What’s in Your Lunch Box? Part 5 — the 80s Through Today

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Lovin’ those Leftovers In recent history, leftovers have joined peanut butter sandwiches as staples of lunch. This trend has its roots in a time when Americans used to eat breakfast, dinner and supper, says Lynne Olver, creator of the Food Timeline. Dinner was the main midday meal and supper was always leftovers from dinner.


The Times: The 1980s were called the “Me” decade, and billionaires and moguls were featured on the covers of magazines. President Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs, and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, ending the Cold War. MTV launched in 1981 and movies like E.T. and Back to the Future were box office hits.

Lunch: Sushi Mud Pie “New” Coke

Why it was popular: Even though sushi had available in the United States for a while, this was the decade when noodle houses and Japanese BBQ became very popular, as exotic foods went mainstream, Olver says. Mud pie typified the decade with its rich decadence. In 1985, Coca-Cola changed the formula of its regular cola, but kept its name, Coca-Cola, the same. When Americans overwhelmingly protested the switch, the company released Coca-Cola Classic, made from the original formula. New Coke, or Coca-Cola II, remained on shelves until 1992.


The Times: This was the decade of the Internet, DotCom market and cell phones. President Bill Clinton signed off on the North American Free Trade Agreement and reformed welfare. Fads of the time included boy bands, Beanie Babies and Furbies.

Lunch: Hot Pockets Snackwell brand cookies Clearly Canadian

Why it was popular: Clearly Canadian was a fruit-flavored soda and was advertised for its health benefits, even though it was nutritionally comparable to drinking other sodas. By this point, virtually all employee lunchrooms had a microwave, which easily cooked frozen foods like Hot Pockets, Olver says.


The Times: The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, shocked the nation. The U.S. to sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq under the direction of President George W. Bush. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African-American to be sworn in as president. In pop culture, reality TV dominates the airwaves. Who knows what else will happen — there's a year and a half left of this decade!


Chinese food, courtesy of Flickr user tm lv.

Chinese food, including fried rice Bottled water

Why it is popular: Leftovers have always been the mainstay of the portable lunch, Olver says. Most people were, and still are, eating what they had the night before for dinner, whether it's homecooked or take-out.

Now that I've explored lunches from the 20th century, I have to ask: What's in your lunch box?

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