The after-school snack is the most important meal of your social life—friends go where the snacks are, after all, leaving memories and crumbs to be ground into the carpets and cushions of our lives. The afternoon snack is the pillar of the adolescent weekday, a tall and steady totem of three o’clock refueling for the wobbling soldiers of sixth-period math. Since the selection of a designated after-school chill spot corresponds directly to whose house has the most appealing pantry selection, it is crucial that we study and learn the relative merits of the most common snack foods out there today.
It is in this spirit that I present to you these 14 staples that no good pantry can do without. Ignore them and risk social tragedy!
What is it about the combination of processed grain-product and sugar, soaked in milk, that soothes us and makes us want to pound multiple bowls? Cereal is the ultimate snack food, mostly because it is appropriate at all times of the day, from normal morning until It’s already 5 AM? morning. Our cereal reviews are a good entry point to cereal culture, but true cereal-discovery bliss is opening a friend’s cupboard to find rows of Technicolor boxes containing the likes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Trix, Honey Nut Cheerios, Chex, and Lucky Charms. Sugar cereal was banned in my house, so trips to my buddies’ houses were crucial—without those excavations I wouldn’t be the proud sweet tooth I am today.
2. Costco 86-Pack Individually Wrapped Snacks
Costco families take the after-school snack seriously. Why else would you need 14-pound tubs of Twizzlers, triple-jumbo bags of Doritos, and screw-top buckets of chocolate-covered nuts? These kinds of quantities suggest apocalypse prep, but they’re just enough to accommodate an afternoon stampede of hangry youths. Some items may be more thrilling than others—individual cups of applesauce are fine, but 50 small bags of Cheetos = the snack dream fully realized.
3. Candy Disguised as Fruit Snacks
The difference between fruit snacks and gummy candy is in name only. We have marketing to thank for keeping Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups, and squishy fruit-shaped globules in the snack zone. Real candy is often prohibited until dessert time, but when the package says a product contains two to three servings of real fruit from a plant, there’s room to negotiate with the parentals.
4. Candy Disguised as Trail Mix
Rustic! Hiking! People who walk around in nature eat this mix of granola and candy, so we will overlook the fact that it is really just a decomposed chocolate-and-nut candy bar mixed into some grains, and categorize it as food for children. As a still-school-age person who enjoys walking around in nature, I’m not complaining.
5. Candy Disguised as Granola Bars
These are sad excuses for sweet treats. Listen, Kudos and Chewy Bars: Sandwiching a thick slab of chocolate and mini M&M’s between two layers of puffed oats or rice isn’t going to make that center stripe any less the candy than it actually is. Figure out who you are and then get back to me.
6. Candy Disguised as Nothing, Allowed to Be Itself
Adults who put out communal snack bowls of M&M’s are key-holders to the golden kingdom. One of my aunts does this, and when my extended family gets together, guess whose house I choose to stay at? Her heaping bowls of bonbons may be a trap to see who the greediest guests are, but I’m not interested in conspiracies—I’m interested in CANDY. It’s also great when parents really don’t give a rip and just go all c’est la vie and carpe diem on this business by keeping their cupboard stocked with straight-up full-size candy bars. I salute you, carefree spoilers of supper!
7. One Part Vegetable, Five Parts Ranch
Here’s the one vegetable-based option everyone can agree on. Mom and Dad are happy because you’re consuming something that comes from nature and might supply a vitamin or two, but you win because celery is nothing more than a slightly more respectable vehicle for dip than a spoon. We know this—even Mom and Dad know this—but no one seems to mind. Could this be the peacemaker of after-school snacks?
8. Chocolate Milk
Most people seem to outgrow their taste for plain milk drunk straight from a glass, but almost anyone is down to drink the chocolate kind. Some families use Hershey’s syrup and others prefer Nesquik, but the best houses have Ovaltine, that sweet malted-chocolate powder. It’s like a 1950s American diner in a glass, and in a pinch it can fill the milkshake hole in your life. Bonus points if your friend’s house has plastic straws—everyone knows chocolate milk tastes better that way.
9. Frozen Pizza Items, Miniature Variety
This is an incredibly nuanced field of snack. Practically anything that involves dough, cheese, and a tomato-based substance can be considered pizza flavored, so there are a vast array of options: Pizza rolls, Bagel Bites, and Hot Pockets all qualify. Your after-school pizza craving can be taken care of in a matter of minutes! These are foodstuffs in a category all their own, separate from Pizza World, but close enough to be neighbors.
10. Processed Vegetable Products
Some of these are acquired tastes, but nori sheets, root-veggie chips, dehydrated snap peas, and green-bean crisps can do wonders to maintain/enhance a salty addiction. You’ll usually find these in the homes of hippie or gourmand parents. I especially love sweet-potato chips—they sound healthier than regular chips/crisps, so I can eat all of them. Honorable mention goes to nori sheets—they’re salty and thin and crackly, so if you’re into sushi or tasting the salty breeze of the ocean on your lips, it’s the best snack of all time.
It would be a crime to neglect this classic. The combination of soft white bread, smooth peanut butter, and fruit jelly has earned OG status in the realm of comfort foods, but the variations are fun too, and an exciting snack house is one that offers multiple spreadable options. When I’m craving texture, for example, I use chunky peanut butter instead of smooth, a whole-grain, hippie-ish variety of bread, and raspberry preserves with all the seeds. As your tastes develop, I encourage you to experiment—try raw almond butter or Nutella, apple butter or marmalades. Step it up times two with some HEAT—toast the assembled sandwich on a panini press or in a grill pan, and eat it with your pinky out ’cause you’re a classy sandwich eater.
12. Fancy Fruit Beverages
Just like fruit snacks get a pass as candy, so do fruit drinks dressed up like soda. Those 24-packs of what is basically sugar water were a special bulk-bought concession in my no-junk-food home, and I drank a lot of Orangina, Izze, and Juice Squirt. When you’re a kid, fizzy juices in glass bottles make you feel very fancy. My San Pellegrino Limonata phase was exciting for me, but my friends found the drink too tart. I didn’t concede defeat, though: I took this as an opportunity to demand that my mother supply our house with options. “Don’t you care about my social life?!?!?” was as effective an argument as I needed.
13. Homemade Cookies (Bonus: Leftover Dough)
Absolute game changer. Cookies will bring kids from a mile away to the yard, where they will press their noses to your kitchen window, peering inside with begging eyes. The fresh-from-the-oven gooeyness is a treat in itself, but leaving some of the dough around in the fridge to be eaten with a spoon is NEXT-LEVEL SNACKING.
14. Small Animal-Shaped Bites
14. Small Animal-Shaped Bites
Small things baked in the shapes of animals are incredibly delicious, even for vegetarians. Animal crackers, Goldfish crackers, Trader Joe’s Cats Cookies, Hello Panda, Teddy Grahams, and the like are standard in any snack cabinet. They are consistently under about 1″ wide—perfect snack size—and have cute little faces that stare up at you as you crush them with your teeth. Dang, cuteness is delicious! ♦