American Breakfast Evolving To A Sandwich

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At home, it is America's No. 1 breakfast choice, so is it any wonder there's a restaurant that serves only breakfast cereal?

At Cereality in downtown Chicago, the menu ranges from grown-up choices like Special K with strawberries to childhood favorites like Cap'n Crunch.

There, cereal's a meal on the go, but at many American homes it's a different story.

"It's hard to believe, but cereal is now not the contemporary view of what is convenient," Harry Balzer, who tracks what Americans eat for breakfast for the NPD market research firm, told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

Balzer says that that 73 percent of Americans ate at home today, and that breakfast was probably coffee, cereal and juice. But breakfast in America is changing and so is the venue. The first clue to that change is cereal consumption, which is at a 10-year low.

"It's been slowly moving downward, much to the surprise of a lott of people, because it seems like it's still a very easy meal," he said. "And I'm sure that's what put it on the map."

When the United States first appeared on the map, breakfast wasn't so easy.

"Early breakfast in America was a hearty, heavy meal," said food historian and author Francine Segan. "They were spending so much time on their land working, especially early in the morning. And so they had to fortify themselves with a huge breakfast: Lots of meat, eggs, bacon, breads."

Now she says those foods are returning, but in the form of fast-food sandwiches.

All elements of the traditional English breakfast. Pancakes, which can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt, were George Washington's favorite.

"He loved hot cakes that were made with cornmeal, and he loved them topped with honey and butter," Segan said. "And then he'd wash it down with hard cider or even beer."

Morning drinking wasn't uncommon back in those days, but later, Abraham Lincoln went for simpler fare.

"He had the same breakfast almost every morning: One egg, one cup of coffee, not typical for his time period," Segan said.

By the end of the 19th century, those who'd had it with heavy breakfasts found relief in a novel form.

"Cereal totally started as a health movement, as a health food," Segan said. "It became an answer for illness, really, a cure for gout and other digestive problems."

Cereals by C.W. Post and Will Kellogg caught on fast and soon, Segan said, cereal became part of American pop culture. But now the consumption of this icon has declined slowly for much of the last 10 years, and the NPD Group's Harry Balzer thinks he knows why.

"It requires that you sit down," Balzer said. "It's hard to believe. But never bet against us on how much we're trying to make our lives easier."

Breakfast, says Balzer, has become the time-starved meal, and 12 percent of people skip it entirely. Is it the most important one of the day? It is for kids. Studies show children learn more and behave better on a full stomach. But for adults, the answer — like life itself — is more complicated. In the real world we grab breakfast where we can.

"In the past, it was 'get a quick meal inside the house,'" Balzer said. "But more and more, people are saying, 'Get a quick meal on the way to wherever we're heading,' whether it be work or school or somewhere else."