There was a time in many of our lives when snacks did more than appease the usual afternoon hunger pangs — when a bag of chips, some prepackaged cookies, or other sugar-laden treat held real power. That time was middle school.
In those years when the food we ate was determined by some mix of personal preference, parental influence, and pocket change, the right snack could curry favor with peers, act as a bartering tool, or prove gastrointestinal bravery. The phenomenon, I’m told, continues, even as the snacks change. Takis and Toxic Waste are for this generation what Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Warheads were for millennials. And many years later, even if we forget the names of our algebra teachers, we remember the name of the kid whose popularity increased with each Otis Spunkmeyer cookie they shared. Below, Eater staffers reminisce about all the snacks that reigned supreme.
Cheestrings: When Dairylea Lunchables and Babybels were sitting prettily expensive on the cheese aisles, Cheestrings were the real status snack, with multipurpose ways to eat them (spray the cheese so it’s all stringy, eat string by string, or be a complete savage and chomp into it whole, etc.) and cool ads with cool kids doing cool things together. You knew if anyone pulled these out, they had a bigger house, their parents had a nicer car, and they probably went to the cinemas and actually bought popcorn from the concessions. — Pelin Keskin, associate producer
Hostess Choco-Bliss: Long before this commercial for the since-discontinued Hostess snack cake Choco-Bliss took over the airwaves, my small-town Indiana middle school was aware of its “chocolate-y” charms (was there any actual chocolate in Choco-Bliss? Unclear!). We were a test market for the snack, our reactions — or so we were told — used to determine its market penetration in the Hoosier state. It might be one of the only times my city was ahead of any curve, and 30-plus years later and thousands of miles away, I still think of our Choco-Bliss coup with mingled sensations of nausea (because the mass of devil’s food and frosting was very, very gross) and pride. — Eve Batey, Eater SF editor
Fruit Roll-Ups: Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot were status in middle school. I rarely had them (because $$$), but they were prime for trading and sharing, and I remember begging my mom to get them for us. Gushers were up there too, but more often than not, Gushers would all clump together in the packet, sparing you the agony of having to share them with anyone else. — Stefania Orrú, coordinating producer
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were the “it” snack of my middle and high school years. For suburban Midwestern teens in the mid to late aughts, there was no chip more mouthwateringly edgy-seeming, its already spicy image boosted by rumors that eating too many would burn a hole in your stomach. The flex move was to eat just a bagful of Hot Cheetos for lunch — either purchased in the cafeteria or pulled out from one’s backpack, party sized — as other kids looked on in envy. — Jenny G. Zhang, Eater.com staff writer
Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookies: My junior high had a pretty nice cafeteria setup as far as school meal programs go, but the crown jewel of lunch was midway through the hour, when the metal garage door would roll up at the Otis Spunkmeyer cookie counter. Students who were lucky enough to squirrel away $2 could pick up a pair of perfectly warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies in a paper sandwich bag. Friends would sometimes pool their money to split a bag amongst themselves or occasionally beg for spare change from other students to get their cookie fix. — Brenna Houck, Eater Detroit editor
Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies: In my middle school cafeteria, those who held the most power were the ones who received these in their lunchboxes, the packets that came packaged two-to-four cookies in their own plastic wrapper and sleeve. (I literally refuse to stop talking about this.) These were apparently way more expensive than the regular bagged cookies, so my mom would get the bagged cookies when they were on sale and put them in Ziplocs for me, and I remember being so mad that they were NOT THE SAME. In hindsight, I feel extreme shame that my mother has put up with my arguments as to why not. — Erin DeJesus, Eater.com lead editor
All the sour candy: Some people spend countless hours and thousands of dollars learning how to win friends and influence people. I, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach when I chose to stroll into my middle school’s cafeteria with an array of mouth-puckering, near chemical burn-inducing sour sweets in fluorescent hues: Sour Punch Straws, Sour Patch Kids, and Warheads for the brave hearted. Sure, I may not have gotten an MBA from the exchange, but I did get the respect and admiration of my friends. And for the duration of that 30-minute lunch break, that was more than enough. — Jesse Sparks, cities editor