Are You Making Your Bowl of Cereal the Wrong Way?

Get more out of your bowl of Cap’n Crunch with this mind-blowing alternative.

Milk flowing down into a red bowl filled with cereal

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Eating a bowl of cereal seems straightforward. All you have to do is combine cereal and milk into a bowl and then consume, right? Sometimes maybe you leave the milk behind, other times you slurp the bowl clean. So, where does the confusion come into play?

Hidden in the chats of Reddit and comments on TikTok lurk cereal advocates engaged in a heated debate: to pour the cereal first or the milk first. My favorite hot take comes from an anonymous user on Reddit: “Milk first, I heat it up in a microwave and then put cereal in it. It's just better that way.” 

Like most (I’m guessing at least 90% of the population) I stood strong in my belief that cereal earned the right to go first. But after reading a variety of pro-milk arguments, I took to the kitchen to test this theory several times (for the sake of science). Here’s what I found. 

Why Pouring the Milk First Actually Improves the Cereal Experience

I found that when I added cereal to milk, the crunch endured longer. Furthermore, I realized I had a better visual handle on my cereal-to-milk ratio. Think about it: When you pour milk into cereal, the flakes begin to rise, skewing what you believe the true volume of liquid is and throwing your sense of proportions off (leading to internal  screams when an ocean of milk submerges my Honey Bunches of Oats without a trace). And while I can’t provide a scientific explanation as to why, I found that the last few bites in the bowl were a surprisingly sultry, creamy bond between the milk and cereal. 

Had I become milk-firster?

Suddenly, a blog post about the matter by Nick San Juan made fresh, philosophical sense: “There are times when we make mistakes in life, and there are times when we make irreversible, life-destroying errors that intensify our daily dose of existential dread.” Maybe I had reversed an existential, life-destroying mistake!

And it turns out, Big Cereal is out there listening. “We’ve heard from cereal lovers on both sides of this debate and love the conversation it has sparked!” Steve Spaulding, Senior Director of Marketing at Post Consumer Brands, told me. “Our experts say that people who pour the milk first may want to opt for more absorbent cereals with smaller pieces, like Fruity PEBBLES, to soak up any excess milk,” he added. 

A Highly Scientific Poll of Food Professionals Will Settle the Matter… Right?

I felt like I’d stumbled across a transcendent cereal-enjoyment line, but I wanted a bit more validation. So I went to the pros: in this case, experts in pastry, food styling, breakfast, and more. Here’s who I polled and what they said. 

Alex Puglisi

  • Title: Pastry Chef, Le Coucou, New York City
  • Favorite Cereal: Blueberry Toast Crunch (a Costco special)
  • Stance: Team milk second, absolutely rooted in no science. The ratio should be 80% cereal to 20% milk. The cereal HAS to stay crunchy. Once it has achieved lift-off you know there is enough milk in the bowl. Thank you. 

Nicole Dillon

  • Title: Founder, Women Who Brunch, Host of Brunch & Learn Podcast
  • Favorite Cereal: Waffle Crisp
  • Stance: I, for one, am on the side of the traditional cereal then milk. There’s something very satisfying about getting your bowl, pouring your cereal, then adding your milk and watching the cereal rise as you add the milk. That’s how you know you’ve added enough milk, in my opinion. No one wants to go back and get more milk if there’s not enough… let’s be honest. And having enough cereal milk at the end is the ultimate goal. 

Hadley Sui

  • Title: Commercial Food Stylist
  • Favorite Cereal: Apple Jacks
  • Stance: I’m a milk-after-cereal person, and more often a no-milk person, preferring to snack on dry cereal. I definitely eat cereal more often as a sweet snack on the go than as breakfast or a meal. I also really enjoy eating cereal in ice cream swirl format because it retains its crunch while still blending with the vanilla/milk flavor.

Mark Zuckerman

  • Title: Chef de Cuisine, Le Coucou, New York City
  • Favorite Cereal: Cap’n Crunch
  • Stance: Team Milk Second, aka The Right Way. Only once you add the milk to the top of your dry cereal will it truly begin to soften at one equal rate. Rooted in as deep of science as Gravity and Global Warming. 

Katherine Sprung

  • Title: Pastry Chef and Founder, Squish Marshmallows
  • Favorite Cereal: Cracklin' Oat Bran
  • Stance: For me it goes cereal first. I think of it as the cereal is the main dish, and the milk is the sauce/condiment. Once you have your base of cereal, you can do whatever level of milk suits you. Pouring it over the cereal gets that top layer just enough so that you can keep it crisp. I probably do about 1 part milk to 2 parts cereal and stir it from the bottom up to ensure all the cereal gets a bit of milk absorption. Then, it's gotta sit for a minute so that the bottom half gets super absorbed. I'm a weirdo and like the top part a bit crisp and then mushy toward the end. If you're like me, you'll usually have some milk left over in the bowl, so if you're not the kind to drink it after, strain it to get out any cereal bits and use that cereal-milk in your coffee for a fun twist. 

I Come to a Conclusion in the Milk-Cereal Debate

The cereal-first crowd–including these pros–is as rooted in passion as the milk-firsters. This leads to my true takeaway: There are no strict rules to food. And as silly as this thought experiment may seem, my true goal is for readers to question their daily eating habits. Don’t be an apathetic passenger. Ask questions about your milk (and everything you consume): where it comes from, who made it, how it is processed, what’s its carbon footprint, and whether it’s the best option for you and your lifestyle. 

That said, according to Urban Dictionary’s definition of “Milk Before Cereal”: “People who do this are logical, precise and independent.” This is all the validation I need.