My first year of schooling was in 1979 and I finished in 1990. My school life was book-ended by one year in the Seventies and one year in the Nineties, but for the bulk of my schooling, when I wrote down the date, the year always started Nineteen-Eighty-Something….
For those twelve years I spent at school, like every other kid, I carried a schoolbag with a pencil case, books, random crap that built up at the bottom of the bag, possibly important notes for my parents to read, and of course, the most important thing, my lunch box.
Over the years, I had various means of getting my lunch from home to school, and sometimes back again
partly uneaten. In the early days I had plastic lunch boxes resembling Tupperware containers and might have even had an actual Tupperware branded box, and, as I grew older, my lunches were given to me in brown paper bags. By the time I was making lunches for myself and throwing them in my schoolbag, I’m fairly certain that I just threw each item in with not a lot of thought about protecting them in any way.
The Eighties saw a lot of new products hit the markets, and a lot of emphasis given on marketing of quick and easy items to pack into your child’s lunch box. Many of these items made my lunch box. The following list is not in any definitive order; it’s not based on year released, a countdown to my favourite, or anything else… and I am sure that I’ve missed a few, so hit me up with your favourites.
A Packet of Chips
Whether it was a packet of your favourite flavoured crinkle cut or the thin cut chips that became popular in the latter part of the decade, or something a little more fancy like corn chips, Twisties, Cheezels, Burger Rings, Cheetos, or any other those other heavily seasoned “chip” that made your fingers go orange for the rest of the day, every lunch box had a packet of chips.
Most kids had one of the smaller 25 gram packets from the single flavour or mixed flavour multipacks – which are now 19g thanks to downsizing of packets without lowering the prices – but some kids were lucky enough to get a proper sized packet every day. I hated those kids.
As a bonus, remember Toobs? ZOMG, my favourite “chip” from my childhood. PS. They were recently discontinued but Shane Warne is fighting to bring them back.
Space Food Sticks
Another food that has been discontinued in Australia with Nestle ending manufacture back in 2014, the Space Food Stick was a staple, even for those school children who were not attending school in outer space. Which was pretty much all of us. This was another item that I was totally obsessed with until one day, I couldn’t eat them any more.
In my late twenties I saw them in the grocery store and bought a box of them and ended up taking them to work and fobbing them off on colleagues. They weren’t as great as I remembered them to be even though the flavour, to my best recollection hadn’t been altered in any way. Homer Simpson can have them all as far as I’m concerned.
Muesli bars hit the shelves BIG TIME in the current millennium, but back in the Eighties, the only muesli bar to buy was from Uncle Toby’s. I was obsessed by these. I had one in my lunch box and another when I got home from school. My absolute favourite was the chewy choc chip bar until one day, for some unknown reason, I just stopped liking them. The good thing was, pretty much every new school year, and sometime twice a year, a new flavour or variation hit the shelves.
Matching the chewy ones were the crunchy bars. Then came the yoghurt topped bars along with the chocolate covered bars. They were definitely lunch box favourites, and, having things like “no artificial colours or flavours” and “a source of fibre” on the box pretty much convinced parents that these were a healthy treat. Which, if I could be bothered reading the nutrition panel, I kinda guess that wouldn’t be.
The cheese wedges and cheese ball in a wax coating were also popular, but these cheese sticks were a staple in our household. They were a bitch to open without breaking the stick in half or leaving a huge chunk stuck in the end. Okay, so they weren’t as hard to open as a Chupa Chups® as I mentioned in my post Antipredator Adaptation of Confectionary, but they were challenging all the same.
Remember the jingle? Couldn’t get it out of your head, I expect. Also marketed as a healthy and nutritious treat, I hesitate to check out the nutrition panel on these for fear of wondering WTF sort of junk food my parents were giving me in my lunch box. But, having said that, if I didn’t get a packet of Ovalteenies during the peak period of these being in everyone’s lunch box, I’m pretty sure I would have spat the dummy.
Nutella Single Serve
I don’t have to elaborate about this. I remember when my school canteen announce these single serve packs were available. They came with a spoon and that’s all you needed. No bread. No crackers. Nothing.
Nutella has recently introduced an overpriced takeaway pack that is selling around the country which has the Nutella in one side and some bread sticks or the like in the other half of a semi-circular shaped container. That’s fine now, I guess, but us Eighties kids, all we needed was a spoon.. or our finger.
Nutella is banned in most schools these days because of nut allergies.
Peanut Butter Sandwich
Sorry to go all controversial, but remember back in the Eighties when no one in your class had a nut allergy? Peanut butter was the thing to have on your “sanger” when you weren’t having Vegemite. Okay, confession time; before my teen years, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Vegemite. I know… how unAustralian is that? I have more than made up for it now with my think lashings of the tasty dark brown spread, but back in my youth, peanut butter was my drug of choice.
I hesitated to refer to it as that, but, in the school yard now, peanut butter is as taboo as recreational drugs with the thick light brown goo being banned in virtually every school around the country. It’s kind of sad too, because, when you give your kids one of the newer all natural spreads that actually DO spread, you know, the ones made with, wait for it, just peanuts and nothing else, peanut butter is actually a great source of protein and dietary fibre, and is relatively low in sugar with no traces of trans fats.
Sadly, the ones with the added sugar are still more popular, but that Eighties’ advertising for Kraft’s peanut butter with the cute young girl saying “it spreads all the way to the bottom of the jar” is probably stuck in the head of every Generation X parent to this day.
In some parts of the world they call them juice boxes, the inventor of this cleverly designed carton in which to carry a drink that can easily be flattened and disposed of thoughtfully calls them Tetra Briks. But to most kids in Australia, no matter the brand, these were called by the generic trademark, poppers. And they probably still are.
My favourite brand through most of my primary schooling was called Break Juice. Each carton had a collectable sticker attached to the side, cleverly hidden within the middle of the six pack so that you couldn’t see which ones you were getting. In the height of Break Juice’s popularity the stickers were of characters from the Master of the Universe cartoon series.
Single Serve Sultanas
I’ll admit that these were one of those items that often travelled to school in my schoolbag, and returned home safe and sound having not been touched. Those little dried pieces of sun ripened goodness could live to tell the tales for another day. And another. And possibly a few more, before they were eventually eaten on a particularly hungry day.
I expect that, before some clever clod thought about putting these in individual boxes and selling a six pack of them at an inflated price, parents would scoop out a handful and put them in a sandwich bag or small container. But screw that for being too much effort. Eighties parents knew where is was at.
Oh, sure that was more waste heading off to become landfill, but I’m sure, if it wasn’t for these little treats, the whole recycling craze introduced in the Nineties wouldn’t be thought of. It would have to take something that we could have actually saved on packaging with to bring on the world wide phenomenon of recycling, don’t you think?
Like, real fruit…
Another item that did the round trip in my school bag was the various pieces of fruit my mum would sneak into my bag. Before fruit sticks. Before Roll Ups. Heck, even before Steve Jobs and his iProducts, kids used to take this apple product.
Outside of school I loved fruit. Grapes, watermelon, rock melon, GREEN apples (screw you red apples, you need to be smashed into pulp and your juice will be in my Popper, but I will never enjoy your less than green apple flavour). Sorry, I had to get that out. I just can’t do red apples.
My mum tried sneaking bananas into my schoolbag, but after the infamous Third Grade School Book Pages Stuck Together Due to Mashed Banana incident of 1982, I’m pretty sure she gave up. Look, it wasn’t my fault. An overripe banana in a soft schoolbag that ends up on the bottom of the pile of schoolbags where we met before the school bell was never going to end nicely.
Being a more health conscience parent than what my own parents were, and also since becoming a vegan, some of these things wouldn’t make it into my own children’s lunch boxes these days. There are a few of these items that would be on the special treat list, but they wouldn’t be making their way into the kids’ lunch boxes five days a week.
So what makes it into our boys’ lunch boxes? Well, that’s for another post… if you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, keep a look out for that post in the near future.
Until then, tell me, what did you have in your lunch box as a child?