Top 5 unrealistic breakfast tropes in sitcoms

Have you ever wondered at the overflowing spread of food sitting on the dining table of your favourite sitcom family? Or the casual way a character waves around a coffee mug with no worries about spillage? How does home-cooked food look that well presented? We know it’s all part of the staged charm, but we are still amazed. And why should we not be, anyway? It’s called ‘entertainment’ for a reason. So for the love of television series in all their theatrical flourish, let’s look at our selection of the top five unrealistic breakfast tropes in sitcoms.

1. The breakfast buffet

Kids with bleary eyes arrive at the table. It looks like a pop-up breakfast bar has materialised in their kitchen. It’s actually the work of Supermom. Supermom is all chipper, presenting at least seven different dishes without breaking a sweat. 

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This scene usually raises all kinds of questions in my mind. At what ungodly hour would such a mom have to wake up? Why is a supposed middle-class family busting out their fine china for a weekday meal among themselves? And why, oh why, all that sugar? Claire Dunphy in Modern Family made sure a massive fruit salad and pancake mountain sat ignored by her teen kids. Jay Kyle in My Wife and Kids topped each stack of waffles with whipped cream and strawberry-carved florets! The Formans on That 70s Show often dined around a display of artery-clogging richness. Yet, only rarely did the families enjoy their entire breakfast together. Malcolm in the Middle is one of those few which come to mind. This brings me to the next unrealistic breakfast moment in sitcoms—

2. The “gotta run!” breakfast skippers

The dad calls out, “Big meeting! Wish me luck!” with a piece of toast between his teeth. The kids reluctantly grab an orange each as they dash out to the school bus. 

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This one really gets to me. So after the mom has magically dished out a bakery’s worth of goodies, no one’s even going to cast a second glance at the food? The hurried mornings may be understandable, but then it raises the question of why the mom continues to cook up a storm every day. One particularly surreal moment appears in The Goldbergs when Bev, the mom, turns her dining area into a food court. Jambalaya, tacos, shawarmas, corn dogs, and more lay waiting for the child, who throws a fit about being smothered and storms off. Sitcom moms may shrug it off as yet another morning, but real-world moms would never have it. At home, I could probably get away with this one time. My mom will definitely shove scrambled eggs down my throat the next day.

3. The coffee nut

The sitcom character(s) cannot conceive of a caffeine-free world. Ever.

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No sitcom list would be complete without the show over which the world keeps changing its opinion: Friends. But Central Perk and its bowl-sized cups are not the only examples of onscreen coffee patronage. As Lorelai from Gilmore Girls asserts: “I can’t stop drinking the coffee; I stop drinking coffee, I stop doing the standing, and the walking, and the words-putting-into-sentences doing.” Coffee is the sitcom world’s ubiquitous love language! Think of your favourite show—there’s probably going to be some of that beautiful brew in every single episode. Even when they’re not inhaling coffee, sitcom characters are usually pouring coffee out of the office machine, rushing to the resident surgeon with cups stacked high like in Scrubs, or hanging out at coffee joints like Monk’s Diner downing voluminous amounts of caffeine. 

BTS fact files reveal that many of these actors hated coffee or grew to hate coffee from drinking it every day in character. For example, Alexis Bledel claims she always sipped on Diet Coke from her coffee mugs on Gilmore Girls. Yet, many others confess their mugs were actually empty. Furthermore, the internet has noted how poorly some actors pretend that their cup holds liquid: whether they’re holding a coffee carrier with four full cups with one hand or swinging cups around in a way that would make a real mess were actual coffee involved. Still, as fake as the coffee is, the impact this has had on youth culture worldwide is undeniable—coffee is what all the cool kids drink, and cafes are where they hang out.

4. The messy eater

When a character (brazenly) eats a messy breakfast that immediately stains their very light work attire usually before an important business meeting. 

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Jessica Day from New Girl spilt coffee all over her white outfit because she thought drinking and driving was okay when it didn’t involve alcohol. Hitchcock and Scully from Brooklyn Nine-Nine built their reputation on desk stains from marinara sauce and chocolate fountains. Joey Tribbiani layered stain over stain, getting raspberry jam on a Ralph Lauren shirt on top of a gravy splatter on his other shirt. Kevin’s chilli-spilling scene from The Office is still a work of art. It makes you wonder at all the labour that went into crafting these dishes. And, of course, the amount of wasted food from the outtakes alone. On the other side of this messy, bumbling, typically overweight character is…

5. The gorgeous glutton

Where a typically female character eats bagels, doughnuts, and whipped cream waffles for six seasons straight and doesn’t gain a pound or even a pimple. 

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What’s more, she evidently despises exercise of any kind and is an ‘attractive slob’. In a mukbang world, these women’s metabolisms are all the rage. These gorgeous gluttons range from petite teen girls on Disney shows to statuesque forty-somethings on ABC Studio shows. We’ve seen Miley on Hannah Montana shovelling peanut butter into her mouth, only to realise the popular guy found it endearing. We’ve also seen Gloria Pritchett from Modern Family go crazy over ribs for breakfast in the early pregnancy of her character. Both these ladies have played characters that don’t believe in fitness routines. And also, both of these ladies are idolised for having sought-after figures. 

Although Schitt’s Creek’s Alexis had a diet and exercise regimen that is much more realistic for women with that kind of body, characters like Liz Lemon, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, and Grace Adler are giving way to those with more realistic bodies like The Mindy Project’s Dr Lahiri and Inside Amy Schumer’s Amy Schumer. On the male side of this, we have Jake Peralta (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Joey Tribbiani (Friends). They will eat just about anything if it’s unhealthy. For instance, Jake’s breakfast in one episode was a Gummy Breakfast Burrito, which is just a bunch of gummy bears wrapped in a fruit roll-up.

Honourable mention

No talk of sitcom breakfasts feels right without paying respect to Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. Both enjoy and celebrate breakfast food so much that Ron has a poster of it in his office. Leslie even rallies against a conglomerate that tries to put her favourite waffle place out of business. This is a show where breakfast gets the best possible homage. 

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Breakfasts in sitcoms may very well be unrealistic and, at times, not real food at all. Irrespective of these unrealistic breakfast tropes, it definitely puts me in the mood for a full American fare. They don’t just entertain; they set food trends afloat and affect businesses (remember the cronut craze?).

Now, which are your favourite breakfast scenes? Which show has the best food scenes in general? Let us know in the comments below.

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