A childhood diet of artisanal free-range small-batch local food hand-cultivated by well-paid elves is obviously better. In fact, recent studies have documented a direct link between such eating habits and Harvard early admission. We all understand that this is fact.
That said, I wouldn’t want my kids to miss out on some of my fondest childhood memories. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, when Red Dye No. 7 and MSG were FDA-approved vegetables, certain grocery store items were more than just foods—they were movements, pop cultural moments. If you didn’t eat them, you were missing out on an experience.
Here are the 10 junk foods I’ll happily give my kids, because I wouldn’t want them to be deprived of the simple pleasures: ripping open a package, catching that first whiff of synthetic edible by-product, and knowing what it’s like to partake of a true American tradition.
1. Kellogg’s Cereal Combo Pack. Because sibling fisticuffs over the last box of Cap’n Crunch is a rite of passage. And you can pour the milk right into the box!
2. Double Stuf Oreos. Because I am pro-choice and believe every child deserves the right to decide which is best: eating it whole or prying it apart and scraping out the filling with your top front teeth.
3. Pringles. Two words: hyperbolic paraboloid. Pringles are so special, they can’t be contained by a word as pedestrian as “chip” or “crisp.” They’re just…Pringles.
4. Tater Tots. While we’re on the topic of the tuber formerly known as a potato, Ore-Ida Tater Tots are the pinnacle of salty, greasy, textured, crunchy and squishy goodness. Their only flaw is that they take so long in the toaster oven to achieve the perfect golden hue.
5. Pop Rocks and Fun Dip. Every child should worry that their stomach might explode. Or that their teeth will fall out. But seriously now, there is something slightly scary and dangerous and just plain gum-tingly about these classics. Every kid should try them.
6. Candy cigarettes. Look, every child I know is a walking, talking anti-smoking campaign. They’re taught from an early age how hideous smoking is, and they’ll publicly shame anyone stupid enough to light up in front of them. There is little risk of a pretend smoke motivating a 9-year-old to bum a butt anytime soon. So why not let them enjoy the thrill of fake adulthood and play-maturity? Plus exhaling that sugar “smoke” is seriously cool.
7. Twinkies. There’s a bakery in my neighborhood that sells homemade Twinkies (they can’t call them that, of course—I think they call them “cream filled mini cakes” or something lame like that). They’re high-end and delicious, but they lack the appeal of knowing you have earned and received a reward for getting a smiley face on a spelling test or managing not to piss off your dad when he’s had a rough day at work. The achievement is half the fun. The plastic sleeve, oily cake and lard-like filling are the other half.
8. Bazooka and Hubba Bubba. What other sugary treat tastes so good and induces lockjaw? A sore mandible is a point of pride, like a war injury or a torn ligament earned by sliding into home plate.
9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Because I would feel remiss if my children didn’t know how to respond when I say, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.” Also: peanut butter is protein.
10. Cheetos. Hot summer nights with no air conditioning. Breezy beach afternoons with sand stuck in your knee pits. Orange finger dust that can only be removed by a long soak in a hot tub. Need I say more?