Looking back on the ’80s, it’s easy to ask ourselves “What were we thinking?” Big hair, brightly-colored clothes, New Wave… It was really a decade unlike any other before or since. It was also a really fun time to be a kid, and if you grew up during the decade, we bet you remember all of these foods.
Big League Chew was invented by a professional pitcher as a healthier alternative to chewing tobacco, and once it hit the market in 1980, with its unique pouch and cartoony design, it took off like wildfire, especially among Little Leaguers.
On the subject of cool pouches, Capri Sun was introduced a year later in 1981 and became one of the decade’s quintessential beverages. Having one of these in your lunchbox officially made you a cool kid — if you could get the straw in. It’s since been reformulated to have fewer ingredients.
A product tie-in with one of the finest ’80s cartoons, The Real Ghostbusters, Hi-C’s Ecto Cooler first hit the shelves in 1987, but it was actually a repackaging of a drink called Citrus Cooler, which had been around since 1965. Regardless, the new branding made it one of the decade’s most successful tie-ins, and it stuck around long after the show’s 1991 cancellation. It briefly returned from May to December of last year, but was sadly almost impossible to track down.
An offshoot of Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit Wrinkles were little fruit snacks that vaguely resembled wrinkled up fruit. These were released in 1986 and sadly didn’t stick around for too long.
The Gold Standard of convenience store snacks during the 1980s, these fried hand pies were filled with vanilla or chocolate pudding (some were even chocolate covered), and if you were an ’80s kid lucky enough to experience these, we bet you can still conjure the scent and flavor in your brain to this day. They were much larger than they had any right to be, and even though Hostess still makes a smaller version, they’re just not as good as they used to be. The Pudding Pie reached its zenith in 1990 with a tie-in, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pie. These pies had a green glazed pie crust and “Vanilla Puddin’ Power!” on the inside, and they were outstanding.
Launched in 1979 as a competitor for Bubblicious, and it was originally only available in the same blocky shape, called “chunks.” It was discontinued in the early ‘90s, but made a dramatic comeback in 2004.
Popularized by commercials starring (the then still-wholesome) Bill Cosby, Jell-O Pudding Pops first hit supermarket freezers in 1979 and racked up $100 million in sales in the first year alone. They found their way into millions of homes’ freezers, and in 1985 sales topped $300 million. After a couple of acquisitions in the 1990s and 2000s, however, the formula was changed by then-owner Popsicle, and by 2011 they were gone for good.
Introduced by Stouffer’s in 1981 as a healthier alternative to their frozen dinners, all Lean Cuisine meals contained less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 300 calories, 480 milligrams of sodium, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol. They were perfect encapsulations of the ’80s “low-fat” mindset: Even if a product was full of unpronounceable ingredients, it was “healthy” as long as it was low in fat. Lean Cuisine is still popular today, but it still can’t quite shake its ’80s associations.
Introduced by Post in 1983, these two Smurfs tie-in cereals were heavily advertised during that other ’80s childhood staple, Saturday morning cartoons.
Produced by General Mills from the mid-1980s until 2001, Squeezit was another lunchtime drink worth bragging about. Sold in plastic bottles that you had to squeeze in order to drink out of, these came in cherry, berry, grape, strawberry, fruit punch, green punch, orange, and tropical punch flavors. But we all realize at this point that they were just sugar water.
Tomatoes had been dried in the sun and packed in olive oil for centuries in Italy, but these didn’t make their way to the States until the 1980s, when they caught on like wildfire. Sundried tomatoes made their way into pastas, salads, main courses, and perhaps least wisely, sandwiches (the leathery texture didn’t exactly make them easy to bite through). Their intense flavor tended to overwhelm anything they came in contact with, though, and thankfully they’re no longer exactly in vogue.
The first Sunkist fruit snacks hit the market in 1987, in the shape of little pellets called Fun Fruits. They came in cherry, orange, grape, and strawberry flavors, and by 1988 they’d already expanded to dinosaur shapes.
Tato Skins, which are similar to Pringles but thicker (and darker on one side to mimic actual potato skins) were released in 1897 and actually have a pretty interesting history. They’ve been made by the same company (Wabash Foods) since their inception, but you probably remember them being sold as a Keebler product. They changed hands to Poore Brothers in the 1990s, and you can still buy them either in their own packaging or as a part of the TGI Friday’s snack line; they’re exactly the same thing.
The fro-yo craze came back with a vengeance in the mid-2000s, but it first took off in 1981, when Frank Hickingbotham opened the first TCBY location in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was an immediate hit, and it seemed as if every teenager found themselves going out for some TCBY way more often than planned throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s. Its popularity is waning these days under the ownership of Mrs. Fields; in 2001 there were 1,777 locations nationwide, and today there are fewer than 400. Fun fact: TCBY, of course, stands for “The Country’s Best Yogurt,” but from its founding until 1984 it actually stood for “This Can’t Be Yogurt”; an older competitor called I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! successfully sued because of the similarity between the two names.
No barbecue was complete in the ’80s without some tri-color (or tricolore) pasta salad, usually nothing more than tri-color spiral pasta, bottled Italian dressing, canned black olives, maybe some mozzarella balls, and (of course) chopped sundried tomatoes. And you know what? It’s still pretty good.