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Created as a way to sell more bologna, Oscar Mayer's Lunchables has become an essential, no-fuss meal for busy parents, hungry kids, stoned college students and apocalyptic-fearing survivalists for the past 30 years.

Some people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated while others can recall their whereabouts when Neil Armstrong took his stroll on the surface of the moon.

Me? My touchstone moment occurred nearly 30 years ago, when I pestered my mom into purchasing Lunchables -- a just-introduced compartmentalized meal marketed to kids by Oscar Mayer -- at a grocery store's refrigerated aisle.

Packaged in colorful, disposable boxes that mimic the look of TV dinners, Lunchables have become a go-to meal option for busy parents, non-discriminating children, stoned college students and apocalyptic-fearing survivalists since the tail-end of the Reagan administration.

Initially conceived as a way to sell more bologna and other lunch meats, Oscar Mayer's Bob Drane, Tim Bailey and Jeff James met with working moms who were pressed with time constraints in the morning.

What better way to make sure Junior had something to eat than shoving a convenient, prepackaged lunch into his backpack, right?

Originally consisting of small pieces of meats and cheeses, Lunchables were accompanied by a sleeve of crackers, which could last longer inside of grocery coolers than sliced bread.

Although the meat-cheese-and-cracker combo remains the top seller, there are actually 26 different varieties of Lunchables.

Just how big is the market for kid-friendly foods? Lunchables currently has an 84 percent share of the market for kids "combination lunches." In 2017, Kraft Heinz -- corporate owner of Oscar Mayer -- sold around $1.36 billion of the stackable schoolyard staple.

Which is a pretty impressive for an on-the-go meal that's been derided as nutritional nightmare by dietitians over the years.

This is simply blasphemy for Weekender taste testers, who still enjoy a candy bar for dessert and a well-chosen juice pouch for a beverage despite being (several) decades outside of Lunchables desired demographic.

As a way to say Happy 30th Birthday -- and, perhaps, good riddance to our arrested adolescence -- we've sampled some of more popular Lunchables offerings.

Are they as good as we remember? Or were they ever good to begin with? Damn you, lax marijuana policies on liberal arts college campuses! Here are our findings.


WHAT'S INSIDE: Pepperoni pieces, slices of American cheese and pretzel sticks in which you can turn your meal into a shish-kabob of fun. 

WHAT'S EXTRA: The meal comes with a fun-sized Hershey's bar and a Kool-Aid Jammer Tropical Punch juice pouch.

WHAT WE LIKED OR DIDN'T LIKE: In principle, we like stabbing things. It is always fun using a straw to stab a juice pouch or using pretzel sticks as weapons of mass destruction. However, the accompanying pepperoni slices were too thick for the much-too-delicate pretzel pieces. 

LUNCHABLE OR SKIPPABLE: Sorry, Pizza Kabobbles. Your design flaw overwhelmed your cool name.


WHAT'S INSIDE: A freakishly large amount of food, we'd say. This is a meal that must be meant for an adult or, perhaps, a smart kid who aspires to be the next Gordon Ramsey. It comes with a deep dish pizza crust, meat, a cheese blend and a packet of sauce for optimal slathering. Plus it has instruction for you to nuke it.

WHAT'S EXTRA: Snack crackers, a fruit roll-up, a container of spring water plus a Kool-Aid powder mix for some extra DIY points.

WHAT WE LIKED OR DIDN'T LIKE: While we applaud Oscar Mayer's generosity with this offering, Lunchables Uploaded is more food kit than a ready-to-go meal. How did it taste? Surprisingly, the pizza wasn't that bad.

LUNCHABLE OR SKIPPABLE: A mixed bag. Adults or teenagers will dig it more than the kids.


WHAT'S INSIDE: We sampled the Italian Style Chicken, which consisted of breaded chicken nuggets, marinara and mozzarella as well as the Mexican Chicken Taco, which came with breaded chicken poppers, shredded cheddar and mini flour tortillas. 

WHAT'S EXTRA: The Italian Lunchable comes with cute red, white and green chocolate candies while the Mexican Lunchable came with round, churro-like cookies. Neither came with an accompanying beverage.

WHAT WE LIKED OR DIDN'T LIKE: What we really liked was the concept. The food? Eh ... a bit underwhelming. For taste testing purposes, we sampled all four Lunchables at the same time. This meant we could mix and match a bit.  For instance, the Italian marinara was awesome on the chicken nugget but, surprisingly, we also dipped our ersatz Italian M&Ms in the sauce. Sounds weird, tastes great! In addition, by splashing a bit of the Kool-Aid-spring water combo -- from the Uploaded Deep Dish Pizza Lunchable -- gave a punch of flavor to our chicken taco.

LUNCHABLE OR SKIPPABLE: Lunchable ... with an asterisk. Good concept that is worth another try.   

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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