Friday, August 19, 2011

Still Life with Robin: No Cereal for You!

by Peggy Robin

I’m normally quite an adventurous eater, especially when I travel. I always want to enjoy the cuisine of whatever exotic spot I find myself in…that is, as long as we’re talking lunch or dinner. When it comes to breakfast, I’ll stick to my same-old-same-old. I know it's boring but all I want to start the day is one small bowl of cold cereal with skim milk. That’s it. I’m not especially particular about the type. I’ll have plain Cheerios, or Special K, or Wheat Chex, or just about any non-sugary flake, circle, or square.

I have my reasons. They are, in a nutshell (not a cereal bowl): time, cost, and diet. When I’m on a trip, I don’t want to spend too large a chunk of time sitting around in restaurants, especially before any planned outings. So I want something that’s fast, preferably self-serve. Cereal is also much cheaper than a full, standard American breakfast (eggs, pancakes, waffles, or French toast, with various side meats and/or potatoes). And it’s certainly better for my arteries.

So what’s my dilemma? You might think all I need to do when planning a trip is to choose hotels, inns, or bed-and-breakfasts that include a quick and healthy breakfast. Yes, that is my usual strategy, but it’s harder to find than it should be. The last few trips I’ve taken, I had assumed I’d be able to get a simple bowl of cereal, but that turned out not to be the case.

Here’s how it goes: On the travel day, stumbling around in the pre-dawn hours, I grab a coffee and orange juice on my way out the door, thinking I can get a bowl of cereal at the airport. But as I find myself past security in a part of the airport that has just a few scattered gates, I see there's just one pathetic little food stall, offering a meager selection of pre-packaged breakfasts: bagels wrapped in cellophane with a plastic cup of cream cheese on the side. A few varieties of oversized muffins made with giants in mind. Some heavy-looking, refrigerated croissants on a plate with a pat of frozen butter on the side. You would think a sealed cup of Cheerios would fit right in with these pre-fab offerings. But it's not there.

Then, when I’m at my destination, I find that the lovely and authentic inn I’ve chosen disdains to offer the lowly bowl of boxed cereal on its fresh and organic breakfast menu. (And even if they did, it would bother me to pay seven or eight bucks to have fifty cents worth of dried flakes served in a china bowl.)  Instead, I assume I can dash out to the nearest grocery store and pick up a small box of cereal, and a pint of skim milk, and fix my own bowl in the room.

Assumptions aside, here is what’s gone wrong with my last four attempts to stick to this game plan: 
  • There is no grocery store, take-out, or market with cereal for sale within a 10-minute walk of the hotel.
  • There is a little gourmet market in walking distance, but it doesn’t sell normal cereal, just some fancy muesli at six bucks for a biodegradable paper packet.
  • There’s a supermarket, but all has on the shelves are mega-sized boxes of cereal that would feed a starving family of twelve for a month.
  • There’s a store with the cereal I want, and the milk, and I happily make my purchase, only to discover that I have no way to eat it. I need to run back to the store and spend another $3.50 for a package of plastic spoons plus another three on a stack of paper bowls. At this rate, I might as well have gone ahead and called room service, which would have sent up a bowl of cereal with milk (and fruit!) for a mere eleven bucks.
My next trip I intend to have my cereal my way, damn it, no matter how much of a cereal desert I’m in. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to fill little plastic baggies with a morning’s worth of my preferred brand of cereal, one for each day of the trip. (I’d pack the whole box but it would take up too much space in my luggage.) I’ll add in the number of paper bowls I need, as well, appropriately wrapped. I’ll throw in a few sturdy plastic spoons. I’ve never had any trouble finding milk wherever I am in the world, although in a few places, skim or lowfat milk is virtually unknown. But I can always can adapt to that by simply having a lower ratio of milk to cereal.

Now I just have to hope that my luggage is not opened by some hungry, larcenous TSA inspector.


Do you have any off-the-wall strategies for sticking to your diet while on the road? Or have any packing tips for unusual items? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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