From Wagon Wheels to Penguins and Tunnock's Caramel, there can only be one winner or you’ll spoil your dinner
Who doesn't get nostalgic about the lunchbox chocolate biscuits of school years gone by? Back in the day when crisps and chocolate were considered a balanced diet for kids (I know, what were they thinking?).
Whether nestled next to a ham and pickle sandwich or stashed in your pocket to ward off hunger pangs after swimming lessons (nothing, but nothing, makes you as hungry as a swimming lesson), we’re nostalgic for the days when we were small enough for these three-bite wonders to count as an actual dessert.
The lunchbox chocolate fraternity also raised a lot of questions. Such as: are they miniature chocolate bars in their own right, or just chocolate biscuits that got above their station and started demanding individual wrappers? Are you allowed to eat them in the evening? If you bite into them normally rather than trying to nibble off all the chocolate first, do you still have a soul?
But above all: which is the greatest? We’ve decided on our ultimate Top 7, and anyone who disagrees can meet us by the bike sheds for a thumb war. OK?
Nobody can really explain why Wagon Wheels are such a treat, but that is central to their charm. They come cloaked in mystery and intrigue.
Its biscuit is unlike any other and the marshmallow has proper stickability (get any in your hair and you had to ask your mate to cut it off with a pair of gluey scissor in art class). Then there is the unshakeable belief that it’s definitely they that have shrunk, not you who have got bigger. And all of the above combines to create a taste sensation as confusing as it is satisfying.
“I don’t know why I love him,” we sigh, as the enigmatic snack rolls out of town and into the sunset. “But I do.”
Is it white chocolate? Is it caramac? Is it mined by biscuit prospectors in some distant confectionery canyon? All we really know about Gold bars is that they’re unapologetically flash, like the Shirley Bassey of the snack cupboard.
As such, they have to be eaten with pride and 100% self-assurance. Never apologise for liking Gold bars, because Gold bars have nothing to be ashamed of. “Oh, you’re wearing generic brown chocolate? How quaint,” they say, before launching into a tap dance to Puttin’ on the Ritz.
An important lunchbox chocolate bar, not least because the ads prompted the existential wondering: who doesn't like a lot of chocolate on their biscuit? And do they have their own, slightly more depressing organisations?
Whether original, orange, mint or (if your parents were on a health kick) fruit flavour, Clubs were always the active kid’s choice – partly for their association with football, but mainly because they presented the noble challenge of scraping every last bit of chocolate off with your teeth before you ate the biscuit.
With its glam red and gold wrapper virtually unchanged since the 1950s, in recent years this Scottish hero has earned itself design classic status – like an Eames chair or the tube map. But long before anyone thought to print them on a cushion, Tunnock’s Caramel wafers had a special place in our hearts and our lunchboxes.
They get bonus points for chewiness, structural integrity, and always being slightly more delicious than you’re expecting them to be.
Ol’ faithful, the solid stalwart of the lunchbox world.
Unlike their wobbly Antarctic namesakes, you know a Penguin bar can stand up to a lot. You could take it on a cross-country run, a school trip to the farm and to a very intensive recorder practice without losing so much as a chocolatey crumb.
And their reward, for all that stoic service? Having both their ends nibbled off and hot tea sucked through them, obviously. If you haven't done this then you haven't really lived.
Smooth and classy-looking enough that they can occasionally fool an auntie into thinking they’re suitable for a teatime biscuit plate, Fox’s Rocky bars also rise to the occasion as a lunchtime pudding.
The privileged kids of today may have "zingy orange" and "cookie dough" flavours to choose from, but historically caramel is the champ. Rich and chewy, its superior adhesive qualities mean it can also double up as Pritt Stick in a craft emergency. Probably.
Featuring both white and milk chocolate, biscuit and oxygen, these bubbly beauties were next-level luxury. Bring an Echo bar to school in your lunchbox and you may as well have rocked up in a mink coat with a butler carrying your PE bag.
Sadly they were discontinued last year, meaning soon the only people enjoying them will be the ones who have a box of vintage Echoes in their biscuit cellar. The rest of us can either pine for their memory or sign a petition for their return (no, you really can).
A few memorable contenders who missed out on the top spots:
- Tunnock’s teacakes – as glamorous as their wafer cousins but much less practical to store in your pocket.
- Viscount – orange, not mint.
- Blue Riband – the humble Blue Riband has no caramel so it can’t really compete with snazzier lunchbox bars. But it gets a special mention anyway because of the day we realised it was "Riband", not "Ribbon" and went around telling everyone in the playground. We’ve never felt more popular.
- Two-finger KitKat – because there’s still no joy like getting a piece that’s just solid chocolate.
- Funsize Milky Way – but frozen, for novelty value.
- Mars Bar – you had an actual Mars Bar in your lunchbox? What are you, a Duke?