Fascism is on the rise. Our rights are being stripped from us as we speak. And compounding environmental crises seem to be worsening every year. So, now seems to be the perfect time to retreat to the comforts of childhood with a nice plastic-encased snack and a fatty Capri Sun.
There’s nothing particularly delicious about Lunchables—if you had the same food in pretty much any other form, you’d likely be unimpressed, to say the least. But something about the nostalgia of these essential childhood lunches still does it for me. The soft, flimsy pizza crust (which should absolutely not be heated under any circumstances), the watery chicken nuggets, the flavorless cheese squares… how can they not make you smile?
Lunchables were a treat in my house. Looking back, they weren’t as good as the lunches my mom made for us, and they were almost definitely more expensive. But a Lunchables day was always something to celebrate. I’m seeing if the Kidz Bop version of charcuterie still hits the same after all these years: Here are the best Lunchables, ranked.
Was there anything more disappointing than seeing Lunchables packaging only to realize that you were now forced to down the Nachos, Cheese Dip, and Salsa variety? It seems like the chips were always stale, and the salsa was always excessively watery. The cheese sauce is okay, but the lunch as a whole now just seems really insubstantial. You’re just going to stuff a kid with a bunch of chips and call it lunch? I’ll have to pass.
The Ham and American Cracker Stackers are… fine. The best part is probably the salty, buttery crackers that provide the structure for the rest of the meal. Or, actually, scratch that—it’s really just the chocolate chip cookie. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s that the cheese is really, really not good. I would never have turned down a ham and cheese Lunchables, but I never went out of my way to ask my mom for one either.
I think most of us can agree that pizza Lunchables are superior. It somehow seems like more food, and something about being able to customize your pizza is fun. That being said, the least delicious of the pizza Lunchables is the Extra Cheesy Pizza. There’s just no reason to use that much unmelted cheese. And I’m sorry, but the Airheads for dessert?! The cookies will always, always be better.
It’s not always easy to find the Mini Hot Dogs Lunchables, but if you can get your hands on them, they’re worth a try. As you’d probably expect, it’s nothing that wild: Just a hot dogs, buns, ketchup and mustard. They taste fine. But it’s the size that earns this Lunchables its place in the ranking. If the food isn’t going to taste fantastic, it should at least have the decency to be cute, and on that front, the mini hot dogs deliver.
Where the cheese pizza Lunchables are just okay, the Pizza with Pepperoni Lunchables are clearly superior. Think about it: It’s just the cheese pizza with the addition of pepperoni. And do you really need that much cheese anyway? Admittedly, it’s probably not the freshest pepperoni you’ve ever had, but it gets the job done—and doesn’t leave pepperoni oil on your toddler’s fingers.
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. How does the Turkey and Cheddar with Crackers Lunchables rank so far above the ham and cheese option? It mostly comes down to the turkey. There’s something about the texture of the turkey you’ll find in these Lunchables that’s just so, so appealing—they kind of remind me of bo vien. The cheddar is also slightly better than the American cheese, though it’s not any cause for celebration either. You’ll also miss out on a drink when you choose this option, but I appreciate the option to customize my beverage experience.
Yes, it is true that you’re only going to get the cheese pizza here, which clearly isn’t ideal. But sacrificing the pepperoni is worth it when you get to make your very own “treatza,” which is probably the most obnoxious name they could’ve chosen. Name aside, smearing chocolate sauce on a pizza crust and sprinkling it with chocolate candies awakens something primitive within; our sugar-starved ancestors would’ve started wars over this thing. It’s definitely the best of all the Lunchables desserts.
Finally, we get to the holy grail of Lunchables: the Chicken Pizza. Instead of pepperoni, diners are instead presented with chicken nuggets. As if you couldn’t put two and two together, the front of the packaging shows you that you actually are, in fact, supposed to put the nuggets on top of the pizza. The fact that I loved this version of Lunchables so much as a kid probably should have foreshadowed my chronic cannabis use in college, but I digress. Despite what it may look like, you certainly don’t have to be high to enjoy this delightful combo of soft-textured, mildly flavored processed foods. Say what you want, but Chicken Pizza Lunchables truly represent the best of the American Experiment.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.