When I think of the ‘90s, the first things that come to mind are Friends (were Ross and Rachel really on a break?!), tamagotchis (for the life of me, I couldn’t keep mine alive. Thank goodness I’m doing MUCH better with my dogs), Harry Potter (you introduced us not only to the Wizarding World, but also utterly delicious butterbeer), Google (once just a search engine, now a verb), and the food. Oh, the food.
The Food Network aired its first show with David Rosengarten in the early ‘90s, and quite quickly became a powerhouse in the food space. Sun-dried tomatoes were still making their way into everything from pastas to salads to tapas from the ‘80s. School snacks were changing the way that kids enjoyed their lunchbox moments. And, dare I say, shaping how we eat now as adults. (I’m convinced that Lunchables set us on the path to love cheese boards as much as we all do now.)
With plastic superhero lunch boxes, vibrant/psychedelic Lisa Frank thermoses, and the subtle (or not so subtle) art of trading snacks that was happening in the cafeteria, the ‘90s were what I consider the epitome of school snack culture. (Like pop culture, but with snacks.)
The most memorable snacks for me start with Dunkaroos—an individual-sized dessert that consisted of small graham cracker cookies that you could dip into a small well of vanilla frosting. Inevitably, I would always have a little of the frosting leftover and use my finger to scoop out the remnants. Never wanted to waste any of that heavenly sugar confection.
Then there were Gushers, a fruit-flavored snack that had a soft outside with a burst of juicy flavor on the inside. This one was addictive as a child. I vividly remember trying to trade chocolate snack pack puddings with friends over our off-white particle board cafeteria tables for an extra pack of these. (The blue ones were my favorite flavor!)
My love of gushers was matched only by my love of fruit roll-ups. Also known as “fruit leather,” these fun treats were incredibly addictive as all well. I always tried to convince my parents to pick up an extra package of these when we were at the grocery store. My favorites were the strawberry flavored ones. I would put one end in my mouth, then let the whole roll drop down on the table (I know, super sanitary) and pretend it was an extra long tongue.
While this next treat wasn’t high on the list of items to trade in the lunchroom, Squeezits were still super fun to have. A fruit-flavored juice produced by General Mills and similar to Kool-Aid, this beverage was a great addition to any lunchbox moment. For me, I very much enjoyed taking the top off the Squeezits and putting it in my mouth as if it was a retainer. (Little did I know that a few years down the line I’d need an actual retainer, and oof.)
When not playing pretend with faux dental work, I dove spoon first into Trix Yogurt. With flavors like strawberry-banana bash, raspberry rainbow, triple cherry, and rainbow punch, what was not to love?! This refreshing side was the ideal accompaniment to whatever savory main I was eating.
This leads me into one of my favorite mains I used to get as a kid: Lunchables. The circular pieces of slick ham, the square sheets of thick cheddar, and the buttery goodness of the crackers were superior to all other lunch options. Starting us off young, I’m convinced this Oscar Mayer product made us into the charcuterie lovers that many of us millennials are today.
What better refreshment to wash down our pre-charcuterie experience than a faux wine option: Hi-C?! Second to Squeezits, in my humble opinion, Hi-C was a lunchtime staple. This cardboard box bevvy could be paired with anything and everything.
More of a morning snack than lunchtime treat, toaster strudels were an iconic way to start the day before school (but I’m including it in this list because it’s too iconic not to). You just had to take the frozen package out of the freezer, pop the strudels into the toaster for one to two cycles, and this delightful fruity pastry was ready to fuel your day. To unfreeze the small packet of icing used to top said strudel, my brother and I used to hover it within the toaster slot next to the ones being used. We were careful not to touch the sides, lest our little fingers get burned. Not safe by any means, but you live and you learn.
This brings me to my last and most iconic snack: cosmic brownies. Making their debut in 1999, Little Debbie outdid themselves with this treat. Dense, rich, and extra chocolatey brownies (thanks to a thick layer of chocolate ganache) were topped with brightly colored sprinkles. This ultra-fudgy dessert wrapped in cellophane was the pinnacle moment in a ‘90s kids’s lunch box.
All-in-all, I loved my ‘90s childhood. From snack culture to pop culture, this decade was pivotal in building the foundation for who I am today. Charcuterie IS a meal of its own. Cosmic brownies are great for ANY occasion. And, you CAN find a career that will pay you to play with food.