Showing posts with label Food Fads. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food Fads. Show all posts

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Classic Children of the 90s Post: Lunchables

Your faithful Children of the 90s blogger is still on vacation...but in the meantime please enjoy this classic post about Lunchables:

In the late 80s and early 90s, the Oscar Mayer company was out to prove that they were more than just a catchy jingle and a Weinermobile. At this point, we were all fairly aware of Oscar Mayer's way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A. We were relatively proficient in identifying our bologna by both its first and second names. We even had general affection for ingesting the aforementioned mysterious lunch meat daily. What more could they want from us?

Perhaps they were upset were were packing non-Oscar Mayer brand products in our school lunches. Maybe it was that sometimes we favored Jennie-O Turkey Breast over our old mystery meat pal bologna. Or possibly they were just concerned we weren't meeting our daily sodium level potential. Whatever the instigator may have been, the quest to streamline the lunch-packing process had begun.

When it came to the 1990s elementary school cafeteria, brown bags and insulated coolers were out and prepackaged boxed lunches were in. Suddenly the height of cafeteria coolness revolved around snack-like, nutritionally devoid, candy toting yellow boxes. To pull out one of those signature Lunchables boxes at lunch time was to declare yourself party to the latest in food trends and blatantly flaunt your parents' reputable recalcitrance for wholesome nourishment. Those of us whose parents insisted on packing us a food pyramid-inspired balanced meal were forced to hang our heads in shame at our lack of preboxed lunchtime delights.

The Lunchables roster certainly expanded over the years, but it began with a simple savory formula: crackers, adorably miniature slices of lunchmeat, and overprocessed and suspiciously orange cheese slices. Later models included such awe-inspiringly nutrition-void amenities as Capri Sun drink pouches and a fun size portion of candy. Some of us, though I won't say who, learned the don't-put-metal-in-the-microwave lesson the hard way via the addition of the metallic Capri Sun pouches. Her parents may or may not have frozen Lunchables for posterity and future lunchability, and she was not quite patient enough to let it thaw. Again, I'm not naming names, but she may or may not have broken her family's brand new microwave through this ill-fated Lunchable venture*.

Lunchable varieties became increasingly questionable with each successive incarnation. Each model stayed true to the original formula of a collection of spare lunch parts complete with assembly instructions, but Oscar Meyer certainly weren't afraid to experiment with creativity. They churned out pizzas, nachos, mysterious forms of "dunkers," tacos, and nearly any other fathomable junk food-based product. Naturally (or as the case warranted, by means of artificial flavoring) it was only a matter of time before anti-childhood obesity groups and health advocates stormed the Lunchables bastille in the name of all things overly salty.

Yes, these salt-packed snacks were tasty, but it's largely due to the fact that they were often packing a whopping three quarters of a daily recommended value of sodium for an adult. Mind you, these were mainly consumed by children, so it's fairly simple to deduce that the sodium content more than exceeded their healthy daily dosage. This preservative-rich snack boxes came under fire for their absolute defiance in the face of rising health consciousness. Essentially, researchers looked on in horror as morbidly obese children waddled to their lunch tables, inhaled a Lunchable, chased it with the fun size candy, and went into a salt coma. These were kids walking through their elementary school hallways single file not out of obedience to teachers but out of necessity to fit through the cafeteria door.

The Oscar Meyer/Kraft people could only hold out for so long. There was really no adequate defense for the remarkably low nutrition levels of their products, other than that children adored them and their junk-foody contents. As long as there was a consumer demographic of parents still willing to poison their children with dangerous sodium levels, there was no reason for them to make any sort of adjustment. However, as the pressure from nutrition advocates mounted and led to devastatingly bad press for Oscar Meyer/Kraft, the company quickly changed their salty tune.

It may be a bit harsh to say they sold out, considering the admittedly poor levels of nutrition in the original product. However, they did oblige to their opposition and began offering options such as fruit juice and yogurt. While these new additions may have had some grounding in health food, it's pretty safe to say they didn't significantly alter the overall caloric content. Regardless, as long as the juvenile salt-related cardiac arrest subsided, they were able to quietly continue packing children chock full of delicious artificial additives.

That said, it's important to note that some of their current releases are highly questionable. Take this disturbingly fizzy pop-rocks knockoff meat+candy creation.It just goes to show you that change does not necessarily equal progress. To its credit, however, the packaging does herald the excellence of the meal's calcium content. Calcium or not, the whole thing seems pretty suspicious. It's safe to say that while contemporary children may not enjoy the same levels of salty deliciousness, Lunchables continue to outrage parents everywhere in a distinctly kid-pleasing manner.

And isn't that what really counts?

*In case you failed to gather from the heavy hints, this was clearly me. I never did own up to breaking the microwave.

Monday, August 23, 2010

80s and 90s Sugar High

Sometimes we all look back and cringe just a bit at the sugary garbage we ate as children. Though it may still hold some nostalgic appeal, it’s tough to defend some of the candy we so adored as kids. You would think we were all spent a significant portion of our youth drifting into diabetic shock--how else to explain the pure sugar our parents pushed down our throats? I can only assume they had no orange juice on hand and had to save our lives with the cunning use of Pixie Sticks. There’s just no other explanation for willingly serving your child the equivalent of the contents of your sugar bowl.

For those of us who now work with or have children of our own, we know the lure of bribery is one we cannot always ignore. Do your homework? Have some Nerds! Clean your room? Help yourself to the Fun Dip. Sure, it’s morally ambiguous, but it works. Sometimes, you’ve just got to give in and let the kids be kids. In this case, that means our parents allowed us to hype ourselves up on a diet of pure sugar only to crash later with unforeseen consequences of immeasurable crankiness. We loved them for that moment in which they relinquished the candy, though, and that’s what really counts.

We ate all sorts of processed sugar masquerading as innocent snacks, but here are a few of the sweetest culprits:

Pixy Stix
Possibly the worst offender, Pixy Stix were composed of little more than colored sugar. Apparently an acceptable snack consists of taking pure sugar and a dab of food coloring and calling it a kid-friendly nosh. The worst of the worst prize went to the giant-size straw version, which we can only imagine contained a full two-pound bag of refined sugar.

Fun Dip

What better to dip candy in than candy? It’s a perfect solution to all your dipping needs. Simply take sugar molded into a solid mass and dip it into its granulated counterpart. Delicious.


Nerds may have been glorified color-coated rock candy, but we can award some credit where due for delicious flavor combinations. Nerds conveniently packaged two complementary flavors in a single box, allowing us to ingest our flavor sugar with a well-balanced palette.

If you thought it was kind of gross simply to consume sugar-laden hard candy, imagine adding an element of extreme germ exposure to the mix. The problem with Jawbreakers lay in the fact that they were simply too large to be consumed in a single sitting. The result? Days of your giant candy hanging out in a bowl or similar open-air receptacle, collecting delicious dust mite seasoning mix.

Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks have been available since the 70s, but their popularity saw a resurgence in the 80s following their restock on candy store shelves. The candy suffered briefly from the implications of an urban legend that claimed the candy could make your stomach explode when mixed with soda. It can’t, for the record, but it still does work to scare children as effectively as it did back then.

Warheads/Cry Babies

Children have a naturally competitive nature, so it’s little surprise that they became the target market for discomfort-themed food. It may not sound especially pleasant to endure a painfully sour candy throughout the dissolution of its coating, which is because it’s not. At all. Not even a little bit. With children, though, the natural playground spirit of competition made candies like Warheads a huge hit--not to mention a major indicator of elementary school street credibility.

Sour Patch Kids

Sour Patch Kids represent sour flavor in its slightly less repugnant form--as a sugar coating over a chewy fruit snack-type candy. It admittedly burns off a taste bud or two, but it’s a small price to pay for coolness in front of your pro-sour friends.

Push Pops/Ring Pops

Of course, no discussion of sugary 90s candies would be complete without mention of two of the most traded and widely respected hard candies on the playground market: push pops and ring pops. Both caused unnecessarily sticky messes and had limited functionality outside of their general novelty appeal, but who cares? They were delicious in their own sugary way. Though, to be fair, they did give a generation of young girls very unrealistic expectations about the size of a rock they could be expecting on their engagement ring.

It should go without saying that I just can’t discuss 90s-themed sugar highs without playing the eponymous song from Empire Records. All of the sugary sweetness, none of the calories. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kid Cuisine

Note: Sadly, I could not find a good picture of the old school packaging featuring 90s mascots BJ and The Chef. You will have to settle for this more recent--and of course, vastly inferior--rendition. I apologize for the visual inconvenience.

As they say, there's just no accounting for taste. Particularly in children, as they usually either a) have none or b) are not voting party members in the menu-planning decision process. In either case, kids are wont to eat a variety of overprocessed food that most adults find revoltingly unappetizing at best. I don't see many people around my office brown bagging Lunchable stackables or fruit Gushers, but you can bet their children would be psyched to gain some cafeteria cred from packing them.

For kids, novelty is a major factor in the appeal of any type of food. Taste and presentation are relegated to afterthoughts when effective marketing and cutesy cartoon mascotry are in play. To a child, a flavor vaguely reminiscent of sawdust and onionskins is a small price to pay; if the cartoon penguin tells you to do it, you do it. It's that simple.

Kid Cuisine debuted in 1990 as a niche product claiming to offer quick and easy kid-friendly meals. These prepackaged frozen dinners a la Lean Cuisine featured standard children's meal fare such as macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets. In typical frozen meal fashion, Kid Cuisine consumers usually sacrificed flavor and taste for convenience. KC dinners were far from culinary masterpieces, but they were the lazy parent's and unskilled babysitter's saving grace at mealtime.

In their early days, however, ease was the primary redeeming quality of these questionable dinners. The compartmentalization of the microwave-safe trays was always sketchy if best, leading to less than savory results after heating. It was not uncommon to open the microwave door to a mysterious mishmash of food items overflowing from one pocket to the next. Even kids knew you weren't supposed to eat creamed corn on your brownie or mash green beans into your pizza. It simply isn't done.

Truthfully, the compartment crossover was not always such an issue; it's all part of the magic of each meal component tasting exactly the same. No matter what the dinner claimed to be on the outside packaging, the food always retained a taste markedly similar to the packaging it was nuked in. At the end of the day, pudding in your mac and cheese isn't so bad if it all has the same general flavor: mass-produced institutional. Yum.

To their credit, Kid Cuisines did come with a "Fun Pack," a small Cracker Jack prize-esque activity book filled with mini games or stickers. While the title "Fun Pack" may be slightly presumptuous, it did prove a popular addition to the frozen prepackaged food market. The only problem? These things come frozen. Those activity booklets were pretty chilly.

The meal's frozen nature also provided another dilemma: not all types of foods can and should be microwaved at the same level for the same amount of time. Kid Cuisine's one-size-fits-all approach meant that every item in the tray had to undergo the same degree of nukage. That meant a frozen corndog and a frozen Oreo got the same general heating treatment. Results? Major sogginess.

From a nutritional standpoint, these meals were far from well-balanced. To be fair, in the 90s the TV commercial version of a well-balanced breakfast included 2 eggs, toast, orange juice, bacon, potatoes, cereal, and milk, so maybe our portion perceptions were partially skewed. What passed Kid Cuisine quality inspector muster as side dishes would have made staunch starch enthusiasts blanch at the pure volume of complex carbohydrates per package. Even the most lenient and nutritionally ignorant of parents probably knew deep down that pasta, pudding, an Oreo, and some corn niblets does not a sound meal make.

Luckily, with the help of some lovable commercial mascots, kids will eat pretty much anything. Anthropomorphic penguin BJ and bear "The Chef" were more than eager to shove these calorie-laden celebrations of starch down our juvenile throats. I'd never considered myself endeared to BJ and The Chef until I learned they were more recently replaced with some ripoff penguin character, KC. Is nothing sacred? Who makes the food if there's no chef? Who, I ask you? It just doesn't add up.

Logic withstanding, someone (possibly replacement second-string penguin mascot KC) keeps churning out these meals. In case you were wondering, they are disgusting as ever. To save you from having to find out for yourself, here's an ad featuring KC and one of the most nutritionally questionable Kid Cuisine options yet: macaroni with squeezable cheese sauce topped off with a Fruit by the Foot knockoff. This is by no means current, but the product's downward spiral into deeper caloric jeopardy is amusing nonetheless. Enjoy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Children of the 90s is Still Out of Town: Enjoy this Classic Post--Dunkaroos

Sorry for freaking out my loyal readers earlier this week--some anonymously evil spambot hacked into my account and Google, in their infinite if mildly misguided wisdom, temporarily suspended it. Luckily, I was able to convince them that I was not the spambot but rather its innocent blog-writing victim, so the site is back in all of its original glory. Thanks, Google!

I am still out of town, but with the site back up and running I will return in full force with new posts next week. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy this delicious frosting-accompanied post on Dunkaroos. It's the second post that appeared on the site back in March 2009, so the likelihood of you having already read it is relatively slim. Enjoy, and thanks to all for your patience and concern during the blog removal scare. I promise I wouldn't abandon you without warning like that --you need your daily dose of 90s, and Children of the 90s is here to deliver.

Ah, Dunkaroos. That is, a dual-chamber compartmentalized plastic snack container housing kangaroo-shaped cookies and sweet, sweet frosting. The marketing department at Betty Crocker clearly took a pretty literal approach with their concise yet didactic slogan: "You Don't Just Eat...You Dunk-a-Roo!" And Roos we did dunk. In fact, we dunked to with such zeal and fervor that a web search for "Dunkaroos" leads you to forum after forum where passionate Dunkaroo devotees discuss and debate the various black-market methods of procuring bootleg snacks from their 90s childhoods.

Yes, those were simpler times. These days, the current fanaticism surrounding this simple cookie-and-frosting snacktime combo impels Dunkaroo enthusiasts to scour and discount stores to locate these discountinued delights. Whether chocolate, vanilla, or the late-era cookies and cream flavor struck your fancy, these were a kid's dream. Imagine, a conveniently packaged snack featuring absolutely no natural ingredients and negligible nutritional value.

For some inexplicable reason, this cookie-and-frosting combo was paired with a sharp-dressed and surprisingly formal Australian Kangaroo mascot sporting a hat, vest, and tie. You have to wonder what that marketing meeting was like:

"Alright team, we've got these cookies with a frosting dip. What's the logical leap for our big ad campaign launch? I say we go the Australian angle, you know how those Aussies love their prepackaged frosting-laden snacks. Better yet, let's make it a kangaroo with an Australian accent. That's more appropriate, really. And can we dress him up a bit? Let's be real here people, a kangaroo wouldn't just go about eating sweets bareheaded sporting shirtsleeves. That's it, a hat and tie will really emphasize the deliciousness."

Exhibit A:

Ahh...there's nothing like a half-sung, half-spoken painfully literal description of a snack food to get the hunger juices flowing.

Mascot aside (because let's be real, most of our childhood foods were actively promoted by randomly generated anthropormorphic cartoon rabbits, cavemen, leprechauns, and their ilk), Dunkaroos were a phenomenon. These were the food to pull out at snack time. Your cheap handi-snack knockoff cookies-and-cream pack were essentially an affront to the valid cookie and frosting snack community.

The most bizarre part was, at the height of their popularity, the Dunkaroos people launched a contest to replace their loveable if oddly matched mascot, Sydney, with...wait for it...another kangaroo. I know they're called Dunkaroos, but really. The parameters of this contest, endearingly titled the "Dunk-a-Roos Kangaroo Kanga-Who Search," essentially requested from their loyal fans the most incremental image change possible. I present to you, Duncan, the dunkin' daredevil. Like all other cartoon food mascots, the majority of his life is devoted to being thwarted by obstacles in an attempt to eat a food that the rest of us can just pick up in our neighborhood grocery store.

So there you have it...Dunkaroos. As their then new bad-boy mascot (as denoted by presence of backwards cap) rides into the abyss on a roaring motorcycle, so too must we leave behind this delicious snack from days of yore in a cloud of cookie dust. That is, unless you're willing to risk life and limb by ordering discontinued snack food on for purely nostalgic reasons.

According to my google search, most of you are willing to take that risk. Dunk safely, children of the 90s. Dunk safely.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We Miss Our Discontinued Candy: Bygone Sweets

It probably doesn't bode especially well for our generation that we can get all wistful and misty-eyed over some nutritionally void sugar-laden snacks, but sometimes we just can't help ourselves in these matters. It's tragic in its own small way that today's children will never taste the glorious sugary sweets that so sustained us in our youth. By "sustained" of course I mean it kept our hyperactivity level off the charts and kept our dentists' respective children in expensive sneakers. What? It's a valid interpretation of sustenance, given you accept that these treats served no real nourishing purpose.

You just don't know what you have till it's gone. For a brief, fleeting period these sugary snacks enticed us with their off-the-charts sweetness. Like all good things, though, our love affair with these candies were forced to come to a bitter end. For many of us, we didn't even realize these sweets no longer graced our grocery store shelves until it was too late. Had I been alerted of the impending discontinuation, I would have stocked up on Hershey's Tastations before it was too late.

Mintaburst/Cinnaburst/Fruitaburst Gum

You name the flavor, this gum was a'burstin' with it. Unfortunately, it bursts no more. The burst in question was a mysterious compound of so-called "flavor crystals," which seems to be some sort of code for "gritty hard pieces in your gum that are kind of gross but also ripe with flavor."


When I think of what the ideal adjective for describing a favorite candy is, "stabby" usually ranks pretty close to the top of the list. Any candy that can double as weaponry is okay in my book. That book, of course, is called "Lollipop Swords: Beginning Swashbuckling for Youngsters." Look for it coming soon to a bookstore near you.

These things were pure sugar, which from a child's perspective is the be-all-end-all of attractive candy characteristics. Astrioios unfailingly stained our lips and tongues, but this should have been the least of our parents' concerns. The most, of course, being that it was possible to lick the Astropop into a finely tuned dagger and inflict multiple puncture wounds onto our siblings on car trips. Ouch.


Mmmm....Tasteations. These things were creamy hard candy goodness with the Hershey's chocolatey seal of approval thrown in for good measure. Sure, you might feel like a crotchety little old lady carrying around hard candies in your pockets, but the taste made it well worth the minor image sacrifice. Apparently Hershey's first-ever hard candy just wasn't enough to hold our attention--their heyday was pretty short-lived.

Carefree Gum

How, I ask you, are we supposed to adequately sprinkle Clueless movie quotes into everyday situations when the cultural context has cruelly been discontinued? I'm referring, of course, to Cher's impassioned tirade against gym class in which she claims she barely burned off the calories in a stick of Carefree Gum.

By the way, that above commercial is actually pretty funny. Kudos to Milli Vanilli for taking the low road after their incredibly embarrassing lip-syncing debacle. You know what I always say: if you can't make fun of yourself in a gum commercial, you just can't make fun of yourself.

Gatorade Gum

Also known as GatorGum, this sports-themed chewing gum had it heyday in 70s and 80s and enjoyed a brief revival in the late 90s. When I think sports and quenchiness, I don't typically jump immediately to gum, but hey, it worked.

I know the commercial is a bit dated for what we usually post around here, but it's just so funny I couldn't resist. It's cheesy in a way that advertising just can't get away with anymore. "Active people are discovering the gum that's different!" (Man in sweatband crosses finish line) "Now you can lick...dryyyyyy mouth" (Sweatbanded man opens mouth to reveal a camel and some sand). Brilliant.

Dinosaur Eggs

These egg-shaped jawbreakers from the Wonka candy company came in individual boxes, which misled us to believe we could consume them in a single sitting. These things were huge, plus some of them had the added licking obstacle of the Dinosour taste.

Lifesavers Holes

If you ever wondered what they do with all the leftover cutouts at the Lifesavers factory, look no further than the briefly popular "Holes" candy pieces. It doesn't get much lazier than this. "Hey, you know those extra candy pieces we already have but usually toss in the trash?" "Yes?" "We should totally sell them." "Sounds like a plan. Let's give them a kind of gross sounding but fitting name." "Done and done."

Mars Bars (US)

These have been unavailable in the US (despite a steady supply abroad) for nearly ten years. I've heard a rumor, though, that they've been relaunched. If this is true, I'm off to devour one now. These things are awesome. One might even say out of this world. Ba dum ching!

Butterfinger BBs

Who better to take candy advice from than the man himself, Bartholomew J. Simpson? This kid knew his stuff. These have since been discontinued, so the best we can do now is chop up a bunch of butterfingers into small circular pellets and simulate the experience at the movies. Somehow, it just isn't the same.

Crispy M&Ms

Yet another bygone product from our pals at M&Ms. It seems every couple of years or so, they come up with some variation on the classic. The crispy kind had a sort of Nestle Crunch style popped rice inside. They were equal parts satisfying crunch and tastiness, though many of us failed to realize their deliciousness till it was too late.

Tearjerker's Gum

Do you love being tortured by sour candies? Instead of just enduring its presence in your mouth, do you prefer to chew the heck out of it for an extended period of time? Well, then you're in luck. Or at least you were if you grew up in the 90s. These may still be available in limited

Hershey's Cookies and Mint Candy Bar

Just when they come up with something I really adore, they pull it from the market. It's just my luck. This bar was magnificent--milk chocolate, oreo-type coookie bits, mint had it all. And it was not, as the package implied, green. Thank goodness.

This post has made me pretty hungry, which is unfortunate as all of these products are no longer available in safe sell-by date form. We may no longer be able to enjoy them, but at least we have our memories. Sigh. Oh, and if any of you knows where to find these, by all means, please share with the class.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Awesome 80s and 90s Happy Meal Toys

You've got to feel at least a bit nostalgic for a time when a trip to McDonald's was an incredibly exciting and highly anticipated lunchtime event. As an adult, McDonald's is usually more of a convenience affair exclusive to travel and times when we're in such a rush we can't be bothered to consume anything with marginal nutritional value. As a kid, though, McDonald's was the be-all end-all of fine dining. Give us some nugs, some sweet n' sour sauce for dunking, and throw in a cheap plastic toy, and we'd be satiated for at least an afternoon. Our parents may have been the tiniest bit uneasy about feeding us such junk, but our immediate food coma-related nap was probably more than enough to justify their decision.

While the junk food was an essential element of the McDonalds+Children=Pure Ecstasy equation, the Happy Meal toy was a critical ingredient of our satisfaction. The french fries were oily and delicious, yes, but they paled in comparison to the notion of receiving a brand new toy. While usually we'd have to pull the old "throw yourself on the floor screaming in the toy store aisle" routine sure to humiliate our parents, in this case we got the toy no questions asked. It was just that easy.

Teenie Beanies

Following suit with the TY Beanie Babies craze of the 90s, McDonald's unleashed these "Teenie Beanies" in 1997. While Happy Meal toys are traditionally marketed exclusively at children, the Teenie Beanie promotion caught on in a big way with collectors. The toys quickly became best-selling Happy Meal giveaways, with adults and children alike lined up for cheeseburgers and nuggets. The chain actually ran into a serious issue with food wasting, as many adults were purchasing the Happy Meals solely for Teenie Beanie purposes and discarding their food in the trash. McDonald's had to actually sell them seperately with adult-sized food to satisfy the insatiable public.

McDonald's released two Beanies each week across a month-long span in April/May 1997, creating a self-perpetuating sea of hype. Every week, the hysteria would begin anew. I'm sure all of the very well-paid and never-harassed counter help was so pleased.


After the success of the Teenie Beanies, McDonald's learned a thing or two about appealing to collectors. Why exactly someone feels that a toy that comes free with a burger and fries is an invaluable collectible is beyond my grasp of logic, but I guess that's why I'm not a collector. These weren't fully functional electronics like the original, but each variety had some special gimmick, be it a growl or an ear wiggle. McDonald's produced 80 variations of 8 main varieties for the launch in 1999, meaning eager collectors had to return time and time again to complete their stash. McDonald's 1, Childhood obesity prevention 0.

Barbie/Hot Wheels

You just don't mess with the classics. You know, even if they reinforce all types of unsavory gender stereotypes. In the eye of McDonald's toy producers, girls liked dolls, boys liked cars, and that was that. It was generally non-negotiable, though I'm sure there were occasional requests for a trans-gender toy. I don't mean a Barbie with a shaved head dressed in baggy JNCOs, of course, just the girl/boy toy switcharoo. That other way would have been interesting, though.

And that commercial? Wow. Just wow. I especially like the way the tone of the voice-over and background music change when describing the fast car versus the tiny doll with styleable (!) hair. If you've got to squeeze a wealth of gender stereotypes into a single 30 second spot, you might as well give it all you've got.

Halloween Pails

I think the reasoning behind these trick-or-treat pails was something like, "If they're not going to get anything nutritious from us, we might as well limit their eventual candy consumption by offering way-too-small Halloween candy portals." You couldn't make much of a haul with these; you'd have been far better off with a pillow case. For some reason, though, we had these stacked around our house storing toys and holiday decorations for years. I can't imagine we ever ate that many Happy Meals. Perhaps my mom force-fed them to us on the condition that she could use the pails for her home storage needs. It seems vaguely possible.

McNugget Buddies

Ah, McNugget Buddies. You just don't see good fried food children's character action figures like you used to. These days, they're all Veggie Tales and their religious-tinted health-conscious ilk, but in our day we were more than happy to play with some anthropomorphized Chicken McNuggets. This was clearly a simpler time, or at least a time before parents had any access to relevant nutritional information.

When we were kids, apparently no one thought it was creepy for a commercial to feature a clown chatting conversationally with some juvenile chicken nuggets, reminiscing about their younger days and their first dipping sauce experiences. That sounds like a red flag to me, but obviously someone green lighted it. They are sort of cute, in a "I'm going to eat you and not feel remorse" type of way.

McDonald's Food Changeables

These were like the poor man's Transformers. There's something sort of innocent and benign about a cheeseburger that morphs into a killer robot. It's kind of...cute. In its own way. Even the voiceover guy can't take it seriously. "French fries become....FRY-BOT!" It sounds like he's trying to hold him some major guffaws. And who can blame him? That sentence is completely ridiculous.

Disney Movie Tie-Ins: Bambi, 101 Dalmations, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Hercules, Mulan....the list of cheap licensed merchandise goes on and on

I'm pretty sure I had the 1988 Bambi Happy Meal toys on display on my dresser for ten years, minimum. What? They were adorable. If I could find them today,I'd probably become that annoying person in the office whose desk is overtaken by tchotchkes and knicknacks (see Scott, Michael).

McDonald's acquired the licensing rights to all sorts of Disney paraphernalia, meaning whenever a new Disney movie premiered they were ready with a million tiny molds of all of its characters. I distinctly remember the 101 Dalmations toys because they haphazardly stuck Cruella in there. Who, I ask you, wants to play with a Cruella toy? We were all holding out for adorable puppies. I must've gotten three Cruellas before I finally got my hands on a pup.

Cabbage Patch Kids and Tonka Trucks

This was our other major boy/girl specific promotion. Obviously they never got too far thinking outside the box. Dolls and Cars, Dolls and Trucks. Big leap on that one.

McDino Changeables

We've got a similar Changeable concept here, only with...dinosaurs? Don't ask, I don't know what kind of weirdos they had in their development department, but McNuggetasaurus? Really? Is that an actual thing? To be fair, it is sort of cute, but you've got wonder the route to getting that into production.

Super Mario Bros 3

This ad is awesome. I love it. It just encompasses so much nostalgia in every beep. It manages to combine two things we loved as children (Super Mario Brothers and fast food) and combine them into a neat little package, complete with take-home toy. Well done, McDonald's.

As the promotions cycled in and out monthly, there are dozens of others I simply couldn't contain within the confines of a single post. Feel free to wax poetic about your favorites in the comments section. Just don't get too carried away; we don't want any of you inadvertently morphing into FRY-BOTS or a MCNUGGETASAURUS! Okay, okay, I admit it. That wasn't really related. I just desperately wanted to use those words again. They're adorable. Now knock yourselves out reminiscing about fast food freebies, kids. It's been fun.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Giveaway Winner and Today's Post: Childhood Cereal Commercial Characters

First things first--I am pleased to announce the winner of the first ever Children of the 90s Giveaway: Lauren Kelly from Walk With Me on this Journey Called Life!

*Winner was selected using a randomized shuffled spreadsheet and an online random number generator*
Congratulations, Lauren Kelly!! I will contact you later today for your mailing information (or you can shoot me an email at when you see this), and your 90s care package should be on the way sometime next week!

To everyone else, thank you all so much for entering, and don't worry--this isn't the end of giveaways at Children of the 90s. I heard a rumor someone (okay, me) has a blogaversary coming up, so keep checking back for more fun giveaway opportunities. I can't tell you how fun it was assembling these items, and I can't wait to do it again soon!

Please excuse the interruption. Now, for today's post:

Childhood Cereal Commercial Characters

Forget what anyone says. Cereal mascots are the hardest working guys in show biz. They're arguably among the most dedicated, single-minded characters in modern media. They never can just pick up a box of their favorite sugar cereal at the local supermarket like the rest of us. These guys are constantly battling the forces of cereal-related tyranny and oppression in an eternal struggle to get their hands on the much-coveted cereal. For those of us whose parents refused to buy us sugary breakfast cereal, we could relate to their plight.

The aim of these characters was to convince a demographic of hungry, sugar-crazed children that these cereals were so desirable that fictional characters would go to extreme lengths to get their hands on them. At the time, it seemed like a fairly viable quandary; what's one expected to do if denied their sugary fuel? Looking at them now, though, I wouldn't be surprised if one of these cartoons showed up on A&E's Intervention. They're not only incredibly desperate for their fix but also seem to be going through some sort of physical withdrawal symptoms. You'd almost expect for them to airlift Honeycomb Crazy Craving to the nearest treatment facility and run a glucose IV through his furry little arm. I'm not a professional, but even I can see that guy needs some seriuos help.

These cartoon characters were by no means the only cereal advertising stars. There were plenty of live-action commercials directed at older children, but few of them managed to equal the intensity and desperation encapsulated by these sugar-starved animated critters. Many of these characters have been around since before our time, though they often been through more reinventions than Cher. You'd better hurry up and get your reminiscing in before the remaining mascots go the way of Cookie Crook and Officer Crumb. Blink and they'll be replaced by cooler, hipper characters.

Fruity/Cocoa/Dino Pebbles: Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble

When the Flinstones debuted as Post Cereal's Pebbles-brand spokescartoons in the 70s, no one could have known they'd still be out hawking cereal decades later. Throughout the years, the story lines have been fairly one-dimensional: Fred Flintstone eats Fruity or cocoa Pebbles. Barney sees said Pebbles. Barney attempts elaborate and ill-thought-out scheme to obtain Pebbles. Fred screams, "BAAAAARNEEEY!" End scene. The only thing I'm not so clear on is what Dino Pebbles are made of. That name still sounds pretty suspicious.

Cocoa Puffs: Sonny the Cuckoo Bird

Sometimes time really does bring progress. In the original 50s and 60s ads, Sonny was chilling with his grandpa. He still went cuckoo, sure, but with his grandpa. Not exactly the stuff cool kids are made of.

Ad writers wised up in the 80s and 90s, making Sonny go cuckoo with kids and eventually pressure other kids into going cuckoo themselves. Yes, you heard right. Sonny worked his way up from user to dealer. At least he wasn't trying to pull his Gramps into it anymore. He did, however, get Joseph Gordon Levitt on the cuckoo train. See evidence above.

Frosted Flakes: Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger may have been born decades earlier, but he probably started his amateur frisbee career in the above 90s ad. The "They're Grrrreat!" slogan has been around for ages, but in the 80s and 90s they tried incorporating some hipper phrases. They promised to bring out the tiger in us or to put the tiger on our team, but perhaps none were as resigned and half-hearted as "The Taste Adults Have Grown to Love." You know, you used to hate it, but over the years the virulence of your hatred has lessened. Buy Frosted Flakes!

Trix: Trix Rabbit

Talk about prolonged disappointment. The Trix rabbit has been up to his, well, tricks for over 50 years. It's always the same old schtick: he'd try to trick the kids into sharing their cereal, but they'd continually admonish him with the ultimate brush-off: "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!" Jokes on the Trix rabbit, though. In elementary school, a friend and I fed some Trix to her pet rabbit, Munchers. He totally went for it. He had no idea they were just for kids. Not a clue.

HoneyComb: Crazy Craving

This is probably one of the more frightening 90s cereal characters, if for nothing other than the sheer voracity of his need. The weird hopped-up rodent thing's name was Crazy Craving, and I believe he has since been retired. He premiered as Honeycomb's official mascot in the mid-90s, preceded by the HoneyComb Hideout gang. According to these 90s ads, you could actually become Crazy Craving if you went long enough without your fix. Scary indeed.

Cookie Crisp: Cookie Crook and Officer Crumb

This commercial lied to me. I wanted so badly to enjoy what was promised to me as the sweet taste of cookies for breakfast but when my parents finally caved and threw it in the grocery cart to quell my tantrum, it just wasn't what I'd expected. Cookie Crook and Officer Crumb had hyped it to a level they just couldn't achieve. It turns out the most inspired thing about the cereal was Chip the Dog's howling of "Cooooookie Crisp!"

Lucky Charms: Lucky Leprochaun

Children first met Lucky in the 60s, but he's steadily tempted our sugar impulses with his endless pushing of marshmallow-laden cereals. He promised them to be magically delicious, and for the most part they were. If only they could have made them magically nutritious, too.

Froot Loops: Toucan Sam

Toucan Sam was born in the 60s, though he did undergo some beak work a decade or so later. I think I saw it on E!'s Celebrity Plastic Surgery Nightmares but I can't be sure. Whatever the situation surrounding his nose, he followed it to some delicious fruity sugar cereal. How 90s is that Rapping Rhino ad, too?

Cinnamon Toast Cruch: Wendell, Bob, and Quello

Who exactly were Wendell, Bob, and Quello, you ask? According to General Mills, Bob and Quello don't technically exist. They name main baker Wendell, but it sounds like the other two were using the role to pad out their resumes with bit parts like "Baker #2: illustrates taste he can see." They make fun of adults in a Bubble Tape/Apple Jacks sort of way, mocking their inability to see what makes the cereal so compelling. For the record, it's the swirls of cinnamon sugar in every bite.

Honey Smacks: Dig 'Em

Sugar Smacks have been through a lot over the years. Well, a lot of names at least. In our day, they were Honey Smacks, but now they're just Smacks. That sounds pretty suspiciously close to Smack, even when you take into consideration the child-friendly Dig-Em frog mascot.. I guess as long as no kids are injecting the cereal intravenously, we're alright.

Rice Krispies: Snap, Crackle, and Pop

These guys have been around since the 1940s, but they underwent a serious 90s makeover for the Razzle Dazzle edition of the cereal. In case you're unfamiliar with cereal speak, "Razzle Dazzle" is code for "heaps of additional sugar". I couldn't find any video of those ads, though, so you'll just have to settle for watching a kid in a safari outfit get really pissed off at a dinosaur for kidnapping Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

I don't know about the rest of you, but this post has left me with a serious hankering from some good old-fashioned nutrition void sugar cereal. It may not have been substantive, it may not have been nutritious, heck, it may not even have been totally honest when it claimed to be part of a balanced breakfast. But it was endorsed by our animated spokescartoons, and darn it that was more than enough to convince us. So excuse me as I go cuckoo following my nose as I make a serious effort to elude the sanctimonious Officer Crumb: I'm off to get my fix.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Children of the 90s Ode to Discontinued 90s Foods, Part Deux

Well, children of the 90s, it's that time again. I've had some email requests from readers about some of their favorites 90s snacks, so I thought we were due for another discontinued 90s food roundup. If these commercials bring back some cravings, you're probably out of luck. Most of these foods, despite their hearty nostalgic value, have been discontinued somewhere along the way. On a good day, you might be able to find a couple of these on grocery store shelves outside of the US, but for the most part any cravings for these goodies will go unfulfilled.

For one reason or another, the producing companies of these delicious (though often un-nutritious) treats decided it just wasn't profitable enough to keep churning them out on their assembly lines. In our day some of these might have had impressive cafeteria trade value, but they've since dropped in kid coolness capital. All we have left is our memories...and for some of us, imbalanced blood sugar and an increased risk for early onset diabetes. We weren't the most health-conscious generation of kids, but we knew what we liked. Food manufacturers must have known, too, as they supplied us with copious amounts of nutritionally devoid options like these:

Pop Qwiz

At the time, this seemed like a true technological innovation in kid's snack food. Pop Secret released this kid-pleasing product in the early 90s, proving that children are the only group of consumers willing to eat incredibly unnatural-hued foodstuffs. Pop Qwiz was mostly gimmick and little substance, but the gimmick was more than enough to hold our attention and prompt countless tantrums in the popcorn aisle of the supermarket. Hey, I'd still be willing to throw myself on the ground and wail inconsolably for a bag of Pop Qwiz.

The name sounds far more educational than the value of the product warrants. I guess that's why they misspelled "Qwiz", to let us all know this popcorn snack was not academically relevant, nor would it offer us extra credit opportunities. Instead, the concept was rather simple: each bag of Pop Qwiz featured a different food-colored mass of kernels. The packaging was unassuming, leaving us kids to impatiently speculate on the bag's contents while still in the microwave. Would it be blue? Green? Purple? This eagerness for answers undoubtedly led to many oil-based burns.

Doritos 3-D

Our good friends at Doritos had no shortage of creative nacho-flavored chip incarnation ideas in the 90s. Every few weeks or so, it seemed they were debuting a new member of the ever-growing Dorito family. The short-lived Doritos 3-D were especially popular, literally adding a new dimension to our Dorito consumption. They fit in well with the "X-Treme!" trends in 90s advertising and product promotion, but they clearly couldn't stand the test of time. Air-filled pockets of salty goodness can only hold our attention for so long.

Planter's Cheez Balls

I know this ad is older than the 90s, but it was the best I could find. I think at a certain point, these defied advertising. They were pretty ubiquitous as a nutrition-free party snack food

Remember when Planter's used to make a whole bunch of other snack foods? I always thought it a bit weird that Mr. Peanut veered from his legume comfort zone to promote all classes of salty snacks. Cheez Balls (and Cheez Curls, and the briefly available PB Crisps) were once a universal party food. People were forever setting these unnaturally orange puffed balls out in bowls at social gatherings. There was something uniquely satisfying to popping off the tub's cap and hearing the release of suctioned air when you pulled the foil top and released the Cheez Balls into the wild. Unfortunately, you'll have to settle for the generics if you're craving Cheez Balls these days; Planter's has since discontinued the snack. You can, however, get a no-brand version at Sam's Club or Costco if you really need to satisfy your urge. Unfortunately, they're only available in giant tub sizes.

French Toast Crunch

90s children's cereal trends show an unprecedented obsession of taking ordinary foods, miniaturizing them, and then convincing us they're a perfectly natural part of a balanced breakfast. French Toast Crunch was a perfect example, giving us bowlfuls of tiny French toastlets that we were expected to drown in milk and eat with a spoon. They didn't taste all that much like French toast, but they were a novelty and were thus deserving of our attention.

If you're lucky enough to live in Canada, you've still got access to this delicious breakfast treat. Publicly-funded health care comes second to the allure of starting every day with a big bowl of miniature processed imitation egg-soaked cinnamon bread? Actually, scratch that, make health care first. Daily intake of this sugar-laden cereal probably warrants regular doctor's visits.

Sprinkle Spangles

Here we go again with the miniatures. Sprinkle Spangles were a sort of Cookie Crisp knockoff, featuring sprinkle-spangled miniature sugar cookies and passing them off as cereal. How any of us ever got this one into the grocery cart and past our parent's wary watchful eye is beyond me, but the concept has yet to lose its appeal for me. I still think a bowl of these would really hit the spot when I'm craving something sweet.

Cheetos Paws

Like Doritos 3-D, Cheetos came out with an alternately shaped version of its original product and tried to pass it off as something new. Naive as we were as kids, we were ecstatic to find out our favorite orange finger-dying munchies now came in an easily grabbable pawprint shape. It was sort of like a crystal ball, really. It showed us exactly what our hands would look like if we engaged in gloveless Cheeto consumption. Well, the color part, at least. They usually didn't morph into paws.

Sodalicious Fruit Snacks

Sodalicious wins for best made-up food flavor descriptor. It's not soda per se, but it is delicious in a way similar to soda. How can we hybridize these words? Genius, I tell you.

Magic Middles

I'm getting a little drooly just watching that commercial. The name is right on: those middles were pure, sweet magic. Those Keebler elves sure are crafty. They realized they could hide even more delicious chocolate inside of an already chocolate-laden cookie, obscuring the extra sugar content from our parents. Oh hey, I'm just eating this chocolate chip cookie. With a candy bar's worth of chocolate inside. Ha ha! Gotcha.

Dannon's Sprinklins

We weren't allowed much junk food at my house, so we had to settle for the best imitation. That is, foods that incorporated sugary goodness without actually being all that sugary or good themselves. In this case, we had to suffer through some does-a-body-good yogurt in order to get to the good stuff: sprinkles. I challenge you to find a kid who doesn't like sprinkles. They're pure sugar and they're colorful. It's basically a kid's confectionery dream. I always utilized good sprinkle strategy. I'd try to conserve as many as I could for the end, but to a healthy food-disparaging kid, I'd usually have to give in and spread them throughout the cup. I just couldn't stomach it without the "Sprinkl'" part.

Like many of you, I didn't notice the gradual disappearance of these goodies from my grocery store shelves. Over time I'd eventually notice that some of my old childhood favorites had gone the way of the Dunkaroos. Unless they decide to ignore low profit margins and get swept up in the 90s nostalgia, it's unlikely we'll be seeing most of these gracing our supermarket aisles any time soon. We'll just have to settle for our delicious memories. Either that, or trying to track down some packages on Amazon or eBay. It just comes down to how seriously you consider expiration dates.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In the Meantime, Please Enjoy this Classic Post: Crystal Pepsi

Repost Disclaimer: Children of the Nineties is at a work conference, and despite desperate pleas to the contrary is not entitled to personal computer time. In the meantime, please enjoy a pre-scheduled classic CotN repost from earlier this year. As I only had three or four readers at the time, it's probably (okay, almost definitely) new to you.

Crystal Pepsi

Are you sick of delicious, well-known sodas? Do you find the comforting and familiar to be generally repugnant? Do you need a new soda Right Now, and would prefer to drink it accompanied by the Van Halen song of the same name?

Well, you're in luck! Or at least, you would have been had you expressed these concerns somewhere between 1992 and 1993.

In 1992, Pepsi executives sat down and thought, "Sure, our product is delicious and thirst-quenching...but is it pure?" You may have thought they had learned a key and important lesson in not-tampering-with-a-successful-formula from the 1985 "New Coke" debacle, but you would be wrong. In an ever-ongoing battle for one-upmanship between Pepsico and the Coca Cola Company, no product launch was too ridiculous.

Thankfully, they had an equally absurd ad campaign to accompany the product. Although Crystal Pepsi was indeed clear in color, it tasted pretty much like original Pepsi. I may be going out on a limb here, but I assume that if it tastes the same, there were not major recipe changes for the beverage outside of altering the color of the syrup. This did not stop our friends over at Pepsi from making the supposed "clarity=purity" concept the major cornerstone of their advertising campaigns. The concept in itself was ridiculous; no one was claiming Sprite or 7UP to be particularly pure in comparison to its darker-syruped soda peers. Regardless of the obvious fallibility of this advertising claim, PepsiCo pushed ahead with quintessential 90s commercials like this:

So, what did you learn? Nothing? What? You mean to tell me that despite all of those definitive statements splashed across my screen, not a single one of them tells us anything at all about the product itself aside from its clear color? Well, at least the music drops some heavy hints on when I can expect to find this beverages in stores. I'll give you a hint: it's not later.

Clearly (sorry, I had to), Pepsi was piggybacking on other marketing trends at the time and aiming to portray a product that was simultaneously familiar and improved. Researchers at the time were uncovering some mildly convincing evidence that people's perception of taste or quality is heavily impacted by its color. However, what the Pepsi R&D people failed to take into account was that people's expectations for taste also change significantly with a color shift. While people were expecting Crystal Pepsi to have a lighter taste and lower caloric content (after all, it's not a huge leap from how they market it in the above ad), their tastebuds were in uproar over the eye-to-brain miscommunication.

While Crystal Pepsi had done well in initial test markets, the actual substance of the product failed to live up to the hype. People tasted the cola and were generally unimpressed from its near indistinguishability from the original. In an effort to counterbalance popular public opinion, PepsiCo released the following commercial:

So, what did they think? They claimed it have a "nice lemony-zing taste!" and a "clear" flavor. None of those things were particularly true about the initial Crystal Pepsi formula, but the folks over at Pepsi were desperate to convince us they were so. Confronted with a backlash from loyal Pepsi drinkers, Pepsi continued backpedaling in an effort to extricate themselves from this sticky (though supposedly "less syrupy!") situation.

Suddenly, it was like the Clinton impeachment hearing of soda marketing as the Pepsi people really took it down to semantics. "What do you mean we called it Crystal Pepsi? It's called Crystal from Pepsi!" That's right. Pepsi realized that their staunch classic soda adherents were in a huff over the fact that they tried to pass off this colorless impostor as their old favorite Pepsi. Why, this wasn't Pepsi at all! It's as if their fanbase got together and put out a statement saying, "We don't care if you make it. We don't even care if people know it's from Pepsi. But for God's sake, we can't have people thinking this is Pepsi! Blasphemy!"

And so it was:

At least this ad shows the corporation is able to poke some fun at itself. Pepsi recognized how ridiculous the addition of this meaningless preposition was to the name of their product. They also knew it was absurd that they were forced to add a citrus flavor based on people's perceptions of how a clear soda should taste.

After all of that, I think we can all agree: no more messing with the original. Is that clear?


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