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Healthy Versions of Old-School Junk-Food Snacks






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Americans love to snack. The market research firm NPD reported that we consumed nearly 386 billion ready-to-eat individual snack foods in 2018. Another marketing survey forecast that the salty snacks market alone in the U.S. will exceed $29 billion in 2022, up from $24 billion in 2017. And while healthier snacks are trending, NPD notes that “indulgent snack foods are also staging a comeback by walking the line between health and enjoyment.”

People tend to remember the snack foods of their youth — or even just the snack foods they ate up until a few years back but have since given up — with nostalgia. They might associate unrestrained consumption of sweet or salty packaged goods with an earlier, carefree time in their lives. And they might have given up certain junk-food snacks out of health concerns.

 

Or maybe they just stopped eating the snacks because they disappeared from the shelves. Food companies will regularly discontinue items if they don’t meet sales goals. Companies sometimes bring back these snacks, however, often with recipes adapted to changing tastes or dietary trends. And frequently, snacks phased out in the U.S. continue to be manufactured and sold in Canada and/or Mexico. After Dunk-a-Roos were pulled from American shelves in 2012, their manufacturer, General Mills, briefly maintained a website called Smugglaroos, through which Canadians could send “contraband” packages of the snack to their U.S. neighbors.

Some of the old-school snacks on this list compiled by 24/7 Wall St. have disappeared from the marketplace and stayed gone; others have left and then come back in altered form; and some have been here all along.

By definition, junk-food snacks aren’t particularly good for us, even when they’ve been reformulated to remove less than salubrious ingredients. But there are often substitutes available that will echo at least some of the flavor and texture of the originals, while being healthier — either because they’re lower in calories, sodium, fat, etc., or because they’re made with organic ingredients and/or without preservatives, trans fats, and other things many snackers these days would prefer to avoid.



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Cheetos Paws

> Alternative: Earth Balance Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs

Cheetos Paws are, as their name suggests, Cheetos (those crunchy cheese-flavored snacks) shaped more or less like animal paws (specifically those of brand mascot Chester Cheetah, pictured on the label). What Earth Balance’s imitation white cheddar puffs, made with cornmeal and white beans, are shaped like is hard to say — they’re irregular, some resembling bumpy little croissants, some like cashews, some just free-form — but they have been described by at least one fan as coming “the closest to taste and texture of products like Cheetos.”.





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Dunk-a-Roos

> Alternative: Homemade Dunkaroos Dip & Cookies

The original Dunk-a-Roos were a Betty Crocker-brand snack consisting of cookies in various shapes, including cartoon kangaroos, upper-case D’s, and motorcycles, with a separate container of sugary icing in various flavors. They were discontinued in the U.S. in 2012, though they remained available in Canada for a while longer. Recipes for homemade substitutes, with healthier ingredients, proliferated after they were phased out. The original Dunk-a-Roos contained trans fats, added sweeteners (including high maltose corn syrup), and at least one preservative. As an example of DIY interpretations, one published on the blog mindovermunch.com is made with coconut oil and coconut sugar, as well as oat and whole-grain wheat flour, and the frosting is based on Greek yogurt.



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French Toast Crunch

> Alternative: Erewhon Cinnamon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal

This General Mills childhood favorite cereal flavored with cinnamon and syrup was launched in 1995 and discontinued in the U.S. in 2006 — and then revived by popular demand in 2015. Erewhon’s Cinnamon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal won’t give you the dainty little toast shapes, but it has about 37 calories and 10 grams of sugar less than the General Mills version., It, too, is crunchy (or crispy) and flavored with cinnamon and syrup — maple syrup in Erewhon’s case. French Toast Crunch lists corn syrup and refiner’s syrup among its ingredients, and none of those ingredients are listed as organic, while all of Erewhon’s are.





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Fruit Wrinkles

> Alternative: Stretch Island Organic Fruit Bites

An ’80s spinoff of Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit Wrinkles — described on the package as “fruit forms” and “chewy fruit snacks” — were meant to resemble tiny wrinkled pieces of fruit, including strawberries, cherries, oranges, and watermelon. It’s hard to track down their ingredients today, but strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, for instance, are made with corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, pear puree concentrate, and palm oil, plus four different food dyes. They’re not supposed to look like fruit, but Stretch Island’s little strawberry Fruit Bites shapes are made with organic, non-GMO strawberry juice and other concentrates, with carrot, apple, and black currant juice providing the color.





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Fudgsicles

> Alternative: Banana Babies

Popsicle’s frozen fudge bars, called Fudgsicles, are low in fat and have only 100 calories apiece — but they’re made with whey, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, and palm oil. Banana Babies, produced by Diana’s Bananas, have 130 calories each, but they’re basically just a whole banana per serving coated in milk chocolate (and the oil involved in peanut oil).



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Hershey Milk Chocolate Bars

> Alternative: Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate Bars

The Hershey Bar is an American classic, a milk chocolate confection introduced by candy maker Milton Snavely Hershey in 1900. The health benefits of dark over milk chocolate are well documented, and for candy lovers who just have to have a Hershey Bar, a good alternative is the company’s Special Dark offering. It has the same saturated fat content, but is lower in calories and sugars, and has no sodium at all — compared with 35 milligrams per bar for the milk chocolate.



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Hot Pockets Four Cheese Pizza

> Alternative: Amy’s Cheese Pizza in a Pocket Sandwich

Hot Pockets come in 37 varieties, 11 of them Lean Pockets variations. One of the simpler regular varieties is Four Cheese Pizza, analogous to Amy’s Cheese Pizza in a Pocket Sandwich. Both brands are the same size — four-and-a-half ounces (128 grams). The former lists more than 25 ingredients, including artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (which contains trans fats), and methylcellulose (which has a laxative effect). Amy’s alternative has 16 ingredients, primarily organic, including part-skim vegetarian mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil. Amy’s Pocket Sandwich also has 20 fewer calories, half the total fat, and almost half the sodium. (Lean Pockets are lower than Amy’s Pocket Sandwiches in calories, fat, and sodium, but still contain trans fats and methylcellulose.)



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Keebler Pizzarias Pizza Chips

> Alternative: Keebler Town House Flatbread Crisps – Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella

Sort of like pizza-flavored Doritos, these Keebler chips were a favorite in the 1980s and a bit beyond. A newspaper story from 1991 notes that they contained gums, artificial color, artificial flavor, preservatives, MSG, and “other flavor enhancers.” Keebler’s Town House Flatbread Crisps are an updated version of these now-discontinued snacks. The version that approximates the flavors of a Margherita pizza still contains a couple of preservatives and some compounds related to MSG, but the gums and artificial colors and flavors are gone, and at 70 calories for eight crackers, they’re a reasonably virtuous snack.



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Koogle

> Alternative: Easy & Healthy Banana Peanut Butter Spread (homemade)

Koogle was a ’70s-era Kraft product, a peanut-based spread flavored with various things, including bananas, cinnamon, and chocolate. It has long since been discontinued. It’s easy enough to flavor peanut butter, however. The blog dessertswithbenefits.com, for instance, published a recipe for Easy & Healthy Banana Peanut Butter Spread, made with banana powder and flavor and a non-sugar sweetener like Stevia or Truvia.



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Lunchables

> Alternative: Applegate Half Time Lunch Kits

The multi-ingredient snack and lunch packets called Lunchables, an Oscar Mayer brand owned by Kraft Heinz, celebrated their 30th anniversary last year. Though nutritionists often criticize them, they remain popular. No other similar product comes close to them in sales — but Applegate Farms — itself now owned by the massive Hormel Foods — offers a healthier alternative. The ingredients include Applegate Naturals meats, Stonyfield low-fat yogurt, and Annie’s crackers and either fruit snacks or graham crackers. Everything is organic and preservative free.





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Nestle Push-Up Pops

> Alternative: Whole Fruit Organic Juice Tubes

There are gums and other emulsifiers in Nestle sherbet push-ups, and the fruit juice concentrates come pretty far down in the ingredient lists. One Push-Up contains 70 calories and 12 grams of sugar. Whole Fruit Juice Tubes are slightly lower in calories (60) and slightly higher in sugar (15 grams), but they have no sodium (the Nestle product has 15 grams), their ingredients are all organic, and though there are some gums, the first ingredients listed for every flavor are fruit juice concentrates.



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Nabisco Swiss Cheese

> Alternative: Annie’s Organic White Cheddar Squares

Introduced in the 1980s and now disappeared, Swiss Cheese were little rectangular crackers perforated with Swiss-cheese-like holes and supposedly tasting like that cheese variety. There is a Canadian brand of Swiss cheese crackers called Christie, sometimes available on Amazon. For snackers willing to give up the Swiss cheese idea, a good alternative would be Annie’s White Cheddar Squares, made with all organic ingredients, lower in sodium than Christie’s crackers, and lacking that brand’s MSG, sulphites, and artificial flavors.



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Planters Cheez Balls

> Alternative: Hippeas Vegan White Cheddar Chickpea Puffs

With their orange color and cheddary flavor, Planters Cheez Balls are in effect round Cheetos. A one-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 140 calories, six grams of fat, and no dietary fiber. Hippeas little puffs, long and slightly curved, weigh in at 130 calories and five grams of fat — none of that it saturated — plus 12% of the RDA for dietary fiber. Almost all its ingredients are organic, too.





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Pop-Tarts

> Alternative: Nature’s Path Frosted Berry Toaster Pastries

Astonishingly, these “toaster pastries” were introduced 55 years ago — in 1964. Nature’s Path, founded in 1985, launched their fair-trade-certified toaster pastries only in 2013. Based on a popular flavor for both — strawberry — Nature’s Path’s pastries are actually slightly higher than Pop-Tarts in calories (210 vs. 200) and sugar (19 grams vs. 16 grams). However, Nature’s Path uses mostly organic ingredients, and, unlike Pop-Tarts, their pastries contain no high fructose corn syrup, palm oil, TBHQ (a preservative), or the artificial dye Blue 1.





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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

> Alternative: Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

A two-peanut-butter-cup package of Reese’s contains 220 calories and 22 grams of sugar, as well as the emulsifier PGPR and the preservative TBHQ. A good substitute would be Justin’s interpretation of this popular treat. The calories are the same, but there are only 16 grams of sugar, all the ingredients are organic, and there are no artificial emulsifiers or preservatives involved.



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Screaming Yellow Zonkers

> Alternative: Smartfood Delight Sea Salted Caramel Popcorn

Nothing more than popcorn with a sugary, buttery glaze, these snacks — introduced in the 1960s, discontinued in 2007, and brought back for a short time by Walmart in 2012 — were notable most of all for their cartoony packaging, full of jokes. For those who like their popcorn with sweetness added, Smartfood Delight’s version with sea salt and a caramel coating is a reasonably healthy choice, with only 35 calories per cup.



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Chocolate Teddy Grahams

> Alternative: Homemade chocolate Teddy Grahams

Nabisco’s bite-size graham cracker teddy bears are undeniably cute, and they’re made with graham (whole grain wheat) flour, and without high fructose corn syrup — so they’re not too unhealthy. There are numerous recipes for homemade ones online, though, some of which use particularly nutritious ingredients. This example, from the blog forkandbeans.com, for instance, incorporates buckwheat flour, dark cocoa powder, coconut sugar, and organic maple syrup into the mix. It’s more caloric than Nabisco’s version (17 calories per cookie vs. 14.5 for Nabisco), but slightly lower in sugar and with almost two-thirds less sodium.





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Yoplait Trix Yogurt

> Alternative: Non-fat yogurt with fresh fruit

Yoplait’s Trix Yogurts appeal to kids with vibrant colors (both in packaging and in the yogurt itself) and cute animal icons. Until they were reformulated seven years ago, though, they were made with high fructose corn syrup, artificial food dyes, and artificial flavors — now all banished. But a small four-ounce (113-gram) container of low-fat Yoplait Trix Raspberry Rainbow Yogurt contains 100 calories and 13 grams of sugar. The same size portion of plain low-fat yogurt measures about 71 calories and eight grams of sugar. Fresh raspberries (as opposed to the Yoplait’s “natural flavor”) add a calorie apiece — so toss in 15 or 20 of them, and you’re still ahead of the game.



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