Our economy is in the shitter.  To fix it, its important that we look at history to determine a best course of action based off of sound decisions made in the past.  In looking back, however, we should not overlook a timeless economy that still thrives in lunch rooms and cafeterias across America today: lunch table bartering.  Whether you were the kid with the awesome packed lunch that wielded limitless trading power due to the quality of your snack foods, or the school lunch kid that was willing to sacrifice entire sections of your lunch for that one badass snack, cafeteria bartering made a nutritional and educational impact on us all.  These aren’t your normal cookies and chips and shit.  These are unique gems found in the lunchboxes of certain kids who pretty much owned the floor come lunch time. In celebration of this time-honored tradition, here are the top snacks whose trading values far outweighed their nutritional values. 

1. Zebra Cakes


Trade Value: Baked goods, sweet snacks, almost anything

Summary: Produced by baking legend Little Debbie, Zebra Cakes are delicious yellow cakes with creme filling covered in white icing and trimmed with fudge stripes. Twin-wrapped eight or 10 to a carton. Also available as a single serving.

Trade Value Summary: I’m going to start by saying that if Little Debbie made an announcement that they were putting crack in Zebra Cakes, no one would be surprised.  It was one of the few baked goods that kids would do unspeakable acts for.  It was a trading juggernaut that still dominates lunch table bartering today.

2. Dunk-A-Roos


Trade Value: Almost any snack of equal or lesser quantity.  Easily tradable for bags of chips, sleeves of cookies, gummy snack packs, cupped snacks (jello, pudding), baked goods, and literally almost any other desert you wanted.

Summary: First launched in 1993, the Dunk-A-Roo was an instant lunchroom hit.  It consisted of a snack-sized box that contained kangaroo-shaped cookies and either chocolate or vanilla frosting used as a dipping sauce. The cookies are meant to be dunked into the frosting before eaten and come in different shapes (biplane, bicycle, hot air balloon and the mascot’s head). Usual frosting flavors include chocolate (with chocolate chip cookies) and vanilla (with cinnamon cookies), and vanilla can also contain rainbow sprinkles. Individual snack packages contain about ten cookies and a cubic inch of frosting.

Trade Value Summary: Dunk-A-Roos were a smash hit.  Everyone wanted them and people would probably still saw someone’s head off with a piece of cardboard to get a package nowadays.  The combinations of cookies and frosting made them a hit.  That you had to dunk the cookies INTO the frosting made them legendary.  The frosting technically took it out of the “solid snack food” realm, which allowed it to be a crossover snack into gelatinous, cupped snacks, a first in modern lunch table trading.

3. Gushers


Trade Value: Gummies, Candy Bars, or a Fruity Snacks of Equal or Lesser Quantity

Summary: The center of each gusher is a thick sweetened liquid made from fruit juice and concentrated pears, and is surrounded by a chewy gelatinous sugar covering. When one bites into the snack, the liquid gushes out, hence the name, Fruit Gushers.

Value Summary: Gushers were one of the premier gummy snacks available at their prime.  Fruit flavored gummies in a pouch, these hexagonal, “juice”-filled wondersnacks were a big commodity amongst lunch table traders, especially when trading with a ziploc bagged-snack. (Pre-packaged snacks were always considered more sanitary and safe than ziploc bagged-snacks.) As we grew older and learned things that the female and male anatomy could do, the name “gushers” became highly inappopriate, only increasing their value.  This combined with the media blitz trying to convince kids your head would swell up into a giant fruit with facial features made them highly desirable. The limited quantities per pack, however, prevented them from being tradable with main courses and snacks of higher quantity. 

4. Ecto Cooler


Trade Value: Any boxed, canned, or pouched drink.  Fruity or gummy candy.  Biggest competitors: Squeeze-Its, Mondo Sport Squeezers

Summary: A product tie-in with the cartoon series “The Real Ghostbusters”, the deal to create the Ecto Cooler was made in 1987.   It was originally supposed to run with the series, but ended up surviving it and then some.

Trade Value Summary: The Ecto Cooler was a rarity in lunch table bartering because it was the first drink that was so badass that you could trade it for solid snacks, making it one of the premier drinks to find in your lunchbox come trading time.  It was able to transcend states of matter, making it the Pamplona of liquid lunch box commodities.

5. Fruit By The Foot


Trade Value: Almost any baked good, any secondary dessert item, gummy-based snacks, fruit-based snacks

Summary: Made by General Mills in the late 80s, it provided 25% of your Vitamin C intake in 80 calories.  It was a three foot by one inch strip that used to have a sticker as the wrapper in those same dimensions, but was soon changed to paper with jokes and shit on them after kids started sticker bombing Fruit By The Foots everywhere.

Trade Value Summary: It was three feet of fun that far outweiged its retarded cousin Fruit Rollups on the trading floor. (C’mon, everyone used to look retarded eating those.  There were basically 4 ways to eat these, and each of them made you look like you should probably have to wear a helmet everyday and you got out of school earlier than everyone else:

  1. Punching out the shapes, eating them, then basically eating a candy frame
  2. Those kids that wrapped them around their thumbs then pretended they were eating their skin off
  3. Balling it up into a gummy ball and eating the whole thing
  4. Chomping and pulling at it rolled up and having your neck snap back when it finally snapped apart

…but I digress) Fruit By The Foot was a gummy market sensation due to its unique design and higher quality than its Fruit Rollup counterpart.

6. Handi-Snacks


Trade Value: Other compartmentalized snacks (i.e. Dunk-A-Roos), salty snacks, cracker based snacks like peanut butter Ritz, cheese-based snacks

Summary:  Handi-Snacks were released by Nabisco back in the 80’s.  Now sold under the Kraft brand, Handi-Snacks consist of two-compartments: one compartment for the crackers and the red spreading stick, and one compartment for the cheese.

Trade Value Summary: Handi-Snacks were basically the equivalent of Dunk-A-Roos for kids that preferred salty or cheese-based snacks.  The cheese was probably Cheez Whiz, but that didn’t stop kids from spreading that shit like buttcheeks and going to town.  They made much needed improvements by making the crackers more stick-like so you could dip the sticks into the cheese.  This innovation upped the trade value significantly, and cheese-based snacking hasn’t been the same since.

7. Shark Bites


Trade Value: Gummies, Candy, Sweet Snacks

Summary: A pouch contained several individual gummy sharks of different colors and flavors.  Each pouch contained 100% of your daily requirement of vitamin C.

Trade Value Summary: Despite the fact that Betty Crocker just couldn’t get rid of the fucking yellow ones, she made a hit with this one.  The infamous “mystery flavor” (I’m guessing it was crack…those shits are delicious) White Shark was definitely the most coveted.  Packages of Shark Bites that had multiple White Sharks in them were a rarity, upping the trade value of the package exponentially.

Guest Post: Will Bond

My buddy Will’s mom made the best lunches known to man, pretty much making him an expert on the subject.  I had to let him weigh in on this, seeing as how he was like the Gordon Gekko of lunch room bartering, everyone was trying to do business with him, and he was taking people to the cleaners.  Although receiving daily oral sex offers from your friends in exchange for your mom’s sandwich would be unnerving to some people, Will handled it with class and dignity for years, then made you trade your entire lunch for half of it.

Below is a list of good tradable lunchbox foods.  they range from legendary snacks that were on the cutting edge of the industry to basic wholesome foods that even Kenny Mckormick could barter for as the coolest snacks out there.  This list is being generated as suggestions to help complete your already skillfully crafted list.

(in no particular order)
Fruit Roll-Ups: 


While this snack wasn’t as flashy as fruit by the foot, it was the premier fruit snack for years before bite sized snacks became all high tech and shit like gushers.
Cooler Ranch Doritos: 


Born from the original “cool ranch”, coolER ranch is the most popular chip of all time which deserves a top ten mention.  when they started putting them in the lunch portioned bags their trade value went up because they were convenient to buy and assured those on the receiving end of a lunchtime trade that said trade wasnt initiated because something unsanitary happened to the chips.
Star Crunch: 


This was the most ballin dessert for a long time.  chewy yet crunchy.  impressive in stature but not overbearing.  just the name makes you feel like you’re in a laser fight.  who wouldn’t trade a bag of chocolate milk and two cookies for a STAR CRUNCH!!!!
Snack Packs: 


Both jello and pudding are historically common tradables.
E L Fudge Cookies: 


Two wholesome crisps adjoined by a nice thick layer of fudge that could only be assembled by hardy tree-dwelling elves.
Chewy Chips Ahoy: 


Always soft and chewy.  anything less than 3 cookies would be a waste of time though.
i feel like this list lacks an exclamation point (with the exception of star crunch) but thats probably because you’ve got dunkaroos and shark bites covered.

also mad respekt to tator tots although they weren’t “lunchbox food”, pizza lunchables specifically, of course my mom’s sandwiches, very fine drinks (although probably only at the schools in our area), and the rice krispee treats from any mormon family.