Are You Kidding Me, Little Debbie?!

A magestic display of snack cakes.

A majestic display of snack cakes.

I have a confession to make.  I was raised on Little Debbie Snack Cakes.  I know the song (Little Debbie, Little Debbie, Little Debbie Little Debbie and a glass of ice cold milk...)  I can taste the difference between the cream in the Oatmeal Cream Pie and the cream in the Swiss Cake Rolls blindfolded.  My mom put a Little Debbie in my lunchbox almost every day.  Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest.  I haven't had a Little Debbie in years.  I bet you can guess why, but we'll go over it later.  You know, just for fun.

As some of you may know, I taught special education for many years.  I saw my kids' lunches--Little Debbies as far as the eye could see.  And these were the Little Debbies of the '90s.  Not the Little Debbies of the '70s that I used to eat.  I haven't been able to find an old ingredient list, but I just bet that with all the "advances" in food additives, these newer Little Debbies are even worse for you than the old Little Debbies.  This whole Little Debbie trend is vexing.  These wee snacks are either a)versions of things you could make yourself (Oatmeal Cream Pies, Swiss Cake Rolls, Brownies, Cupcakes, etc), or b)weird stuff (Nutty Bars, Star Crunch, etc).  Some of you may disagree, but....well, again, let's defer to the ingredient list.  Let's pick a seasonal Little Debbie for Closer Inspection.  Friends, I give you the Little Debbie Holiday Snack Cake:

Sugar, Corn Syrup, Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid, Water, Interesterified Palm and Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil with TBHQ to Preserve Flavor, (Contributes a Trivial Amount of Trans Fat), Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Toppers (Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and Soybean Oils (Contributes a Trivial Amount of Trans Fat), Corn Starch, Dextrin, Soy Lecithin, Confectioner's Glaze, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Carnauba Wax, Blue 1 Lake, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Yellow 6 Lake), Egg Whites, Whey (Milk), Emulsifiers (Mono- and Diglycerides, Sorbitan Monostearate, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, propylene Glycol Monostearate, polysorbate 60, Polysorbate 80, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids), Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Salt, Corn Starch, Sorbic Acid (to Retain Freshness), Colors (Titanium Dioxide, Turmeric, Annatto Extract), Natural and Artificial Flavors.

Soak it in, people, soak it in.  The list is courtesy of a Wegman's product information page.  I added the bold and italics type so we could have a little chat about some of these ingredients.

  • Interesterified Oils:  This is what manufacturers do to plain old oil to make it more solid and less liable to go all rancid.  It doesn't make bad old trans-fats, but our Wikipedia experts say that interesterified oil (note "ter(r)ified" is part of the name) may have worse health consequences than trans fats.  Thanks, LD.
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils, blah, blah, blah:  So, the geniuses at LD have not only saved (?) us from the evils of trans fats.  They've also added some in, just in case we were missing them.  Oh, and TBHQ is also used in lacquers and varnishes.  And oil field additives.  Num yummy.  And they added this partially hydrogenated fat to the cake and to the "toppers."  Yay.
  • Carnauba Wax=car wax and furniture polish.  That's all I have to say about that.
  • Whey (Milk).  Not exactly.  Whey is the watery stuff left after all the milk proteins have curdled into cheese.  Whey is half-milk.
  • Emulsifiers:  Do you see that list?!  These ingredients all keep the batter nice and homogenized before baking.  Yolks could do that, too.  But why use a natural product when there are so many scientists just sitting around waiting to be given a chore?
  • Sorbic Acid is also used to clean lime scale.  You know, like off your shower head.  Yum.
  • Titanium Dioxide makes a fine sunscreen.
  • Natural and Artificial Flavors:  Thanks for that.

So, Merry Christmas and God bless us, Every One.  Especially those who eat this stuff.

I don't mean to be a meanie; I know you're busy.  But people, just make your kids (or yourself) some cake.  Take any basic yellow cake recipe (not from a box please--have you even been listening?!), Spread it about 1/2 inch thick in a jelly roll pan and bake it.  Cool the cake, cut it in 1 1/2"-2" squares, put some good old cream cheese frosting on one and sandwich it with another.  Freeze them and throw one in the lunch box.  Instant snack cake.

Here are some other Not Necessarily Healthy But Not Nearly As Deadly alternatives to prepared snack cakes:

  • American frosting or cream cheese frosting between homemade oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies or graham crackers. (One of my childhood favorites--grahams with butter icing.  Joy!)
  • Chocolate cake squares with a confectioner's sugar/milk/vanilla/salt glaze
  • Simple coffee cake
  • Shortbread drizzled with chocolate
  • Melt some marshmallows and smash them between two cookies.  Drizzle with melted chocolate
  • Banana or blueberry mini muffins--make, freeze and throw in the lunch box
  • Brownies
  • Use holiday cutters to cut cakes or brownies for Seasonal Fun--hearts, Christmas trees, leaves for fall, etc.
  • UPDATE 5/2015: If you simply must have a Little Debbie, try my copycat version of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies. They are The Bomb.
    a best little debbie oatmeal creme pies recipe-5

I hope this has given you some good ideas for lunches in the New Year.  And that's it for now.  As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Do you/Did you have a favorite snack cake?  What do you put in your kids' lunches?  Or just stop by and give the old thumbs up.


  1. homemadesin says

    Oh my! My mother used to put a Star Crunch in my lunch every day. I absolutely despise those curious gems, but I’m sure I ate a Little Debbie every day until Junior High School. This might explain my adult dental bills.

  2. Don says

    I had alternating oatmeal cream pies and swiss cake rolls…….but it was the 70’s version of these cakes. Should probably be dead anyway. Good post.

  3. says

    Many years ago while visiting friends in Tennessee I visited the Little Debbie Factory.

    I may never eat another Little Debbie again, although I enjoyed them at the time.

    Thanks for the heads up on healthy snacks. We pack snacks for school for our 5 year old, and we try to watch very carefully what she eats.
    pizza on earth,
    albert grande

  4. says

    I wish more parents would skip the packaged snack cakes! My kids haven’t ever had a Twinkie or Little Debbie, and I intend on keeping it that way. We’d much rather bake up something together. Great ideas on lunchbox goodies!

  5. says

    A very revealing post, and consumers should take heed. I have to admit I do have one Little Deb’s addiction. It’s the Nutty Peanut Butter things – like long wafer sandwiches covered in thin chocolate. I buy them a few times a year in order to satisfy the urge. I don’t even know if they are available right now due to the peanut butter paste recall.

    Aside from this very occasional purchase, we usually do bake our own. In addition to good economics and ingredients control, it’s just great fun. The excuse for many is usually the time involved in baking. That’s a lot of bull. I mix up a big batch of a “refrigerator cookie”, roll into logs, wrap them, then slice and bake when ready. Much better than paying the insane amount of cash for the Pillsbury Dough. It takes me about 20 minutes to mix the batch, roll and wrap the logs, and do all the cleanup. Basically washing a bowl, cup, and a spoon – Big deal.

  6. oatmeal creme pies rock! says

    You know, with each LD OCP providing 6% of your RDA for iron, you only need to eat 17 to grow up strong…depressing article…thanks.

  7. MissMelissa says

    I try to watch what I eat, but while having roommates it gets a little hairy. They tend to leave their goodies around to tempt me. I hadn’t eaten a Little Debbie for ages and every time I opened the cupboard, there they were, just staring at me with their perfect angles and frosting that looked too good to be true… about 10 minutes ago, I caved.. while eating that not so satisfying cake, I thought to myself, “there is nothing real in this, is there?” I would bite into it, and I felt like I was chewing air-fluffed chemicals and sugar.. then I pictured a factory and had an uncomfortable feeling rise up in me and a curiosity that had to be satisfied… “HOW DO THEY MAKE THIS STUFF ANYWAYS? AND WHAT IS REALLY IN HERE.” Google is a wonderful tool.. Thank you for the info… I will never be tempted to eat a Little Debbie again. Ha!

    • says

      LOL @430bc346afc1282f145134bcfb398a59:disqus ! I’m glad I was here to provide you with some Moral Support! I know what you mean about thinking “there is nothing real in this, is there?” Taking a bite of stuff like this (although I still do, very VERY occasionally, just to see if it’s good–it never is, but there you have it), I can taste the chemicals. Very weird stuff, indeed!

  8. Stephen Damon says

    I really miss the Apple Strudel that little Debbie used to make. I would always buy one. I wish I could find their recipe. flakey bread and great apple filling.

  9. jar bythe door says

    what caught my eye on the valentine cakes was the guaranteed fresh by date; Feb 17…the interesterified stuff isn’t there, most of the other chemicals still are…but shelf life is over. they taste better too

    • says

      That is really good to hear. Baby steps, Little Debbie. Baby steps. I may have to revisit Little Debbie–would be nice if they taste the way I remember their tasting when I was just a kid! =)

      • Maggie says

        Some friends of mine used to have a White Trash Picnic every year, and part of the festivities was a Best White Trash Food contest. The year I won I brought the Ultimate White Trash Layer Cake, to wit:

        Many different varieties of Little Debbie snacks, placed artifully inside two round cake pans, and then covered with the batter of Pillsbury Confetti White Cake mix. Bake till cake batter tests done. Frost with boxed Confetti Frosting, and lots & lots of colored sprinkles/jimmies. If you place the Little Debbies carefully, you can get three to four different Debbies in each slice of cake.

        I don’t think I saw anyone finish a whole slice. But I gotta admit, it did look pretty cool when sliced.

        Little Debbies: good for conceptual art, bad for human consumption.

  10. Jeremy says

    They use water as a cooling agent in nuclear reactors. I don’t eat anything that has water in it.

    Salt is used to de-ice roads. Yuck.

    Also avoid anything that has carbon in it. Or hydrogen. Or oxygen. Those are all used in making Sarin–an extremely potent neurotoxin.

    Just because an ingredient CAN be used for more than one thing doesn’t mean you’re eating whatever the alternative final product is.

  11. says

    Wow, you’re an absolute idiot. I am genuinely concerned for anyone who has to deal with you on a daily basis. This half-witted blog is everything that’s wrong with the internet. Anyone who’s not rendered 100% immobile by their mental retardation and has access to free wifi from the mcdonalds or starbucks around the corner can post whatever trash they’d like. And there are people out there who actually think you know what you’re talking about! You used wikipedia as a reference! At least go the extra inch and a half like the rest of the community college slackers and track down the sources at the bottom of the page… you should be ashamed of yourself… pretentious self-serving drivel…

    • laurabun says

      Wow, what a Jack wagon you are! Point your finger right back at yourself because it’s trollers such as you that really ruin the web for the rest of us. If a tongue-in-cheek article (mostly) like this threatens you so much, maybe it would be best for you to crawl back under your rock.

  12. john Jones says

    If you prefer not to eat them that’s your choice. There are a lot of things that are unhealthy for ppl so why single out Little Debbie Cakes…


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