told me: ‘If you train yourself, making it is pretty quick. It’s one cup of oats, one cup of milk, and you boil it up. Or we might have an egg with toast. None of those things necessarily takes great skill.’
Fair enough. I do like porridge, now. But I wouldn’t have touched it when I was eight.
The thing is, it is simply not the case that parents do not want to, or know how to, make their children a nutritious breakfast. Sometimes a bowl of cereal is just the easiest option, for many reasons. And it’s not a bad one. Most cereals are fortified with vitamins and you eat them with milk, which is great for us.