The Food Issue

The Welcome Return Of '90s Snacks

“Come on, give me some of your tots.”

by Rachel Eva Lim
Originally Published: 
A collage with logos of the 90s popular snacks like Pop Tarts, Eggo Waffles, and Snickers

From ooey gooey Rice Krispies Treats that crisp and crackle as you bite into them, to Bagel Bites toasted in the oven as an after-school snack, to Lunchables, the go-to choice among 7-year-old bologna enthusiasts, few things have the ability to transport us back to yesteryear like popular '90s snacks, the food of our youth.

Although the original versions of these are still around today, they’re arguably not the most nutritious things to indulge in on a regular basis. Thankfully, many have gotten contemporary updates — be it in the form of new flavors, healthier renditions that cater to different dietary requirements, or fresh interpretations by leading chefs. Here, 11 old-school culinary classics we’re seeing in a whole new light.


Eggo Waffles

Courtesy of Netflix

After debuting in 1953, Eggo waffles quickly became an American morning staple. Since making a cameo on the Netflix hit Stranger Things in 2016 — who can forget the scene of Eleven cradling multiple boxes of stolen Eggos as she strutted out of the grocery store? — the '80s favorite has reentered popular foodie consciousness, along with its famous “L’eggo My Eggo” catchphrase. Eggo’s appearance on the show led to an uptick in sales and also introduced the brand to a global audience. For nutritious alternatives to the OG, check out Kodiak Cakes’ Power Waffles that come packed with protein; fiber-rich Flax Plus and Chia Plus versions from Nature's Path; and Organic Multigrain Waffles from 365 by Whole Foods Market.


TV Dinners

Steven Gottlieb/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Despite having fallen out of favor in recent times, the pre-packaged, individually portioned TV dinner — which caught on in 1954 — was once an incredibly popular option when you simply didn’t have the time or energy to make an entire meal from scratch. As restaurants around the world pivoted to offering delivery and takeout options during the pandemic, chefs at places such as Lazy Dog Restaurants, Hearth Restaurant in New York, Marvin’s Food & Fuel in Chicago, and The Savoy at 21c in Kansas City revived the practice. (Turns out the separate compartments are ideal for transporting and reheating cooked meals.) Of course, this wasn’t without a gourmet twist: One Savoy TV dinner consisted of Salisbury steak with mushroom gravy, vegetable succotash, scalloped potatoes, and chocolate babka bread pudding with crème anglaise. Delicious.


Root Beer

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Few sodas evoke the same Americana nostalgia as root beer, whose legacy spans from Archie Comics to Peanuts to old-fashioned diners everywhere. The beverage has its origins in Indigenous cultures, as many of the original ingredients were roots and barks used in native medicine. And while commercial varieties such as A&W, Barq’s, and Bundaberg still offer a totally adequate fix, this soda-fountain king has also gotten a modern makeover. Olipop makes its Classic Root Beer light on sugar (just 2 grams per can) and heavy on botanicals (including chicory root, calendula flower, sweet birch, and slippery elm bark). If you’re after a bit of a buzz, many artisanal brewers have alcoholic takes on the tipple, including Small Town Brewery, the makers of Not Your Father’s Root Beer; Mission Brewery, which does a craft-style Mission Hard Root Beer; and Row Hard Root Beer by Root Sellers Brewing Company.


Tater Tots

Given the sheer deliciousness of tater tots, you can’t exactly blame Napoleon Dynamite for carting them around in his pocket. Indeed, you’ll still find them on restaurant and bar menus, dunked in ketchup or loaded with bacon, cheese, sour cream, and scallions. For those in the mood for some variety, you’ll find a plethora of different frozen takes on the snackable spuds at your next grocery haul. Fans of sweet potatoes will do well with Alexia’s Crispy Sweet Potato Puffs, and if you prefer something that’s a little heavier on the greens, opt for Farmwise’s Veggie Tots, which are available in broccoli, cauliflower, and beet versions. Alternatively, there’s Green Giant’s Cauliflower and Broccoli & Cheese offerings: Both flavors come sans potatoes and pack one full serving of the titular vegetable in each helping.



Courtesy of Netflix

Ask any Asian millennial about their favorite childhood snack and Pocky is likely to come up. Case in point? The 2019 Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, which features a flashback scene of the protagonists sharing a box on a San Francisco tram ride. The crunchy biscuit stick hails from Japan and is most widely available in chocolate and strawberry varieties. It’s extended its pop-culture reach over time, clinching Guinness World Records for the world’s largest chocolate-coated biscuit brand and the most mentions of a brand name on Twitter in 24 hours (a whopping 3.7 million). Pocky is also known for its limited-edition novelty drops, including a summery watermelon flavor with a curious cooling effect; a “colorful” edition that’s coated with citrus cream and rainbow sugar speckles; and a Brazilian orange product to mark the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. In an effort to appeal to more health-conscious consumers, it’s also launched a Pocky Wholesome line, which features biscuit sticks made out of whole-wheat flour and oats.


Chicken Nuggets

From the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia to Singapore, the humble chicken nugget has long been associated with cafeteria lunches and after-school snacks, even nabbing a dinner-date spot in 2018’s Eighth Grade. And while Jamie Oliver’s infamous pink-goo exposé of 2005 may have turned off many people, the good news is that there now are plenty of healthier versions. Plant-based brands such as Meatless Farm, Nuggs, Alpha Foods, MorningStar, and Raised & Rooted — all of which are made with plant protein, such as soy or wheat — are available at many grocery stores. Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based company Eat Just has perfected chicken nuggets using cell-culturing technology, whereby individual cells are harvested from chickens and fed with various nutrients in a lab setting. The future is here, people.


Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

Courtesy of Netflix

Cheesy, carby, and comforting: Nothing hits the spot like a heaping dollop of mac and cheese. Kraft Foods pioneered its famous boxed version in 1937 amid the Great Depression. Since then, the brand’s blue-and-yellow packaging has become synonymous with the dish itself — it even nearly stole the show from Zendaya in the opening scenes of Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie. For a gluten-free alternative, there’s Banza, which uses chickpea flour, and for dairy-free diets, try Daiya. But if you have time to spare, try your hand at making some recipes of notable chefs. Wolfgang Puck’s take features a rich béchamel sauce, John Legend’s casserole-style interpretation makes use of evaporated milk and paprika, and Ina Garten’s is jazzed up with sliced tomatoes.


Snickers Bars

Jason Merritt/FilmMagic/Getty Images

If you went trick-or-treating as a kid, hearing the thud of a full-sized Snickers bar landing in your bucket likely felt like hitting the sugar jackpot. Originally founded in 1930, the brand cemented its status in pop culture through appearances on The Office and Orange Is the New Black, as well as in Super Bowl commercials featuring celebrities like Aretha Franklin, Betty White and Willem Dafoe. Recently, the caramelly, peanutty, nougat-loaded chocolate has gotten a healthy update. Gigantic has rolled out a line of vegan, plant-based treats — which it bills as “sortasweet candy bars for grown-ups” — including a Snickers-like Salted Peanut product, which features organic dark chocolate, tapioca syrup, coconut milk, and almond butter, complete with millennial-pink packaging.



Dessert for breakfast, anyone? You can’t go wrong with a classic toaster pastry, topped with frosting that curiously never melts when you heat it up. (Fun fact: Kellogg’s initially wanted to call them Fruit Scones but ultimately pivoted to Pop-Tarts before their 1964 launch, taking a cue from the colorful pop-art movement.) For a healthier version that’s equally big on taste, consider Bobo’s Toaster Pastries. The gluten-free, vegan alternatives are made with 100% organic whole-grain oats and come in apple pie, chocolate peanut butter, and blueberry lemon poppy seed options, among others. If you want something homemade, chances are that one of your local bakeries has its own grown-up rendition, such as Paper Route Bakery in Austin, which has a strawberry-balsamic version in its repertoire.



Courtesy of Netflix

Sure, a bowl of yogurt is great, but getting your daily dose of probiotics in drinkable form works, too. Just ask the characters from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. While it’s never explicitly mentioned by name, the “Korean yogurt smoothie” that Kitty Covey introduces to Peter Kavinsky looks a whole lot like Yakult, the Japanese cultured-milk beverage that’s long been a staple in Asian households worldwide. (The brand’s stock reportedly increased about 2.6% shortly following the film’s release.) Available in various sugary, child-friendly flavors such as orange, grape, and green apple, it’s an easy way to load up kids’ diets with gut-friendly bacteria. But if you’re looking for a probiotic drink for adults, consider Siggi’s Probiotic Drinkable Yogurt, Califia Farms’ Probiotic Dairy-Free Yogurt, or Chobani’s range of Greek Yogurt Drinks. Personally, though, we like the original. If it’s good enough for Noah Centineo, it’s good enough for us.


Hot Pockets

With its “crispy, crunchy, tender, flaky crust” and catchy jingle, Hot Pockets quickly gained mass appeal following its 1983 launch. Be it a mid-afternoon childhood snack or college hangover cure, these saucy staples offered the perfect pick-me-up when you wanted something quick and easy to prepare — and were willing to risk burning the roof of your mouth if you bit in too quickly. You’ll find plenty of recipes on the internet that cater to all sorts of dietary requirements. And for those who want a modern freezer-aisle alternative, Mikey’s Pockets are gluten- and dairy-free; LiveGFree does a stellar gluten-free version; and Snow Days offers bite-sized organic and grain-free pizza bites made with cassava and zero artificial ingredients.

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