Juice Boxes

“We always had poor-kid lunches,” I reminisced. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread, wrapped in a bread bag. Sometimes with an apple.”

“Friends around me would be unwrapping their plastic- and aluminum-wrapped multi-meat sandwiches, munching on Twinkies, and drinking from their juice boxes,” said hubby Patrick.

What sparked this nostalgia were the apple-juice boxes my hubby Patrick and his niece Jane were popping open. We’re taking a long family road trip soon, and I wanted to find a go-to apple-juice box to take along for the kids.

“Can you get the straw in without leaking? That’s the first test,” said Patrick, poking into a Nestlé Juicy Juice ($2.89 for an 8-pack of 4.23 ounce boxes at Target). “The answer: yes. And the good thing about this smaller size is that when the kid drops it on the van floor, there’s a limited amount of leakage to contribute to the science experiments growing there.”

The tasters agreed that the Nestlé Juicy Juice was what one would expect from apple juice concentrate.

The white straw that came with the Minute Maid 100% Juice Apple Juice ($3.89 for a 10-pack of 6.75-ouncers at Vons) was disconcerting to Patrick. “I like the clear straws so you can see the juice coming up before it spills. But it tastes pretty good.”

“Anyone who makes a tall, skinny container for a kids’ drink doesn’t understand kids,” Patrick announced when he spied the Market Pantry All-Natural Apple Juice box ($2.89 for the 6.75-ounce 8-pack at Target). “You never give a kid the tallest, skinniest glass in the cupboard, right?”

And the taste? Too sweet. “If I was mixing this from concentrate, I would want to add more water,” Patrick opined.

Boxes of Mott’s for Tots Apple Juice + Purified Water ($3.99 for a 9-pack of 6.75-ouncers at Vons) were constructed with kids in mind. “Short and squat — inherently more stable,” said practical Pat. The package stated 54 percent juice, 40 percent less sugar, and half a serving of fruit. “Tastes more ripe than the others,” offered Jane. “More of an apple flavor.”

Hansen’s Junior Juice Organic Apple Juice ($1.34 for a 4.23-ounce 4-pack at Vons) pleased the group. “More of a complex taste,” stated Patrick. “Like juice squeezed from an apple.”

Trader Joe’s Kids Reduced Calorie Apple Juice Drink gave me pause ($3.49 for the 8-pack of 6.75-ounce boxes). “Anytime I see ‘drink’ in a name, I can’t help but think of Dave Chappelle’s grape-drink skit: ‘What the hell is juice? You got drink?’”

The box touted “40% fewer calories & 40% less sugar than regular apple juice.” Patrick was more concerned with the taste. “Tastes like a powdered drink that I added too much water to.”

Trader Joe’s other juice box, Joe’s Kids Apple Juice ($3.49 for the 8-pack of 6.75-ounce boxes) fared better in the apple-flavor department and won high praise for its strong box and the jokes printed on the back.

“Something for the kids to share around the lunch table,” I remarked. “And the strong box would be harder to squeeze.”

Hansen’s Multi-Vitamin Juice Slam ($2.49 for the 6.75-ounce 5-pack at Henry’s) tasted like apple juice with a chaser of vitamin pill. “They make it sound like a vitamin power pack,” said Patrick. “But, really, there are small percentages of vitamins in the juice.”

Dollar Tree sells a 4-pack of boxes called Juice Bowl ($1.00 for 4.23 ounces). Though we were skeptical, we were pleasantly surprised with its fresh apple flavor and placed it in the keeper’s pile.

Our last two packages were not juice boxes, but pouches. “Cursed pouches,” grumbled Pat. “Sometimes you shove the straw in and it pokes through the front and back of the package. Other times, the kid is squeezing the pouch while poking the straw in.”

We offered the man a pouch of Back to Nature All Natural 100% Apple Juice ($5.79 for 10 pouches of 6-ouncers at Henry’s). “The straight-up straw gives the fountain effect when you squeeze it...and even after I stop squeezing, the juice is still shooting into my mouth.”

The final brand of the evening was the Organics Apple Juice ($3.29 for the 8-pack of 6.75-ouncers at Vons). The taste was passable. “But it doesn’t show you where to poke in the straw,” observed Pat. “Do I need an advanced degree to know how to use the thing?”

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I believe Kapri Sun is the number one kids drink. When I worked as a chauffeur, I drove the owner and his wife. They flew in on their private jet and went to meet with Four Seasons in Carlsbad, because they had interest in buying the resort. I was amazed that it wasn't owned by Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Just a guy and his wife. Both down to earth, friendly, and generous with the tip.

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