Kids can be very picky eaters and for generations parents have labored to find creative ways to trick their offspring into partaking in meals. The film A Christmas Story involves a memorable scene in which the protagonists little brother Randy refuses to eat dinner. To remedy the situation their mother convinces Randy to show her “how the piggies eat” to which he responds with a most disgusting display. Despite the sickening sounds, the outcome is considered desirable. Combine this challenge with a lack of time that most parents face and packing lunches for children can be quite a challenge. In order to remedy both of these issues, Oscar Meyer began prepackaging meat, cheese, and crackers in a convenient container and labeling them as “Lunchables”. The end product is something easy to toss into a lunch box while also convincing kids that the meal is somehow fun.
In our household my relationship with Lunchables began due to the time constraints my mother faced rather than my aversion to meals. I was never a terribly picky eater but my mom was always looking for a quick fix due to her full time job combined with night school and my participation on two different hockey teams. Hence the classic combination of a basic Lunchable and a Capri-Sun pouch in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunch box. Always looking to be “economical” I never had the fancy combinations that included the dessert and drink packed in, but I was happy enough with my basic ham, cheese, and cracker packs.
As I got older and school lunches seemed to remain stagnant in price while the cost of even the basic Lunchables increased markedly my mom began to give me a few bucks instead of packing lunch for me. This was of course a grave parenting error as kids can seldom be trusted with cash inside of their Batman Returns wallets. Rather than buying the rectangular slices of pizza with the cubes of pepperoni I began to simply pocket the cash. I grew up next door to a convenience store and I found the prospect of buying packs of hockey and football cards every weekday after school far more appealing than trying to digest the questionable school lunch fare.
The only downside to this strategy was that after school I was really freakin’ hungry. I seldom ate breakfast as I preferred to sleep until the absolute last possible millisecond and the quest to increase my burgeoning sports card collection required that I forgo a midday meal as well. By the time 3:00 rolled around my stomach felt like it was touching my spine as a series of rumbles and gurgles emanated from my pooching belly.
As a result, my second fling with Lunchables began in middle school as a post school day celebration. My after school ritual was to debark from the school bus with my friend that lived across the street, stop by the Quick Stop to pick up some hockey cards, and adjourn to his house. Typically after school my friend had the house to himself and his parents kept their refrigerator well stocked so that their kids could be somewhat self sufficient until they got home from work. This included keeping several Lunchables on hand at all times. And these weren’t the basic meat and cracker packs. His parents splurged on the Pizza Lunchables.
The concept itself is pretty humorous. These things could be considered “pizza” as much as a frozen microwavable bean burrito can be considered “Mexican”. They included some round dough, marinara sauce in a pouch, slices of pepperoni, and some shredded mozzarella cheese. You’d open them up, put the cold sauce onto the dough, sprinkle some cold cheese over the sauce, and top it with a few slices of pepperoni and voila; there’s your pizza. The folks at Oscar Mayer knew what they were doing though. Kid’s were indoctrinated into believing that anything pizza is “awesome” in large part because of the Ninja Turtles so by default these became the hot ticket Lunchables to have. On the hierarchy of packed lunches having these made you cooler than Lando Calrissian.
We would often sit in his living room gobbling these mini faux pizzas while thumbing through my new hockey cards and watching some World Wrestling Federation tapes he picked up from the local library. Afterwards it was time for dessert; Dunkaroos. Again his parents kept the house well stocked with these snacks. For those who grew up in a bubble or sadly were born after the fact Dunkaroos were packs of small cookies that also included some icing. They got their name because of a kangaroo mascot implying that they were somehow Australian in origin and the notion that you were to dunk the cookies in the icing. These probably played a role in my transition from jeans to khaki pants during that period because they were “more comfortable”.
Looking back, I have to give props to my friend’s parents. Not only were they raising three kids and working full time jobs themselves, they were perhaps unknowingly subsidizing their neighbor’s kid. Granted, for years I ate dinner with them somewhat routinely as my mother was at night school and I grew tired of my dad’s daily gourmet preparation of beans and hotdogs and eventually had my fill of Jack’s pizzas and Banquet pot pie’s (which I ate repeatedly simply because I was capable of preparing them myself). Maybe they did know I was mooching and they just felt sorry for me. They would often invite me to stay for dinner with the terms that my friend and I wash the dishes afterwards. Those dinners are among my fondest childhood memories as they took place around a dinning room table with his entire family discussing the day’s events; something that never happened in my household. Our dining room table was little more than a staging point for magazines and other crap that was intended for the basement. Regardless, as an adult who now understands the sacrifices parents make I can appreciate the added expense and gesture that they extended to me intentional or not.
Once high school kicked into full gear our routine began to slowly change. I haven’t had a Dunkaroo or a Lunchable since the late 90’s. In fact I’m not even sure if either of them are still in production since I don’t do the grocery shopping (that’s too adult for me). But they will be forever associated with those great after school snacks, along with the euphoria of surviving the trials of another school day, the excitement of new hockey cards, the entertainment of WWF action, and my friend across the street.