Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime. If she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought for they are debts of honor, you know.
~ Amy March
The other day, I was telling people about how my parents were “healthy parents,” aka, the bane of a kid’s existence. They listened in horror as I threw out phrases such as “Wheat Nuts,” “dehydrated apple bits,” and “carob.”
I wasn’t allowed to drink soda, and McDonald’s was a great epic event. No beautiful white Wonder® Bread for the spreading of Skippy peanut butter and Smucker’s grape jelly; no, we had whole wheat and multi-grain bread for all-natural preserves and that sugar-free peanut butter that has two inches of oil on top of it.
Though this was not ideal in certain ways, I respected that my parents cared about my health. If I ever have kids, I will definitely try to keep them healthy, but now and again, they should get to show up to school with whatever food is “cool” nowadays (thenadays?).
I grew up in the ’80s, when more kids (and adults) were getting steady diets of fast food, sugar, and processed stuff up the yin yang than ever before. So there were a lot of kid-“friendly” snacks going down in the ’80s. But there were only a few foods that broke away from the pack and distinguished themselves as extra-special — must-haves that could really bond kids together. Here were some that were very important during my own elementary school years:
Oh yes. Witness Judd Apatow’s utter obsession with putting Fruit Roll-Ups in every project he’s connected to. Fruit Roll-Ups were an amazing invention, because you could really assert your individuality while eating the same thing as everyone else. Some kids were purists and would just peel the snack off the wrapping and just chew it like that. Some were pickers, and would peel it off bit by bit, making it last. I was a sucker, and yes, I realize that is very hilarious, but keep in mind, I was seven and don’t be perverted. But I just thought it was really cool, the power to turn your hand into a snack, and…I’m just gonna leave this one alone. Point is: If you didn’t have Fruit Roll-Ups, it was very hard for you to fit in at lunchtime. Don’t get me wrong; I usually had to make do with the real-fruit “roll-ups,” but they worked, though they’d get more lumpy and grainy after you sucked on them as opposed to the real Fruit Roll-Ups, which were much smoother.
Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops
Look, I’m not advocating 10-year-olds eating medicine as candy. I’m just reporting the facts. And the fact is that Luden’s were delicious, and came in the cutest little boxes! Much tastier than Sucrets. Though because I was always mad avant garde, I often chose the honey-lemon instead of cherry, and then people would be like, “Oh you have yellow ones? Can I try?” and I’d be like, “Yeah.” Instant friendships.
Bonbel and Babybel Cheese
I think it threw my parents for a hot minute, their fourth-grade daughter coming home and adamantly asserting her need for cheese wrapped in wax. But at least cheese isn’t full of sugar and stuff, so they bought me my cheese. And when I tell you how excited I was all morning, waiting for snack time, so I could eat my cool cheese. Man. Half the fun was the wax, of course, peeling all around, then opening up the wax to reveal the cutest little round cheese! Then you could fidget with the wax all day until it melted in your hands or your teacher made you cut it out. And let’s not forget to mention the universal joy of a laughing cow. Though that led to near disaster, as my mom first bought the soft cheese in the metal – still good, but not as a school snack, and NOT the cool cheese.
Those little boxes of cookies with strings.
Another one I could convince my parents to buy, because they were really cheap and while I chose my battles, you really did NOT want to take me on an hours-long shopping trip and not get me these cookies. They were very important to a kid’s social career and this snack really gave you a chance to Be An Individual, because there were three different kinds: animal crackers, chocolate ones, and chocolate chip ones. The animal crackers were tempting ’cause the box is so cool, plus, shapes! The chocolate chip ones had a tiger on the box and were tasty, and the most popular. I personally went for the pure chocolate ones that had a bear on the box; please see above, re: my avante gardeness.
I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? Nerds, dude!
Gum from a bag
Big League Chew, Razzles – anything that you could carry around with you and eat like a candy.
Artificially colored sugar in something clear.
Whether it was those 20-for-a-dollar plastic barrels of sugar water, or those truly disgusting bottles of wax that you broke open. And while I’m thinking about it, you know what else were really disgusting? Candy lipsticks. There was a lot of really gross food running around back then.
But although the ’80s were a perfect time to have “cool foods,” this phenomenon isn’t new. Beverly Cleary has a marvelous storyline in Ramona Quimby, Age 8, where the in thing is to bring a hardboiled egg to lunch, just so you could crack it open over your head. One day, Ramona takes an uncooked egg, and you can imagine the great humiliation.
In Little Women, Amy stages such a freakout over needing limes for snacks to fit in that despite the March family’s desperate poverty, limes were acquired.
And I’m not looking to start anything deep today, but I do wonder about that particular itch in the human spirit. Is it nature or nurture to desperately need to fit in, to seek out sameness in order to establish our individuality? I don’t know.
But I do know that while I will be buying the non-white bread and telling my kids that if they’re really hungry, they can eat something nutritious, I will still never underestimate the importance of “cool foods.”
What were your “cool foods?” If you have kids, what are theirs? And what’s a good way to balance being healthy parents with being kid-sympathetic parents, with regard to snacks?
©August 19, 2008