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To the Cereal Manufacturers of this Great Nation

Dear Sirs and Madams of the Breakfast Cereal Industry:

I grew up with prizes in my cereal. There weren’t prizes in EVERY box of cereal but frequently we would rush to open a new box that promised some nugget of disposable plastic fun and goodness. I tend to believe that most boxes of “kid” cereal did contain a prize in each box. I don’t really know because my mom preferred nutrition over the allure of artificial color, flavor and roof-of-mouth-scratching sugar-coated-glee.

We stuck mainly to Cheerios and Shredded Wheat with the occasional box of Cracklin’ Oat Bran thrown in when it was on sale. To me it was like a box of little cookies, almost too good to be eaten with milk. I preferred to glue two together with peanut butter like a little sandwich. But I digress.

There were five kids in my family and we kept careful track of whose turn it was to get the treat from the cereal. Often the prize was hidden somewhere in the actual food product so I remember digging my hand in as far as I could and wiggling it around while Cheerios went flying, or pouring the whole box out into a mixing bowl until the prize fell out. Then with our grimy hands, we’d scoop the contents back into the box. Fond memories.

As I got older, I noticed that the prizes got fewer and farther between. Sometimes there’d be a “special” offer on the box with a picture of some AMAZING prize like a 3-inch pocket Frisbee and if you had the UPCs from 15 boxes of the specially marked cereal and sent them $13.59 for shipping and handling and filled out the 18 part form inside the box, you were eligible to receive it in 6-9 weeks while supplies lasted. I sent away for these a few times. But the joy soon wore off. Eventually I realized I could buy a better piece of plastic crap at the dollar store for much less money and hassle and it didn’t take 2 months to arrive. Also, sometimes supplies didn’t last, which at this point boggles my mind. Did they only have 10 3-inch freebies for the entire U.S. and Canada or were billions of kids really jumping through all the hoops to earn their prizes, while simultaneously selling their parents’ contact information to the junk mail and sweepstakes empire?

I’m not sure if the decline in prizes has more to do with financial cutbacks, health code issues or choking hazards. (Mom performs the Heimlich maneuver, only to find that the item blocking her child’s airway was a secret decoder ring, not a morsel of Chocolate Coated Sugar Bombs.)

Well yesterday as I was opening a new box of Frosted Mini-Wheats, Magoo said that he wanted the toy from inside.

“I’m sorry, buddy,” I said, “They don’t actually put the toys in the boxes. We’d have to send away for that.”

“No,” Laylee replied, “It says right here that there’s a toy IN the box.”

Wow. A little thrill ran through me. An actual prize? In the box? I was so excited. I think my fingers trembled a little as I popped open the top. There, double-sealed in plastic on top of the cereal bag was a small oddly-shaped stuffed Minnie Mouse. I handed her to Magoo, who gave me the skeptical stink-eye. I knew. It was a GIRL toy.

“How about we give Minnie to Laylee and you can have the next one… if it’s not Minnie Mouse too.”

“Okay. We can go open the other boxes after breakfast and find Pluto for me,” he conceded.

I could not say no to the request, being the latent prize-lover that I am. I know I would have begged my mom to do the same thing.

There were two more boxes out in the garage.

First box. Deformed Minnie Mouse.

Second box. Strange gray mole-rat-looking thing. “It’s the guy from Ratatouille!” I announced. “That’s a boy one.”

“Hmm. Okay,” he said.

We’re grateful to see that prizes and excitement may be coming back to the world of cereal. We just have one request. It has nothing to do with quality. Just please make the little nuggets of cheap fun goodness gender-neutral. It would save me a lot of effort and I wouldn’t have to buy so much cereal… Wait… That’s kind of the point, huh?

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