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13 Unhealthy Things Your Parents Used to Put in Your Lunchbag

It’s OK to feel nostalgic about fruit snacks and cereal made from fructose corn syrup—as long as you no longer eat them!

Childhood was a beautiful time of carefree living, Saturday morning cartoons, and of course, the most nostalgic-inducing foods you could imagine. But while it's OK to look back on those deliciously sugary foods and drinks from your youth, what's not OK is eating them today as an adult. Sorry to break it to you, but there is plenty of unhealthy childhood food out there you need to avoid at all costs!

Sure, you can look fondly at a cereal box of Cookie Crisp or release a single teardrop as you stare at a picture of Lunchables online. But please, leave it at that. We know better now and while most of that processed junk from when we were kids is still made today, it's best to leave it in the past. Your heart (and your arteries!) will thank you.

Here are 13 of the unhealthiest foods from your childhood you should never eat today.

Kid Cuisine—All American Fried Chicken

kid cuisine all american fried chicken

Per 1 meal: 530 calories (22 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 800 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (4 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 28 g protein

Just… stay away. Of course, now that you're an adult, we don't expect you to dive into a tray of Kid Cuisine but honestly, you never know.

One serving of Kid Cuisine All American Fried Chicken has 530 calories per serving. But calories aren't the only reason this makes our list of unhealthiest childhood foods—it's also super salty (with over 35 percent of the daily recommended max of sodium) and contains 2.5 teaspoons of added sugar. Big yuck!

Fruit by the Foot

fruit by the foot

Per 1 serving: 80 calories (1 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 17 g carbs (0 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 0 g protein

Looking back on Fruit by the Foot with some fond memories? You know, like pretending the tie-dye fruit leather was your tongue? Well, leave that memory behind because trust us, you don't want an FBF in the present day.

Why not? Well, riddle me this: What is a Fruit by the Foot? According to its nutritional facts, it's not much more than added sugars, maltodextrin (a carbohydrate additive), corn syrup, palm oil, and fruit puree concentrates. Look closely on the box and you'll also find a variety of acids, xanthan gums (more than one), and carrageenan—an additive that can cause food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance, and colon cancer.

Reese's Puff Cereal

reeses puffs

Per 1 serving: 120 calories, (3 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat), 160 mg sodium, 22 g carbs (1 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 22 g carbohydrates), 2 g protein

Remember these commercials? "It's Reese's for breakfast!" They were iconic. But those ingredients and that nutritional value (aka nothing)? Not so much.

Here's what you're getting when you spin in a rush of peanut butter and chocolate taste: whole grain corn, added sugars, more added sugar, monoglycerides, salt, molasses, corn starch, cornmeal, corn syrup, and more yucky preservatives. So, need a PB pick-me-up? Opt for the good, real stuff instead.

Capri Sun—Fruit Punch

caprisun fruit punch

Per 1 pouch: 80 calories, (0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat), 25 mg sodium, 21 g total carbs (0 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 0 g protein

That's a lot of zeros, right? Wrong. Well, yes, there are 0 grams of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and protein, but a zero does not exactly compute to "healthy."

Now, we'll certainly give credit where credit is due. Capri Sun now makes Roarin' Waters (supposedly made from all-natural ingredients) and even has an organic line. But their original Capri Sun Fruit Punch? It's just filtered water, sugar, pear concentrate, grape concentrate, citric acid, orange, apple, and pineapple juice concentrates, and something ambiguous called "natural flavor."

You're better off sticking to your juicer. At least you know it's fresh!

Cookie Crisp Cereal

cookie crisp

Per 1 serving: 140 calories, (1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 2g protein

It's CoOooooOooookie Crisp! I'll tell ya, cereal commercials just aren't what they used to be. But while Cookie Crisp Cereal may deserve an A+ for their television marketing, their ingredients and nutritional value get a C+ at best.

One cup of cereal has 140 calories and 150 milligrams of sodium—not to mention 12 grams of sugar, 2.5 teaspoons of which is added. This isn't a bowl of cookies; this is a bowl of corn syrup, added sugars, salt, and caramel-colored food dye. No thanks!

Gushers—Tropical Flavors

gushers tropical

Per 1 pouch: 80 calories, (1 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat), 45 mg sodium, 18 g carbs (0 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 0 g protein

Above is the nutritional value for Fruit Gushers in tropical flavors. Or should we call it Sugar Gushers? With 12 grams of added sugar, these "fruit snacks"—if you can even morally call it that, as there is no fruit involved at all—are made from pears from concentrate, sugar, dried corn syrup, (regular) corn syrup, modified corn starch, and a whole bunch of other oils, acids, and concentrates. Then you've got your xanthan gum and food coloring (dyes Blue 1 and yellows 5 and 6).

In the words of Randy Jackson, that's going to be a no from me, dawg.

Go-Gurt—Cotton Candy

go-gurt cotton candy

Per 1 tube: 50 calories, (0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat), 25 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (0 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 2 g protein

Nowadays, the nutritional value of Go-Gurt—you know, the yogurt in a tube you can drink on the go—isn't that terrible. There's a decent amount of calcium and the fructose corn syrup has been reduced since it first came on the market in 1998.

But when we were kids, the cotton candy-flavored Go-Gurt reigned supreme and in true nutritional fashion, because it tasted good, it was, therefore, the worst one out there. Even though the Go-Gurt of today isn't exactly the Go-Gurt of the 90s or early 2000s, we're still going to say: Hard pass! Why? All of the sugars are added, it contains carrageenan, and is highly processed.

Your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!

Cosmic Brownies With Chocolate Chip Candies

cosmic brownies

Per 1 serving: 270 calories, (11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 41 g carbs (1 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 2 g protein

Little Debbie is no stranger to making snack foods that kids love. But by the time we're adults? Hopefully, you are now wary of whatever the heck this "brownie" is made out of. (Not to mention the little tiny pieces of mysterious candy it also contains.)

What makes the Cosmic Brownies so particularly egregious is that brownie is 270 calories, contains 23 sugars (all of which are added), and contains 29 percent of the average person's daily value of saturated fat. Yummy and fudgy? Sure. But for what—a heart attack? So not worth it.

Toaster Strudel—Cream Cheese and Strawberry

toaster strudel strawberry cream cheese

Per 1 pastry with icing: 190 calories, (8 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (0 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 3 g protein

If you woke up every morning and requested Cream Cheese and Strawberry Toaster Strudel for breakfast, then we are the same. This tasty pastry somehow was marketed as a breakfast food, despite the presence of absolutely no fruit, no vegetables, and essentially no nutritional value to boot.

Gretchen Weiners would not approve.

Here's a list of all the ingredients that make Toaster Strudel a big, fat no-no: 2.5 teaspoons of added sugar per serving, controversial artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, TBHQ—a controversial additive derived from petroleum that can cause nausea, delirium, and ringing of the ears—fully hydrogenated oils, a lack of whole grains, and it's highly processed.

Moral of the story? They should have fed Regina George Toaster Strudel in Mean Girls. She would have gained weight a lot faster…

Fruit Roll-Ups

fruit roll-ups strawberry

Per 1 serving: 50 calories, (1 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat), 50 mg sodium, 11 g carbs (0 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 0 g protein

Most Fruit Roll-Ups are created equal(ly terribly) but above is the nutritional value for the ever-popular strawberry flavor. When you roll the Fruit Roll-Up around your pointer finger and take a big bit, here's a little taste of what you're getting: corn syrup, dried corn syrup, 7 grams of added sugar, pear puree concentrate, palm oil, and Red 40, Yellows 5 and 6, and Blue 1 food dyes.

Um… Yum?

Arizona Nachos Cheese Snack Tray

arizona nacho dip
Courtesy of Arizona
Per 1 serving: 190 calories, 80 calories from fat (9 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat), 490 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 3 g protein

No, Arizona wasn't just known for its sugary iced teas back when you were in elementary school. They also made (and still make to this day) a Nachos 'n' Cheese Snack Tray and even fruit snacks (also bad for you).

With 490 milligrams of sodium in just 30 chips, you're basically overdosing on salt. It's like you're dipping the chips in pure salt, rather than nacho cheese or salsa.

Lunchables—Ham and Cheddar Cracker Stackers

lunchables ham cheddar

Per 1 serving: 350 calories (17 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat), 660 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (1 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 11 g protein

Sure, you might be getting 11 grams of protein but ham is a deeply processed deli meat, which you definitely shouldn't eat if cancer runs in your family. Those 11 grams of protein are dismissed by not only the cancer risk but also the calories you get in one serving, along with the 660 milligrams of sodium, 6.5 grams of added sugars, and the trans fat that is present, too. Big yikes all around.

You might just pass out from diabetic shock looking at this Lunchable. Keep the grocery cart moving.

Dunkaroos—Vanilla Cookies With Vanilla Frosting and Rainbow Sprinkles


Per 1 serving: 190 calories (8 g fat, 4 g saturated fat), 95 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (0 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 1 g protein

Can you believe that cookies dipped in frosting were once thought of as an appropriate lunchtime treat or snack? *Slaps forehead repeatedly.*

These dunkers may be delicious and may taste like 1995, but you're going to want to pass on these. Dunkaroos are full of added sugars, are highly processed, and have way too many calories and milligrams of sodium for how tiny each serving is.

Stephanie Osmanski
Stephanie Osmanski is a freelance sustainability, health, and wellness writer. Read more about Stephanie