From Our Readers
September 05, 2014 2:39 pm

The first time I heard Meg Ryan recite this line in You’ve Got Mail, 9-year-old me found in her character, Kathleen Kelly, a kindred spirit. An out and proud nerd since birth, I’ve always enjoyed school, and, gasp, not for the social aspect of it; I legitimately loved (and still love) to learn.

I realize that this was and still remains an unpopular opinion amongst my peers. To many, school was seven periods of torture with recess thrown in to ease the pain, which made the advent of September feel more like the countdown to nine months of educational incarceration than something to look forward to.

Maybe it’s because I’m in denial about the fact that my school years are far behind me, but come this time every year, I increasingly start to feel nostalgic for those end-of-August days filled with back to school shopping. Searching the aisles of Kmart for coordinating Lisa Frank notebooks and folders, finally convincing my mom to splurge on a red L.L. Bean Deluxe Book Pack with my name embroidered in bright white, gathering my collection of fresh Bic pens and mechanical pencils: it all feels like a lost memory that I’ll never again replicate.

And while I may never buy another TI-83 (heaven help me) to remind me of my school days, there are always ever-powerful flavor and olfactory memories to bring me back to the times of long division and spelling bees.  My mid-20s might be too late in life to dig into a Handi-Snack for lunch, but luckily it seems I’m not the only one craving my favorite cafeteria treats this time of year.

Below are five of your favorite school lunch treats re-imagined into make-at-home recipes (and this time, you don’t need your mom’s permission to indulge first).  Now all you need is a Mondo to wash it all down!

1.  Fruit by the Foot

Mom always said not to play with your food, but when it’s a footlong strip of fruity leather, how can you resist not draping it around your neck like a tie, dangling pieces from your mouth like a hissing snake, or owning the game by shoving the entire thing in your mouth at once?

2.  Dunkaroos

The only thing better than dunking sugary little marsupials into rainbow icing was finishing off the extra frosting with your fingers. The only thing worse than realizing you haven’t had a Dunkaroo in ages is realizing that the folks at Betty Crocker discontinued them. Luckily, that’s nothing a few animal crackers and this recipe can’t fix.

3.  Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies

I’ve been a ride-or-die Little Debbie groupie since the time I first began hauling a lunch to school, and the Swiss Cake Rolls were my jam. They tasted best smashed, the weight of my textbooks crushing them on the bus ride to school and melding the cream, cake, and chocolate into one hideous, delicious mess. The only time I recall not eating them alongside my PB&J was the day one of my classmates stole the two pack out of my book bag; I have a very clear vision of my third grade self weeping into my brown bag lunch when I realized the theft. But my girl Deb was more than a one-hit wonder: Zebra Cakes, Cosmic Brownies, and Nutty Bars were just as common amongst the other lunch tables. Leave it to Melissa Clark, NY Times food columnist, to upgrade yet another snack cake classic, the Oatmeal Creme Pie, into a homemade version. Cue the happy tears.

4.  Kudos (a vegan version!)

Brought to you by the same great folks that make Snickers, Skittles, and Twix, Kudos were candy bars marketed under the guise of the healthier “granola bar.”  They were swathed in peanut butter and dotted with M&Ms and drizzled in chocolate, but they also contained puffed rice and oats so our parents bought them for us anyway. And it was awesome. Lindsey S. Love over at Dolly and Oatmeal came up with this vegan, protein- and fiber-filled version that appeases both my childlike tastes and my adult health sensibilities, and it is lovely.

5.  Cheez-Its

These salty snacks tasted best when eaten by the ravenous handful out of their signature red bags, but I’ll admit that this updated version is worlds better than any grade school binge I can recall. Flaky and buttery and best eaten warm, these faux Cheez-Its sing of real cheddar and childhood all at once, and what a beautiful tune it is.

Cassie Sciortino is a pastry chef in NYC whose job both pays the rent and justifies her personal tagline of No Donut Left Behind. A cardiac surgeon’s dream, she spends her downtime eating her feelings, writing all about it at www.aninfinitevariety.com, and answering the question “What’s wrong?” with “This is just my face” at least three times a week. She likes you too much to suggest you follow her on Twitter.

Featured image via; all other images via recipe links.

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