Cereal Science

Here’s a fun science game for you all today: order these bowls by how many fluid ounces each holds. Then carefully read all the way through today’s post, and maybe at the end I’ll give you the answer.

Hang on everyone: I’m about to get all sciencey on you.

Awhile back, I took a close look at my cereal bowl collection. I mentioned in an early blog post that these Tupperware bowls have been my breakfastware of choice for as long as I can remember — 55 years or more. No matter what I do with them, they will still be around, somewhere, long after I am gone.

But. I have started to notice that they are losing a bit of their shape, and not that they ever had exciting colors, but they are looking faded and worn after half a century of service in cereal.

Lynn did buy four other plastic bowls several years back, in bright, fun colors. But I only use those when all my other bowls are in the dishwasher, and I don’t really know why. Their shape isn’t as pleasing to me, but they’re certainly functional, maintaining their original structure and in those bright, fun colors. But I keep defaulting to my ancient bowls.

A lot. I default a lot, because I eat a lot of cereal. It’s on my breakfast menu every day but Sunday, and sometimes it’s on my dinner menu too. There’s something very soothing about cereal and milk. Especially when it’s served in my Tupperware bowls.

But a couple of them are more oval than round, getting hard to hold. Looking at a particularly sad, colorless specimen a few months back, it occurred to me: I should replace these. Easier said than done.

While the entire country has rushed to embrace online shopping, especially in this year (or decade; right now it feels like a never-ending nightmare) of Pandemia, I still regard it as a horrible way to shop, and it causes me no end of stress.

Every week or two I would type “cereal bowls” into a search bar, only to encounter hundreds of choices, most of them nothing like what I was looking for. I want an assortment of colors, and plastic rather than ceramic — and I really would like a softly rounded bowl. In short, I’m looking for my 60-year-old Tupperware bowls, newer and in better colors.

I thought I found, more or less, what I was looking for at Walmart online, when a set of nine bowls, every one of them a different bright color, more or less in the desired shape. But the description also said “large” bowls, and provided a cereal capacity: 32 ounces.

Despite using them all of my life, I had no idea what the carrying capacity of my current cereal bowls is. Enough for breakfast — that’s all I needed to know. But now I needed a more precise measurement, so I broke out a measuring cup and some water. It turns out my bowls hold 16 fluid ounces. The Walmart bowls are twice as big.

As long as I was at it, I measured the bowls Lynn bought — they hold 28 ounces. Still smaller than Walmart’s offering, but it also means that when I use them, I must be consuming that much more cereal, because I’ve never approached this in scientific ounces. I just fill the bowl and eat what’s in it.

The Walmart bowls, then, would clearly not help with portion control.

Sunday I refined my online search, plugging “16-ounce cereal bowl” into my browser. Of course Amazon had an answer for me, but since Amazon is insidiously taking over the entire business world without solving the health insurance crisis in this country like I want it to, I’d rather spend my online dollars elsewhere. If that’s possible.

On the screen in front of me, however, was the answer to my months-long quest: a set of four bowls in primary colors, not as angular as most of what I’ve been finding, 16 ounces. As I was agonizing over whether to order them — you really have no idea how shopping online traumatizes me — Lynn said, “You should check at Ace. They have lots of things in their houseware aisle.”

Since it was Sunday, post-closing, and I was there with my computer, I went to Ace Hardware online. And there was the exact same set of bowls as seen on Amazon — for $2 less. And it said I could get them in the store by Monday, suggesting they were already there.

First thing Monday I went to Ace and found the bowls, just as promised. However, they looked really small. Kid-sized. Just like the box of four said: “for kids.” I debated a moment — they looked so tiny — but they were there, and $5, and it was the only reason I’d come into Ace. I bought them and took them home, where they still looked really small.

Here, at last, is where the sciencey part comes in. I poured water into one of my ancient cereal bowls and dumped that into the new, kid-sized bowl. They are the same! Then I got two different ceramic bowls out of the drawer, a science experiment on the spot. They both also hold 16 fluid ounces.

This now has me wanting a do-over at the long-gone Katie’s Cookery, where I would go on Fridays for the express purpose of consuming her corn chowder. A customer could buy this delectable soup by the cup or bowl, at a price difference of a couple of dollars. I generally opted for the bowl in order to get a larger portion, but I did sometimes wonder, looking at the shallow dish, if it really offered any more soup than the deep cup.

I assumed Katie, a very honest, open woman who was passionate about her restaurant and the food she served, knew what she was about, but now that I’m getting all sciencey about things and learning that they are not always as they seem, I’m going to place a bet that I probably could have had more soup for a lot less money had I opted for the cup. Katie, come back! Let’s try this again now that I’m all scienced up!

I should have already learned this lesson here at home, since a year or two ago I inadvertently discovered that the SpongeBob soup cup given to me by a former employee who shared my obsessions for both the cartoon and the corn chowder holds more Campbell’s soup than the bowl that I just yesterday found will host 16 ounces and not a drop more. (This bowl I believe is part of my parents’ wedding haul, so it’s of the same vintage as the Tupperware. But still holding its shape and looking pretty good for a bowl so old.)

But now I know. Size does matter, no matter what women say, but you should always bear in mind that seeing isn’t necessarily believing, and it’s the contents in your cereal bowl that matter most of all. All 16 ounces of them.

Here’s the answer to your ordering quiz above: Each of the five vessels on the left holds 16 ounces. Honest! It’s science, believe it or not. The Snoopy cup holds 22 ounces, so more than all those bowls, but not as much as the 24-ounce snowman bowl or the 28-ounce yellow heavyweights. SpongeBob rules!

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