The Expert’s Guide to Recreating Pizza Meals at Home

I was taught in school that two wrongs don’t make a right. But it’s also in this same school that I learned the noon supremacy of Pizza Lunchables. And that’s why we don’t deal in black and white; life is full of nuances. Because if we’ve learned one thing from Pizza Lunchables, it’s that four to six wrongs, combined properly, can approach the sublime.

My Catholic school had a hot lunch once a month (twice if there was a field trip!), so the daily brown bag situation took on singular importance. And in such cloistered circumstances, an approximation of the temperature of the pizza locker was basically the school equivalent of Noma. For you, the Lunchables pizza could be an indicator of the industrial crater of infant nutrition. For me it was Smørrebrød wearing a Hanes Beefy T.

Listen, I’m writing this in August. It’s hot as shit. Chicago is literally founded on a swamp. We could all use a break from 550 degree pizza ovens.

We’re going to play around with the oven a bit, but only to make something that we can then assemble into a pizza at room temperature. And hey, we’ll add a fun-sized candy bar if you’re good.

Pizza Lunchables container, opened to show bread, cheese, sauce and pepperoni

Photo: John Carruthers

Literally no element of a Pizza Lunchable is good

I threw this bit of nostalgia on Twitter, asking if anyone had any memories or stories about Pizza Lunchables, because those of us who grew up before the internet can never tell if something was hyper-localized in our own elementary schools or was part of a larger movement. I didn’t need to worry.

The first and most important point is that every component of Pizza Lunchables sucks. How? Oh, buddy, you’re going to regret not asking:

  • The dough is somehow soft and undercooked, but crumbly. A very unique state of matter that hates you as much as you hate it.
  • The sauce is disgustingly sweet and served in a travel toiletry bag with a cafeteria-friendly perforation. It has an odd, honeyed sweetness, but inspection depends mostly on tomato paste, water, sugar, and the industrial machinations of Kraft Heinz. There’s seasoning, but only in a faded, nostalgic way, akin to someone hesitantly describing garlic powder in their third language.
  • Shredded mozzarella (and cheddar, in the cheese pizza iteration) is where American dairy meets the US Marshals Federal Witness Protection Program. If you’re not currently eating it, you can remember all about it. Completely anonymous, the cheese world spacebar.
  • The pepperoni is somehow too oily AND gross and crumbly. The effect is like eating a jerky as you’re pushed too close to the edge of a rain-soaked cliff in the first act of a Hardy Boys novel. You go back, but it’s already too late. Frank and Joe will have to seek justice now.

I think the esteemed Jason Bowman said it best:

…But collect these elements, and damn it

Combine each of these industrial crimes against nature in a “pizza”, and suddenly everything changes. The strange crust offers a perfect and flexible bite. The beige-flavored cheese enriches and softens the candy sauce. The pepperoni adds vital salt and flavor (the cheese pizza really makes the case for the necessity of pepperoni) and hides its sins under cover from the rest of the crowd.

It’s just works, despite all the evidence to the contrary. My journalist buddy Kelly Bauer always takes Pizza Lunchables to outdoor concerts as a little mobile deli.

And sometimes you also get a Capri Sun clutch. It’s in times like these that we see a glimmer of the promise America was meant to deliver.

Testing different pizza doughs.  Note the indentation of the desiccant packet on the store-bought thin crust.

Testing different pizza doughs. Note the indentation of the desiccant packet on the store-bought thin crust.
Photo: John Carruthers

Build your own abomination

If there’s a trap that copycat recipes like this fall into, it’s that they want to elevate everything. We replaced the tomato paste paste with San Marzanos, and this duck prosciutto replaces that nasty pepperoni nicely. NOPE. STOP. We came here for GARBAGE and we are going to GET IT.

Here’s how to make a Lunchables pizza that tastes, like Bowman said, as good as you remember and worse than you remember at the same time.

Lunchables Pizza, Step 1: The Godless Crust

This one is the hardest to break. The bread should be soft and crunchy, but relatively firm and flat. Not quite a cracker, not quite a flatbread. And in an age of crisp frico and leopard-spotted crusts, it must have the blinding pallor and fish-belly of me doing shirtless yard work.

The scabs are exactly six millimeters thick, a fact I discovered with the help of a protractor my engineer father bought me when he assumed I would do more with my life. I scoured all sorts of store-bought options to find the right size and texture to approximate the Lunchables Pizza discs.

  • The pocketless pitas were too thick
  • Pilot crackers (bought from weirdo survivalists) were too crispy, and now I’m getting upsetting marketing emails
  • The hard tack I did two years ago (and which my children will one day inherit) was too brick-like and detestable for this particular task
  • Cheap store-bought thin pizza crusts looked promising (one had a packet of desiccant!), but they were both too dark and too soft to do the job.
  • The idea of ​​using Communion hosts has been brought up several times on Twitter, but these are too thin and brittle to really work (thanks, Catholic school!)

In the end, I removed a few my favorite pizza dough and I treated it like I felt it. That did the trick.

One homemade Pizza Lunchables crust and one store bought Pizza Lunchables crust

Photo: John Carruthers

As for taste, you might want to add an extra 12 grams of salt and sugar if you’re making a new dough anyway. We’ve nailed the size to 16 gram balls of dough rolled into 4″ circles and securely fastened on both sides. Set it in the refrigerator uncovered for four hours if desired, or simply bake at 325 for 25 30 minutes on rimless baking. When they’re pale and a little overcooked, you’re good to go.

Lunchables Pizza, Step 2: The Forbidden Sauce

This one is also infuriating to hit. I enlisted my wife, my kids, and their babysitter, and I was one step closer to snagging the postman. Fortunately, the fifth time was a charm.

We worked ONLY with what was given to us on the Lunchables ingredient list, which is water, tomato paste, sugar and

  • 4 tbsp. (1/4 cup) tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. tomato sauce
  • 1 C. the water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/8 tsp Italian seasoning you should have thrown away two years ago
  • 1/16 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/16 tsp. onion powder

Combine everything and simmer, stirring frequently, until visibly blackened. This should take about 5 minutes.

Note: I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people about the sauce having some sort of sweetness adjacent to the ketchup. But various doses of ketchup in the larger recipe proved too troublesome and, well, ketchupy. We are convinced that ketchup does not come into the equation here.

Lunchable homemade pizza with grated cheese on top

Photo: John Carruthers

Pizza Lunchables, Step 3: The cheese of the damned

Dairy subsidies being what they are, I’m confident you can find completely forgettable part-skim mozzarella cheese without the kind of effort you need for the rest. They sell it on my CVS!

But the only essential advice here is to shred it yourself; don’t buy the pre-grated stuff with the coating on it. Lunchables’ stuff lists cellulose powder as an ingredient, but it’s not as obvious when the product is crushed into that little plastic well. The hand shredded stuff was much better than the shredded bagged stuff. Who knew?

Pizza Lunchables, Step 4: The… uh… Bad Pepperoni

Also, don’t buy anything good here. All you need is some pork and chicken stuff that makes a pretty convincing case for veganism if you watch it long enough. Pre-cut slices? Enough oxidized? Unpleasant eaten alone? Perfect!

Lunchables Pizza, step 5: Don’t forget the fun candy bar

A miniature candy bar on the side, preferably from at least two Halloweens, brings it all together. I’m a Krackel man myself, but opinions vary. It is important to treat yourself to have such a balanced meal.

“I’m really surprised how much these two things taste the same,” said my wife Emily as she ate the homemade and store-bought Pizza Lunchables in tandem. I still don’t know how to take it, but the important thing is that we cracked the code.

Two pepperoni pizza lunches side by side

Who is the impostor?
Photo: John Carruthers

As a top scientist, I’ve also included an experiment here, adding some fresh parmesan cheese to one of the pizzas.

“Did you put anything in this one?” Emily asked. “It tastes like having something extra.”

Broken. I repeat: DO. NOT. RAISE.

We threw some giardiniera on one of them (the giardiniera isn’t elevated; I can get it at 7/11), and the oily, spicy kick does a lot for the overall effect. I liked it. Emily was not a fan.

There you have it: the love/hate knuckle tattoos, lifted from childhood and written on a pizza crust. I am proud of what we have shared here today.