As an adult, one of my favorite parts of the day is lunchtime — and as a child, one of my favorite parts of the day… was lunchtime. Some things never change, right? As a kid, though, I usually looked forward to it because of the bizarrely exciting foods ‘90s lunchboxes frequently contained: Drinks that came in squeeze bottles with faces on them, mini pizzas I could build myself, cookies I could dunk in frosting… the list goes on. In fact, let’s go ahead and explore that list, shall we? A little walk down memory lane might be just what your lunch break needs today.
One of things that fascinates me the most about ‘90s foods is that they all tend to have one extremely distinctive thing in common: They were food, yes, but they were also kind of… toys. They made eating into an event and actively encouraged playing with your food — which, I suppose, was likely a godsend for parents with picky kids. (It’s hard to say no to finishing your lunch when doing so involves an elaborate and entertaining game of make-believe.) What’s more, by my experience — and for what it’s worth, I entered kindergarten around 1990, which means I was the target audience for pretty much all of the decade’s weirdest food trends — these foods were most likely to show up in your lunchbox, largely due to the fact that they were all so dang portable.
The upshot is that, although we were all eating a lot of processed foods, we were also having a ton of fun doing it — and what’s being a kid about if not having fun? That’s how young ‘uns learn, after all: Through play.
Let’s take it course by course, shall we? Here are 21 of the most epic and exciting options many ‘90s kids hoped to find in their lunchboxes every day:
Squeezit’s main appeal wasn’t the fact that it came in neat, squeezable bottles; it was the fact that those bottles were shaped to look like living bottle creatures. That’s why they were so much better than Kool-Aid Bursts and Mondo, which were also available around the same time: Kool-Aid Bursts and Mondo did not look like sentient beings out of which we were literally sucking the life. Squeezits did. Ergo, Squeezits were better.
Kids are weird.
Or maybe I'm just weird.
Whatever. It's fine.
2. Sunny D
Were you a skater kid? Did you just want to look like a skater kid? Then you probably drank plenty of the citrus-flavored crowd-pleaser Sunny Delite. These days, it’s often marketed by its nickname, SunnyD — but it’s still got the same Cool Kid persona.
3. Capri Sun
Finding a Capri Sun in your lunchbox was almost like a lunchtime challenge: Would today be the day you would finally manage to get the straw in that wacky little pouch without accidentally stabbing it straight through to the other side? Tune in to find out!
As an adult, the idea of shelf-stable chocolate milk… does not do it for me. As a kid, it was the best.
Personally, I was picky about my Hi-C; it was only worth my time if it was Ecto-Cooler. Hi-C alone was just a juice box. Ecto-Cooler was a juicebox with Slimer on it. Go big or go home, right?
I mean, yeah, cheese and crackers were perhaps not the most well-balanced of main courses — but they got the job done, especially if you had a side of deli meat to go with them. That iconic red stick was a low-key lunchtime hero.
The be-all, end-all of packed lunch main courses was definitely Lunchables — particularly once they moved beyond the cheese-and-crackers arrangement (that’s what Handi-Snacks are for, remember?). Pizza, tacos, tacos… the possibilities were endless.
8. Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Nuggets
Sure, you could get chicken nuggets at school a lot of the time— but the cafeteria didn’t necessarily have dinosaur-shaped ones. That was what leftovers from Chicken Nugget Night at home were for. In fact, leftovers from Chicken Nugget Night were second only to…
9. Leftover Pizza
…Leftovers from Pizza Night. Again, yes, the cafeteria did sometimes have its own Pizza Day (when I was a kid, Pizza Day was Friday); but that was frozen pizza: Weird rectangles of cardboard-like crust with too much sauce and not enough cheese. If you had leftovers after your family had honest-to-goodness, delivery pizza at home for dinner one night, though? That was your ticket to jealous stares in the lunchroom the next day.
There’s no getting around it: Spaghetti-Os were tricky to transport. Since bringing the little pasta shapes to school an insulated thermos and a parental figure who didn’t mind heating them up for you in the morning before you left for class, their appearance in your lunchbox was quite rare indeed — but on those occasions where they did magically show up? What a day! What a lovely day!
Snacks & Sides:
I am unsure who first thought, “I know! Let us put an ice cream topping in yogurt and then market it to children!”; clearly it was a good idea, though. Sprinkl'ins arrived in 1992, and for many of us, yogurt was never the same again.
Not all parents were on board with it, of course — but if we couldn’t have Sprinkl’ins, though, at least we could usually have…
In fact, YoCrunch was actually better than Sprinkl’ins in some ways. Sure, they didn’t have the wackycartoon image — but they did let us put actual candy in our yogurt. MiniM&Ms > sprinkles any day of the week. And hey, guess what? It’s still a thing!
13. 3D Doritos
Although they were only available for a few brief and shining years towards the end of the decade, 3D Doritos still loom large in many‘90s kids’ memories. Fun fact: As recently as April of 2016, they were still available… but only in Mexico. eBay can help you out if you’re really struggling without them.
14. String Cheese
Bonus points if it was specifically Polly-O string cheese. I mean, sure, it was basically just low-moisture mozzarella — but it was so much fun.
15. Munch ‘Ems
Sometimes I feel like I am the only person on the planet who remembers these now, but Keebler’s foray into the cracker market during the ‘90s was the best cracker I have ever had in my life. Munch ‘Ems were almost chip-like, which was terrific for kids like me who loved chips, but were only allowed to eat them on very rare occasions. (I mean, to be fair, limiting my chip access was probably good parenting, but still.) The salsa-flavored ones were particularly notable; something about the tangy flavor combined with the super crunchy cracker was just A-plus.
I mean, duh. Pepperidge Farm has been selling Goldfish since 1962, and I’m pretty sure they’ll still be selling them on the day the Earth itself dies. They are delicious; also, there are few things that are more entertaining than pretending to be a shark devouring all the tiny little fish swimming around you while you eat your lunch.
Ostensibly, Kudos were granola bars, but let’s face it: We just liked them because they were as close to having an outright candy bar in our lunchboxes we could usually get.
By the way, although Dunkaroos haven’t been sold in the United States since 2012, they still exist in Canada; indeed, some enterprising Canadians will sell them to you via Amazon, so head on over there if you’re desperate. Also, Handi-Snacks (which are still around!) has an item that’s basically Dunkaroos, but with Oreo sticks for the cookies, so if you can get by without the kangaroo mascot, that’s another option.
19. PB Crisps
I don’t even know how to describe PB Crisps to you. They were bite-sized cookies (sort of) that crispy on the outside in a way that kind of… shattered when you bit into them, but it was OK, because it was exactly the right texture for them to be. They were also filled with super sweet peanut butter, and, well… they were unlike any other cookie-like treat on the market at the time.
Obviously they were lunchbox gold. Way better than Nutter Butters.
They were discontinued sometime in the mid-‘90s, though, so alas, all we have now are memories.
20. Fruit By The Foot
I mean, sure, Fruit Roll-Ups pioneered the whole flattened-fruit-snack-in-your-lunchbox thing — but Fruit By The Foot took it the extra mile, and for that, it deserves some applause. If you liked Fruit By The Foot, you likely dug Bubble Tape, too, although the gum was probably reserved for special moments.
I mean, of course.
Obviously this list is far from comprehensive, but still. Do you miss them all? Because I sure do.
Good thing eBay is a thing.