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When I was in "Pirchei" boys' youth groups as a child, at snack time I was taught to make a "Mezonos" on my cake, "Shehakol" on my drink, and "Haetz" on my sliced fruit. Then, at the end, the group leader always said "Al Hamichyah" for everyone and we all said "Borei Nefashos" together.

Over the years I've learned more and more, of course, and I've studied the laws of Berachoth and tried to apply them to my eating habits. But mostly I've followed this pattern except when I've eaten bread, in which case I've assumed (again, as I was taught as a child) that the bread exempts everything. For a few years I even made separate Berachoth on salad that had prominent pieces of food items of different varieties (ramen noodles would get Mezonoth; olives or cranberries would get Ha'Etz; lettuce and tomatoes, etc., would get HaAdamah; and if there was cheese or chicken pieces, they'd get SheHakol). I've since abandoned this and say HaAdamah on the entire salad - and I don't like ramen noodles anyway, so that's moot; ah, but croutons...

Now, of course, I've left out certain special Berachoth and certain "exception" cases, but is the way I was taught as a young child more or less the correct way? I continue to be baffled by the Halachoth that seem to contradict this, and unless the Halachoth are actually as muddled as they seem to be and have exception upon exception upon exception, I can't help but think that I was taught incorrectly (perhaps as a way of ensuring we all made and learned our Berachoth, we said everything?), and in my efforts to do it right I've ignored what I've learned later and stuck to what I was taught as a young child as the rule, and assumed everything else was the exception.

Bottom line: Should I just choose one food as the 'Ikar and exempt all the others?

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Take a look at berachot.org/halacha/09_ikar.html –  Avrohom Yitzchok Feb 26 '13 at 16:39
    
@AvrohomYitzchok, I've only just skimmed it, but the examples there all seem to be mixtures. I'm asking about distinct food items. The cake does not serve the apple or the drink, and they are not mixed together. They're just served side by side. –  Seth J Feb 26 '13 at 16:50
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So separate Berachoth on each thing, then? Why do I make HaMotzi on my entire meal, then, even if I only eat a KeZayith of bread at the beginning (for the sake of the Berachah) and then eat no more bread the rest of the meal? And how does this work with today's standard for "meals" when a person can go days without eating any bread, but eats "three square meals" every day? Breakfast: rice cereal, banana on the side, cup of juice; lunch: Pasta, baby carrots, orange, cup of milk; dinner: roasted chicken, steamed rice, vegetables, wine, sparkling water. No bread so everything's a snack? All week? –  Seth J Feb 26 '13 at 17:14
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@SethJ Yes; I've always had the worry about the centrality of bread. In the earlier times I believe everything was eaten with bread which made its centrality easier to understand. Now with potatoes and rice etc. it seems that bread is no longer is so essential. But afaik the halocho has not changed. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Feb 26 '13 at 18:18
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@msh210, I would tend to agree, if that were integral to the question. It's secondary, though. The question is framed deliberately to convey that, despite my best efforts, I have no confidence in my ability to decide what Berachoth to make in every instance. The more I learn, the more confused I get. I'm coming here to ask if my basic understanding is correct. –  Seth J Feb 26 '13 at 19:08
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