The ‘90s… It was a beautiful time. Anything seemed possible. The Clinton-era economic boom may not have promised Americans sensible nutrition policy, but it did offer us a wildly large selection of different breakfast cereals to choose from. During these years, I was under the impression that starting my day off with cereal—sugar-laden though it may be—was actually a healthy way fuel up in the wee hours of the morning before hauling my sagging Rugrats backpack to school.
I guess we’ve all come to the conclusion that eating sugar-soaked carbs first thing in the morning maybe isn’t the healthiest breakfast, but you know what? Innocence was bliss. To revisit the good old days (re: cereal; let’s not pretend anyone wants to return to the neoliberal prison of the ‘90s), I’ve thought back on some of my favorite breakfast cereals from that time and ranked them from worst to best.
In theory, Oreo O’s, essentially just Oreo-flavored Cheerios, should have been good. Chocolate cookie and cream wheat rings, designed to be consumed first thing in the morning? A dream come true. But every time I tried this cereal, I was reminded that it tasted like trash. It really felt like plain Cheerios were trying to be something they weren’t. I remember begging my mom to buy this cereal and then proceeded to leave it in the pantry for months while it went stale; it honestly tasted the same after months of sitting in an open bag.
If you’re a child of the ‘90s whose parents let them watch TV, then you surely remember Reptar, the purple monster-toy from Rugrats, probably the most horrifying children’s show to ever air. As much as I loved the show as a kid, I just could not get down with the Reptar Crunch, which was basically dyed Rice Krispies with little dinosaur shapes added to the mix. I genuinely don’t think this cereal was actually meant to be eaten—it seemed like a marketing ploy more than an actual food product.
Dino Pebbles, another marketing scheme but this time for The Flinstones, functioned as a combo of Rice Krispies and Lucky Charms; the rice cereal featured little marshmallow pieces that floated around in your milk and turned it colors as they melted. It probably goes without saying that this cereal appeared to be designed more for appearances than it was for taste.
Kix is one of the most innocuous, inoffensive cereals of all time, which is probably why it was such a hit with kids. But the Berry Berry Kix, which made their debut in the ‘90s, missed the mark; their intense, seemingly artificially flavored berry cereal was too fruity, ruining the flavor of the milk as soon as the cereal got wet. I love Kix, but the Berry Berry variety was a disappointment, as far as I’m concerned.
There was a time in elementary school when Reese’s Puffs were the thing; it was like the ultimate cool breakfast. I love Reese’s, so I thought I would love the cereal, but as soon as I took a bite, I realized that the emphasis was all on the peanut butter, not on the chocolate. And though I’m not a peanut butter hater, I do believe it has to be well-balanced by other flavors. The overwhelming peanut butter-y essence of Reese’s Puffs proved too much for me; I succumbed to less-cool breakfasts.
You could eat a cold bowl of milk-soaked carbs for breakfast… or you could eat a cold bowl of ULTRA-SWEET milk-soaked carbs for breakfast. Ask any sensible ‘90s kid, and they’ll tell you that Frosted Cheerios are far superior to the plain variety.
We already had Teddy Grahams, bear-shaped graham crackers that came in a variety of different flavors. But why make normal cookies when you could just make those cookies smaller, douse them in milk and call it cereal? That’s exactly how Teddy Grahams Breakfast Bears were born. And let’s face it. Cookies dipped in milk are amazing, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
I mean, this one’s just fun. Who doesn’t want to eat tiny French toasts covered in cinnamon sugar? Technically, French Toast Crunch isn’t that different than Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but the novelty of the fun shape is enough to win me over.
The Berry Berry Kix may not be my thing personally, but I can’t deny that the original, just-sweet-enough variety is still one of my all-time favorite cereals. It’s subtle, but it’s delicious; the texture of those little corn balls is simply unbeatable. I still consider Kix one of my ultimate comfort foods.
Of all the gimmicky cereals on store shelves in the ‘90s, Waffle Crisp was by far the best. Tiny, crunchy waffles covered in a maple syrup-like coating delivered the perfect amount of crunch, resisting the sogginess that so many cereals succumb to far too soon. This novel cereal shape wasn’t just fun—it also tasted good, which seems to be the exception when it comes to ‘90s food products. And although Waffle Crisp was discontinued for several years starting in 2018, you should be happy to know that it’s back on the market… time to relive your early morning childhood nostalgia.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.