Introducing Humble 'O's' To Label-wise Kids

HAPPY EATER HC B

December 18, 1991|By ROB KASPER

I recently attempted to teach my kids a lesson about taste. That is how this parent business is supposed to work. The grown-ups, wiser in the ways of the world, are expected to help their offspring maneuver through the maze of life.

I tried to give my 11-year-old son an instructional exercise in the price of Cheerios. I was going to show him that the "O" dwelling in the drab, store brand box of honey-flavored cereal tasted exactly like the world-renowned toasted "O" that resided in the ,, graphically correct and more expensive box of "Honey Nut Cheerios."

A box containing the little-known "O" costs about a third less than the celebrity Honey Nuts. While Honey Nuts make regular appearances on Saturday morning TV shows, about the only bright lights the store brand sees are the neon lights illuminating the cereal aisle in the Super Fresh.

The moral of my story was going to be that the children should learn to judge value by taste, not just by appearances.

We never got to that part. As soon as the kid saw that I was dishing him up a bowl of the store-brand "O's," he complained.

"I don't like those," he said. "Gimme the Honey Nuts."

Being a caring, considerate father, I first listened carefully to what my child was telling me. Then I responded to my child.

"You're nuts!" I told him.

It is the same response I give his 6-year-old brother when he tells me that he will eat raw carrots, but not cooked ones. Or when both of the kids tell me they "can't eat oranges, because they are too juicy," or that the "only good pizza is one that comes in a box," not made fresh, or that sickeningly sweet spaghetti sauce "in a jar" is better than the tomato-loaded homemade sauce.

The other day I decided I had had enough of this behavior. I was going to set my kid straight, even if I had to use the technique that makes the mighty of the food world shiver.

I was going to conduct a blind taste test. No labels. No packaging. No jingles. Just two bowls of nearly naked "O's," floating in milk.

Since this was going to be a "blind" taste test, I hid behind the refrigerator, where the kid couldn't see me, when I poured the cereal from the competing boxes.

I did use different colored bowls, a clear one for the Honey Nuts, and white one for the store brand. I did this to help me tell the two cereals apart.

To me, all floating "O's" look alike.

But not to the kid. He took about three bites, two of the Honey Nuts and one of the store brand before correctly identifying the reigning "O's" and the pretenders.

"They taste different," he said of the Honey Nuts. I pressed him for details. Were the Honey Nuts sweeter? Bigger? Did they use only capital "O's," while the store brand used lower-case "o's"?

The kid shrugged. "They're just different," he said, and pushed the unacceptable "O's" toward me.

Despite his lack of tasting notes, the kid knew his cereal. I was impressed.

The incident changed the way I "interact with my children" at the table.

The other day, for instance, when the 6-year-old caught me trying to feed him some recycled Cap'n Crunch, I admitted my wrong.

I told him how I had picked up one bowl of milk-soaked cereal, put it in another container and "freshened" it up by adding a new layer of dry cereal and a splash of cold milk.

The kid spotted my ploy after one bite. I promised him I would not do it again, even though I figure that every time the Cap'n gets soaked, I toss out about 50 cents worth of cereal.

And I now respect the older child's palate. He thinks there is a taste difference between store-brand and Honey Nut Cheerios.

However, after the taste test was concluded, I still had this box of "unapproved" cereal on my hands. It had cost me money.

So, when the kids weren't looking, I pulled the remaining "O's" out of the store-brand box. The cereal was in a plastic liner. I slipped the liner full of impostors into an empty box of Honey Nut Cheerios.

So far nobody has noticed. If they do, I will take it as an opportunity to teach my children another lesson about life. Namely, when it comes to cereal, parents are tightwads.

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