A Dose of Food Nostalgia

For Flora June’s birthday last week, we asked her what she wanted for breakfast in bed. One of her requests was orange juice, and at the grocery store, Ben Blair picked up a can of frozen concentrate. When they saw it, our kids were like ????

I laughed and showed them how to pull the white tab till the lid pops, how to run it under hot water so that the concentrate will slip out in one piece, how to fill the tube with water three times, and that it takes way longer to dissolve then you think, so keep stirring. (You can add frozen OJ to the list of things to entertain your kids this summer. Hah!)

The frozen concentrate was unfamiliar, but not because we make a point of avoiding frozen concentrate. We don’t. We just don’t really buy any orange juice products at the grocery store… pretty much ever. And we’re not the only ones, I read back in 2016 that the whole market had almost disappeared. In fact, seeing the can that Ben brought home made me realize I couldn’t even picture where it is stocked at our grocery store — Ben said he passed by three times before he found the frozen cans almost hidden at the bottom of the dessert freezer compartment.

We got such a kick out of showing the kids the frozen orange juice and telling them about how it was such a staple in our childhoods. I mean, OJ for breakfast was a thing.

I started remembering how frozen concentrated juice had a whole micro-culture going on. Like I remember the grape juice didn’t freeze as solid as the orange juice, so you could dump it out of the tube without running the container under hot water. And I remember being so jealous of a neighbor’s pitcher (I assume Tupperware?) that came with a sort-of grid attachment, that would help dissolve the concentrate more quickly. Talk about a specialized kitchen product. Hah!

The nostalgia was fun, and it got me thinking about other foods from my childhood that have almost disappeared from grocery stores.

Kool-aid was a staple for sure — I can picture the little paper packets in the cupboard. And I had strong opinions about which flavors were best (I hated anything blue). We would dump in — per the instructions of course — a full cup of sugar as we mixed it up. And if we were really lucky, we could use it to make tooth-pick popsicles with the ice cube trays. Of course the toothpicks never froze straight and were pretty much useless as popsicle handles — but the idea of being able to make your own popsicles was irresistible!

Bologna sandwiches were also a staple at our house. There was always a big stack of bologna in one of the fridge drawers. And if a sandwich seemed like too much work, I would just gobble down the bologna slices on their own. I LOVED bologna as a child, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought it as an adult, or served it to my kids.

Of course, the reverse is also true. There are foods that are staples in our house now, that were never served in my house as a child — avocados instantly come to mind.

How about you? Do you have any nostalgia foods from your childhood? Or foods that you eat all the time now but that you hadn’t heard of as a kid? Are there any particular foods that you miss that seem to have disappeared from grocery stores? Lastly, are there any memorable food products from your childhood that you still eat today?

P.S. — The food nostalgia, combined with last week’s birthdays, also reminded me of what birthday parties were like when I was a kid. I have no idea if they still do, but I remember McDonalds offered an in-restaurant birthday party option. As a child I was in awe of the whole idea. You can have a birthday party at McDonalds?!! Woah. I couldn’t imagine anything more extravagant than that, and assumed it was something only rich people could do.

129 thoughts on “A Dose of Food Nostalgia”

  1. My mom made sloppy joes with Manwich sauce that comes in a can and chef boyardee (sp?) pizza… I loved both!!!

  2. I’ve always been tempted to buy the frozen concentrate to see if it’s as good as I remember but I’m pretty sure my citrus growing husband would crumble. The kids sure would get a kick out of it. We used so much spray butter as a kid and ate so much bologna and American cheese. I feel like hummus has replaced so many staples from my childhood. Especially ranch dressing.

  3. My mom always bought the OJ concentrate when I was a kid. My Thanksgiving Cranberry dressing recipe calls for cranberry concentrate (it’s from about ’93) and that’s about impossible to find anymore. (I always end up using regular cranberry juice now.)

    I have one kid who LOVES to snack on seaweed and every time he eats it, I think “Wow, that’s something I would’ve never even known about growing up.” Funny how food changes over the generations.

    1. This makes me laugh because the big joke with my husband is that my mom was feeding me seaweed when he was drinking koolaid! My mom was apparently ahead of her time!

      1. Ha, Rachel – My husband’s mom fed them spaghetti squash growing up and I’m like, WUUUUUUUUUUT?! I didn’t even know that existed when we were kids.

  4. I love this! Three staples from my childhood were Underwood Deviled Ham sandwiches, Vienna Sausages and Spagettios. I tried the Spagettios as an adult and gagged at how sweet they were. We never had avocados or artichoke hearts back in the day. Can’t wait to read the comments on this post!

    1. Vienna sausages!! Yes, these were a regular lunch option for us as kids in my family. Loved them so much and I can remember opening the can and having to poor out the liquid. Ha!

    2. Artichokes were a treat when I was growing up. We would eat the leaves and then my mom would carefully cut the artichoke heart out and if felt like the prize!

  5. Ha! Yes, basically canned food! The only kind of canned food we buy now is canned whole tomatoes and canned beans. I grew up on Campbell Chicken Noodle Soup and Chef Boyardi! Also 2 liter sodas. You go to a birthday party and they always served 2 liter sodas.

  6. My mom was a little ahead of her time and pretty into healthy eating so I never had American cheese, Chef Boyardee, Miracle Whip (sorry, but WHY does it taste like that?), Twinkies, bologna,etc. What I did have growing up was canned vegetables. We would choose between corn, green beans, peas or carrots as the side dish to practically any meal. My children have never had canned vegetables–or even frozen. I bought some canned green beans once because I remember them as being slightly less offensive than the others (and they only cost 39 cents) and my then four year old, who loved green beans, spent all of dinner saying “Why would they do that to those beans!!?!”

      1. Think how simple that was! Just open a can.

        I recently went back to frozen veggies, and it has changed my life. I always have broccoli, cauliflower (riced or in florettes), artichoke hearts, or green beans ready to go.

        (My mom was more into healthy foods, too. I loved going to friends’ houses and eating American cheese or Velveeta or Spaghetti-os!)

    1. The thing is, frozen vegetables have just as many nutrients as fresh (sometimes more, because they are frozen right when they are ripe/ready, instead of having to be picked and processed and then transported to where they are sold), and much easier to keep, since you don’t have to worry about them spoiling.

  7. Hamburger Helper!
    When my daughter was in 2nd grade she was working toward a goal at school and we told her she could choose a treat once she achieved the goal. When we asked her what she wanted, she said “Hamburger Helper!”
    She had only ever heard of it, but had never actually tried it because it’s not something we’d ever make at home. We used to have it for dinner at least once a week when I was a kid, but I’d never thought to make it for my kids until she asked for it.

  8. Oh my, I grew up loving Velveeta cheese and I’m not sure they even make it any more. It was stored on a (non-refrigerated) shelf in the Piggly Wiggly. Campbell’s soup was a staple and my sister loved something called Olive Loaf…a processed meat of some sort studded with green olives. I recently bought a package of organic, no junk Tater Tots called Spud Puppies and served them to two of my granddaughters. The 5 year old kept turning them around in her fingers saying “What ARE these?” I love how kids today munch on goji berries, seaweed, kale chips, and such. Dried prunes are dessert on a fun day.

    1. We had a Tupperware brand container that was made specifically for a log of Velveeta! The “cheese” sat on a plastic piece that slid into the container and then you put the lid on the end. :)

      1. I mean yes, Velveeta is still available, but barely. It’s essentially a specialty food now. It gets a tiny little spot at the end of the cheese aisle. And I know at my grocery store it’s a dollar more expensive than a block of name brand cheese (like Tillamook) that’s the same size, and it’s two dollars more than a store brand block of cheese. The processed cheese market is simply dying.

  9. Margarine! My mom baked with the bright yellow stuff, we put it on our toast, etc etc. i don’t think i have ever purchased it for my family. Butter tastes SO MUCH BETTER

  10. Oh wow. I’m only ten comments in and this is hilarious and fun!

    Cherry kool-aid was a must if we were having popcorn. Although we almost always popped ours in a pot with a lid, we felt like “rich kids” whenever mom brought home a “jiffy pop” little foil frying pan!

    We had liverwurst that came in a little plastic tube – that we’d eat on the whitest bread available and yes, miracle whip… thinking about that right now makes me a little nauseous. Saltine crackers with butter, white bread with butter and white sugar -in Australia they call it fairy bread- and now they get fancy and instead of the white sugar they use “100s and 1000s” what we’d call rainbow nonpareil sprinkles. (Not a soul in our family is remotely from Australia, so???) Cool Whip (I never ever liked it) and Easy Cheese (cheese in a can that was waaaaay to much fun in the back of the car! We’d put a squirt of cheese on a ritz, then a slice of ring bologna and make a “sandwich” on the road.)

    Also bb bats, kits, laffy taffy, whistle pops, and astro pops -with the goal to enjoy them in such a way as to make the point as sharp as possible then threaten to stab your siblings with it. Good times. lol and an absolute fav was Razzles! Were they candy? were they gum? LOL!

    1. I looked and looked for Laffy taffy for my daughter’s Easter basket because she is so into jokes… I couldn’t find it anywhere! HA

    2. Fairy bread is a thing for kids birthday parties in Australia but has only ever been made with hundreds and thousands not white sugar. I will still grab a little triangle If I have an opportunity. Just to remind myself that I loved it as a kid!

  11. We were at a museum in DC and there was a Kids Cuisine frozen dinner in an exhibit. My kids had no concept of what that was! Growing up it was a REAL BIG treat to get them and they were at important to our childhoods as pizza! When we got home I took my kids to the grocery store to try them. It blew their minds and of course they thought they were disgusting!

    1. Gretchen Alice

      Oh man, I totally forgot about Kids Cuisine. Those were always saved as a special treat when I was a kid. The too-hot brownie was the best part!

  12. Yes! I remember drinking orange juice and other juices from those tube cans all the time as a kid. We also ate Bologna sandwiches and American sliced cheese. Hamburger Helper was big in my home and my husbands as kids. In our early 20s we made some for ourselves and both got sick from the ingredients haha. Little Debbie snacks were also common in our home. The 90s sure had processed foods and I’m glad times have changed. These days we try to by organic and non gmo everything. Also when I was 6 or 7 I had my birthday party at McDonald’s lol I loved it it was in a caboose and all my friends came and it was so fun. We also had happy meals all the time as kids.

  13. I forgot all about Bologna. I loved Bologna sandwiches as a kid. I can’t remember when I last had one. I am sure we are better off without it but now I want one.

  14. Red flannel hash in a can (Mary Kitchen Hash) and brown bread in a can. Could happily eat either right now, especially with a sunny side up egg.

    1. Brown bread in a can! Where are you from? I’m from Maine, and this was (is?) a staple with baked beans. For some reason, they served it occasionally in my college dining hall in Ohio, and I swear I was the only person there who had even heard of it. I LOVE it and completely forgot about it (currently live in DC). Thanks for the reminder!

      1. OMG! I’m also from Maine and had completely forgotten brown bread in a can until this very instant. We had it with beans all the time!

        Also, everything with ground beef. Spaghetti sauce with ground beef, tacos with ground beef, beef stroganoff with ground beef.

        Does anyone remember those little tiny plastic bottles with the tin foil cap with something like slightly fizzy koolaid inside? I always wanted them, but they were banned in our house!

        1. Kate, yes! And the bottles were shaped like little barrels? I just searched for them and they’re still around, apparently (they’re called Little Hug Fruit Barrels) though my kids have never encountered them.

          We would also get Freeze Pops that were essentially the same liquid frozen in a plastic tube. And those tiny wax bottles that had about a tablespoon of juice inside, where you had to bite off the top. They thought of a lot of creative ways to package the same brightly colored sugar water!

          1. We also had something called “quarter drinks” that were 25 cents and you bought them in a deli or candy store; not something that families usually kept on hand like Kool Aid or soda. It was probably about 4-6 oz. of sugar water in a sqare-ish plastic bottle that didn’t have a true cap – just sealed with a foil top you would peel back. I didn’t like them (I prefer my sugar with lots of fat – like ice cream!) but my little brother and most friends liked them.

    2. We had brown bread in a can in Missouri! I always assumed it was a carryover from my mom’s German heritage.

      Staples in our house – super long pretzel sticks, cinnamon graham crackers, Bunny bread (always white!), gigantic tub of margarine, rolls with dinner, casseroles all the time.

      Special treats – Fruit by the Foot, Gushers, fruit roll-ups, twin packs of Twinkies, those twist-off top plastic kool-aid bottles, and surprise-color microwaveable popcorn.

    1. We would be served TV dinners when my parents went out. It was awful. Thankfully we were never served bologna. My Mom would eat the liverwurst. Gross. Also- boxed cake mixes. My husband was perplexed years ago when I purchased a box to have on hand just in case. He said- cakes are better made from scratch. So true. Always from scratch from that point on. How funny. We’ve all evolved so much.

        1. My husband much prefers box-mix cake to those from scratch…they’re so much moister! It always makes me roll my eyes a little though when he raves over those cakes in particular!

        2. I make cakes from scratch fairly often and I agree – the box cakes are the perfect density. I definitely prefer them for cupcakes.

  15. My best friend growing up always had powdered Ice Tea mix (the grocery store brand) in her house. I remember sitting on her counter and eating it straight from the tub with our fingers–and then mixing up a big batch in a fancy Tupperware pitcher. It was glorious! At my house, our diet was pretty unprocessed–lots of meat and potatoes–but we had SO MUCH SODA. The feeling of carrying a 2 liter (or 3 liter!) bottle of coke to the table for dinner–on my hip like a baby–is something I will never forget. We almost never drank water. Recently, I overheard my daughter’s friend ask, “Have you ever had coca cola? I haven’t. What does it taste like?” That blew my mind a little. They’re almost ten. By the time I was ten, I had put down a swimming pool’s worth of coke. I do buy Little Debbies for my kids from time to time–especially those heart shaped Valentines ones–they taste a bit like Petit Fours…mixed wax, mixed with nostalgia.

    1. I can never resist one box of pink valentine hearts and one box of the white Christmas trees with the crunchy green sugar on top per year. But…I usually horde them all for myself! :D They’re nostalgic for me, and really…my kids don’t need me introducing them to comfort junk food they have no attachment to. Right!?!?!

    2. We always had those huge tubs of powdered Iced Tea and Country Time lemonade. A few years ago, one of my kids was at a camp where they served lemonade ‘made from powder’ and he talked about it for days, as he’d never seen it before. My mother now calls me a snob since I make ‘real’ iced tea several times a week. Apparently, boiling water and steeping tea bags is fancy :)

  16. Ah, I’d forgotten about orange juice concentrate! Memory lane.
    There are so many things we eat regularly that I never knew as kids–mango, curry, couscous, Nutella (a rare treat my dad would bring home from business trips to Germany), chia, etc. A different world.

  17. I’m surprised I’m the first person to say we totally drink orange juice concentrate. Not all the time (my kids mostly drink water) but I like to have a few of those tubes in the freezer for special occasions. It’s still just orange juice, nothing else is typically added to it. I know it’s not the same as fresh squeezed but we don’t tend to have very good oranges in the store in the non-winter months and I honestly don’t have the patience for it with our busy family life. Also, with so many people recognizing we need to reduce our plastic consumption, I like that the packaging is mostly cardboard with some recyclable metal on the ends.

    Things from my childhood? Bologna and American cheese. Tang. Powdered lemonade and iced tea. Otherwise, I think my cooked pretty healthily while I was growing up. Simple but largely home-cooked meals.

    1. Love that you mentioned this. Also lowers the carbon footprint as water is extremely heavy and costly to transport.

      1. Great point about reducing the carbon footprint! Makes me wonder if some new company is going to come along and “reinvent” frozen juice concentrates. I bet a superfood company could market frozen acai or blueberry concentrate as an environmentally-friendly alternative to bottled juices.

      2. I grew up drinking Tang too. OJ concentrate was the fancy treat that was in my grandma’s freezer. I know we should eat our fruits. But half a glass at breakfast makes me feel like everyday starts with a something special.

    2. Thanks for pointing that out about juice concentrate. I feel I’m constantly buying my teen son cranberry juice and am annoyed by the Plastic jug every time I recycle them. I’m totally going to switch to the frozen concentrate- cranberry juice and milk- we definitely live in Wisconsin. ;)

      1. I feel like reinventing juice concentrate for the 21st century is a million dollar idea. Less waste, no added sugar, etc etc. throw in some probiotics?

    3. I buy OJ in the frozen concentrate. We are a family of 8 so my grocery cart is always full and it just makes so much more sense to me to buy a tiny frozen container than to have to lug around a larger container and have to fit it in my refrigerator immediately along with my other groceries. I used to buy the regular jug but I saw a taste test done on a cooking show once and no one could tell the difference between the one made with the concentrate and the one that wasn’t, so I don’t bother overthinking it.

      1. That makes so much sense.

        I love when those taste tests blow your mind! I read in Cook’s Illustrated that no one can tell the difference between artificial vanilla and real vanilla, which really made me wonder why I was spending a small fortune on the real stuff…

    4. Yes! This is why I buy orange juice concentrate too — so much less plastic and packaging waste than the big jugs. I wish I could buy more foods concentrated into little cardboard tubes…

      Foods from childhood: hot dogs coins mixed with macaroni & cheese, frozen fish sticks with ketchup (a treat if my parents were going out on a date!) Little Debbie oatmeal pies, and my favorite: grilled mozzarella and pickle sandwiches (I still eat these regularly). Fun article!

  18. My grandparents used to get Space Sticks for me and my cousin. They were chewy chocolate or peanut butter sticks that the astronauts supposedly ate.
    We thought they were great, but would probably think they’re disgusting today. My mom used to buy pizza mix in a box and make it for herself on Fridays. I’d already eaten at my babysitter’s house, but I certainly felt left out when she made that pizza. Thinking about the great homemade pizza we make today, I have to laugh at that memory.

  19. Tracy Marie DeGaetano

    We live overseas now, but two years ago when I was living in West Virginia, we bought the canned frozen juices a lot. It was so much cheaper than bottled juices. Plus, we like to add a lot more water than required because I prefer it to be less sweet. I can control it much better that way.

    The funny thing about living in WV is that I find most of the things you mentioned are still quite popular there. I would say that healthy eating habits have not totally kicked in there and bologna, kool-aid, soda, and Twinkies were still often in the grocery carts there.

    My nostalgia item would be the Little Debbie treats called HoHos…they were such a favorite of mine. They are chocolate with white cream inside but in a long cylinder shape. I never see them anymore. I also ate a lot of sliced American cheese, hot dogs in sliced bread, pop tarts or really any sugary cereal. I never bought those items as an adult.

    We had a big garden when I lived in the states, and my kids loved to eat kale. When we couldn’t grow it we bought it. I still hunt out the higher end grocery store here in Thailand to find curly leaf kale for salads. My kids would eat that out of the garden and I never saw that when I was a kid. Other things that we eat a lot of now are hummus, chips, and salsa for snacks, greek yogurt, and we drink a lot of carbonated water with limes (we call it soda water at our house).

    1. Hobos! Yes I loved those…. and twinkies!

      Swanson frozen TV dinners…. my dad traveled a lot and so my mom and I would have either the Salisbury steak or the fried chicken. I remember they would have either a lemon or chocolate cake for dessert. I loved them but can’t imagine feeding them to my kids now!

      1. Omg me too! Whenever my dad was out of town we got a Salisbury tv dinner. I remember thinking it was such a grown up treat and it’s basically hamburger haha. I thought that cake (cherry or chocolate for us) in the center square was such a win! My mom was probably thinking “thank god I don’t have to cook tonight”. Lol!

      2. I thought twinkies were such special treat as a kid. One of my kids won a box of twinkies as a silly prize once, and all the siblings thought they were gross. Hah!

    2. I can totally relate- I live in the Upper Midwest and while I dont typically eat the things mentioned above, food from a can or box is very much the norm here- especially for lower income folks. My in-laws tease me all the time because every time I visit them, I bring a huge fresh fruit platter and vegetable try with hummus. I learned that if I don’t, I would be eating potato chips, hamburger helper, manwich, or some other “recipe” that comes from a box. Recently, my older co-worker shared her “recipe” with me for wicked chicken which is canned chicken, a jar of Alfredo, a can of chilies, and cooked noodles. I was so dumbstruck and shocked, because as an adult I had never realized that you can buy jars of Alfredo sauce or canned chicken. I always just made it from scratch and buy fresh chicken.

      My favorite thing as a kid was buying those wax bottles filled with a tiny bit of juice

      1. I would say it is the same in West Virginia, as I mentioned in my comment above. I didn’t really eat that way, but I lived in an area with a lot of people who moved there for the outdoor pursuits. Many of us are healthy and have built up a thriving farmer’s market. However, I would say many locals still bought a lot of boxed or canned food. And I always wonder why people don’t want to try to do it from scratch.

        I would imagine that a lot of that has to do with being low-income families. When I was a stay-at-home mom I was able to get some food through WIC and we could get frozen juice. I guess that is why I started buying them for my family. I realized you could them and it would be healthier if I watered it down more.

    3. I’m originally from WV and now live in Seattle and I have to agree- all these are still things there! I always thought maybe I just had them there when I visited because it took me back but now I’m guessing maybe not!

      1. I live in DC and when we were recently visiting friends in WV the only “grocery store” within 50 miles was Dollar General, which barely stocks any fresh food. Wondering if that’s why many of these canned/processed foods are still so popular.

  20. My mom prepared delicious and good for us dinners nearly every night, but on special occasions she would buy us the Tostino’s Pizza that came shrink wrapped in cellophane. That was a ‘real treat’! We only had the OJ from concentrate. The juice that came already mixed in a bottle or carton was for rich people. Ha!

    1. My mother went through a period of time when she made skim milk from powdered concentrate. It was so. Awful. I don’t know if she was trying to feed us less fat or save money but we pretty much hated it. Can’t remember when she stopped buying that. One of my kids is a vegan, one stopped drinking milk because he thinks it’s better for his skin and my daughter just hates milk , so most of what we have in the house now is almond milk.

  21. Us, too! We all LOVE orange juice and go through about a can per day. I also love that it’s almost plastic-free.

    I miss Hawaiian Punch and Welch’s fruit sodas in cans. You can’t find it west of the Rockies. And remember the giant cans of Hi-C that you had to vent by using a can punch on both sides? And the black and white generic aisle?

    1. The Hawaiian Punch was so awesome – my mother would never buy something like that (“homemade” frozen concentrate juice all the way- ha!), but I felt so lucky and cool when a friend had it at her house. How fancy it was that it needed the pointy end of a bottle opener.

    2. Yes! The black and white generics! BEANS or CORN or FLOUR all in block letters. I’d love the days when we’d shop at Lucky’s and my grandma would let me use the grease pencil to mark the prices on the cans and boxes. So fun! That location became a Costco- & Home Depot-anchored strip mall.

      Tang was a regular in our house. My mom bought large tubs of plain yogurt and sprinkled in a spoonful of Tang to make it flavored. Good enough for the astronauts, good enough for me! I loved opening that squat Thermos to see the orange sugar crystals all melty and starting to swirl on the top.

    3. Hawaiian Punch in a big can that you needed to vent both sides for the win! Bringing back so many fond memories!

  22. I grew up in a tiny midwestern town in the 1970s and feel like 1) I ate all the items listed in these comments, and 2) still eat those things when I visit home. Many factors in play that affect people’s food choices, and the number of “food deserts” especially in the middle of the country is HUGE. I believe Gabby posted a link to this article awhile ago / it makes a lot of great points.

    A few other “nostalgia” foods I remember are Morton’s frozen donuts (little cinnamon-sugar ones that were such a treat!), Gorton’s frozen fish sticks, pickle-loaf (I am sure similar to the olive loaf mentioned above), pop-tarts, and a homemade peanut butter & Karo syrup concoction my dad would put on white bread as a great treat, very rarely. :)

  23. I remember all the things listed above. I also remember Danish-go-rounds, which were a kind of toaster pastry, and we sometimes had a jar of Marshmallow Fluff in the house.

  24. I still buy frozen, concentrated OJ once in awhile to have on hand, and I always buy lemonade for the summer that way–my kids love lemonade as a treat and it is FAR cheaper to buy it concentrated than to buy lemons in my Midwest town.

    These comments are so interesting to me. I think they really show how America’s eating habits have changed in 30 years…in some parts of the country, and at some income levels. I grew up in the Midwest and still live there now, and my parents were total hippies, so we rarely ate processed food, and things like hummus were a staple at our table. We were definitely considered weird. I feed my kids the same way.

    However, PLENTY of carts in my grocery store then and now are still filled with processed food. When we go to smaller towns up north on vacation and I go to the grocery store I am appalled at the lack of fresh food. Food deserts most definitely still exist and plenty of people eat canned and frozen food for the majority of their meals all over America. In many places that is the only option.

    1. Kristin, you are so right. I have spent my entire adult life on the west coast but grew up in Chicago. My parents were from the UP of Michigan and a few years ago I returned there to visit family. As my husband’s birthday fell on the trip, I had previously decided I would make dinner for ALL that night. When I went to the grocery store I was in total panic mode at the dearth of fresh food. I was literally racing up and down the aisles desperately trying to think of what I could make from the choices I had. Also, every restaurant we ate at was basically serving frozen food. I think we ordered white fish every time b/c we knew it came from the lake right outside our windows.

  25. Frozen Lender’s bagels. Looking back, they were sooo tiny, probably at least half the size of a bagel you’d typically get at a bakery today.

    I remember reading the book Go Ask Alice when I was a teenager, and there was a part in the book where she used old frozen OJ tubes as curlers in her hair. That so captured my imagination – I couldn’t imagine it! Seems like a good reuse/recycle option, I guess!

  26. One of my favorites as a kid were “Steak-ums” – frozen deli-thin slices of steak (totally processed) that my mom would fry in a skillet and serve on toast. I found them in the freezer section recently, brought them home and they were terrible and my kids wouldn’t eat them LOL.
    My other favorite were toaster hash browns – those frozen hash brown patties that would cook up perfectly in the toaster – I could eat a whole box (4) at a time and my mom would threaten to stop buying them if I ate them too fast!

    Things like hamburger helper and other boxed and frozen dinners may not taste as good to my husband and I, but seriously, who has the brain space after a day of work and a couple hours of shuttling kids to activities to actually decide what to cook, let alone get something homemade on the table before shoving the kids off to bed? Yes, I totally feed my kids frozen tv dinners, top ramen, and cup-o-noodles when I can barely get home after work and before taking them to some activity. They eat pickles and ham straight out of the jar/package on the weekend when I am busy cleaning the house and don’t want to stop to make lunch. They know how to make their own mac-n-chz (blue box!), hamburger helper, and boxed muffins and cupcakes. They eat asparagus and brussel sprouts too, but let’s be real, they love cold green beans straight from the can.

    1. 100%
      My kids definitely eat boxed Mac n cheese.
      I feel like there is definitely some disconnect in the comments here – a level of privilege that comes from having a certain income and not even knowing how people with lower incomes eat.
      I mean, anyone who has been on WIC is very familiar with frozen juice concentrate and eating canned/frozen vegetables.

      1. Kate the Great

        I agree. This isn’t really “food nostalgia” because that implies that this food isn’t around anymore. I wonder: is there a large difference between California’s grocery stores and the rest of the country? I live in Oregon, and much of our produce comes from California, but we also shop at WinCo, which is a local grocery chain that serves those who are on food stamps and WIC. Is the lowest income in California still high enough that one can buy mostly produce on it?

        1. I disagree. I think this is nostalgia. Some of the foods mentioned are still around, but they are no longer prominently displayed in stores, or even advertised. When I was looking for photos of frozen juice concentrate I looked up advertisements, and the vast majority are from the 70s and 80s. Canned veggies are available in every grocery store I’ve ever been to in California, both inland and on the coast, but they take up much less shelf space than they did when I was a kid. The exception is canned tomatoes and canned beans — there are way more varieties of both of those available now, compared to the 80s.

          1. It IS nostalgia in the sense that people can say “I used to eat these foods all the time, but don’t anymore”, but at the same time, the comments that say “My kids have never had frozen food”, or “do they even make Velveeta anymore?” or “my 10 year old doesn’t even know what Coca Cola tastes like” are evidence that some people really are ignorant about how the “other half” live and eat.

          2. I agree with Sarah D. To you it’s nostalgia. My small grocery store here in the rural midwest (town of ~600), and the larger ones in the nearest “Big City” (~100k people) both have aisles and aisles of canned veggies and fruit. Frozen juice concentrate has a huge section in the freezer aisle. And the Velveeta is displayed over multiple shelves near the white bread (next to the wheat bread :D ). My kids will turn their noses up at grilled cheese made with anything BUT Velveeta because that’s how most restaurants around here make them. I know plenty of people who still eat bologna on the regular. We just had Banquet pot pies not a month ago. (There are probably 5 different brands carrying multiple varieties including single serve to multi-serving at our Safeway. Even our small town store carries a case full.) The more rural areas in the midwest are not nearly as food forward as those on the coasts/in major markets (ie Chicago) would like to think. Markets like frozen juice concentrate and American cheese haven’t fully disappeared yet because those of us out here are still buying. (We are probably considered the food wierdos in our community because I was raised near Chicago on a wide variety of cuisine. I introduced my Girl Scout Troop to pierogis and crepes; something most of them, and their parents, had never tried.

      2. We love boxed mac & cheese at our house, and frozen veggies too — in fact I much prefer creamed spinach with frozen spinach instead of fresh. Some of the items mentioned here aren’t available anymore, but other still are — just not as prominently. For example, this article makes clear that the frozen juice concentrate market has almost disappeared. And I still get cravings for those .99 cent Banquet chicken pot pies, but instead of being featured in the freezer section at eye level, I have to search for them in a small selection at the bottom.

        1. There is a lot more fresh produce available than when I was a kid. Also, a lot of it is much more affordable than it used to be. We rarely had fresh berries as a kid but they are much more available and affordable now. And I realize that “affordable” is different to each family.
          I also think there is more education on nutrition so maybe fewer people are giving their kids juice on a daily basis and fewer kids drinking soda at a young age.

  27. I only realised relatively recently that when Americans talk about “baloney” it is actually “bologna”. I actually live in Bologna (Italy) and had never made the connection before! (I’ve also never eaten Bologna which doesn’t look that appetising!)

  28. Spaghettios w/meatballs were my favorite treat. My parents made their OJ like that too and they had a glass container to keep it in and I recently saw something at IKEA that sparked that memory last week! TV dinners from Swanson’s. I loved the salsberry (so) steak one with mashed potatoes with gravy and a brownie.

  29. Without OJ cans, I would never have had large enough curlers to straighten my long hair. Keep in mind that the only hair dryers available waaaay back when (I was in HS) were the cap style ones that you put over your head around your hairline. Basically they blew out with the same strength and heat as if you were blowing out candles on a cake. Which is to say…none. You should try sleeping with those cans on your head!

  30. My sweet parents still cook like this, and it blows their mind that I know how to make “healthy” things (my cauliflower mash FOOLED THEM! It’s probably my proudest accomplishment to date).

    Your comment about the full cup of sugar made me laugh – we did the same thing! Same with Jello! And I think box mac and cheese used to call for a whole stick – but maybe just a half a stick – of butter.

    That said, when I need comfort food, I’m still having a bologna sammie on white bread (but mayo instead of miracle whip) and a bowl of sugary children’s cereal. An eagle eyed coworker once caught a glimpse of the bologna and was horrified by my -her words- “white trash food.” Haters, man.

    1. Haters! 😂

      I gotta say, I think bologna is exactly the same thing as a hot dog—just in a flattened circle shape—and most folks still eat hot dogs.

      My folks were both nurses and we didn’t eat much processed food at home in the 70’s & 80’s. I first ate Hamburger Helper at my boyfriend’s house and thought it was amazing. Now? Not amazing. But I’ve picked up a can of Manwich for fast sloppy joes, will still buy Velveeta for a particular dip recipe, and those stupid Little Debbies are a perfect trash food when you’re eating your feelings.

        1. In my baby-sitting heyday in the mid-90’s , literally every family I worked for served boiled hotdogs on baby-sitter nights. Sometimes chopped up over macaroni. Hotdogs haven’t disappeared of course, but they aren’t nearly so ubiquitous.

      1. I never eat hot dogs anymore either. In fact, I tried to cut out as much deli meats as I could, because of all the crap that is added to them.

  31. We always had Velveeta in the frig. I remember cubing it to put in tacos! We also used Molly McButter which was like a butter flavored seasoning that came in a shaker. From the time I was about 10 years old I would get up on Saturday mornings and make Jiffy muffins before anyone else woke up.
    Just came home from the grocery store with fresh raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. Fresh berries were a very rare treat when I was growing up. We always have plain, whole milk yogurt on hand. Growing up it was fat free, sugar-laden cups of artificially flavored yogurt!

  32. My family ate pretty much everything mentioned above (Sloppy Joes? check! Twinkies? check! Pot pies and frozen tv dinners? check!). One thing I loved and I don’t know that anyone makes anymore is Jello-O pudding – the powder kind where you added milk and you had to cook on the stove. You’d pour into glass pudding dishes and wait for it to cool – I loved waiting for that and seeing the top harden – it was my favorite part to eat! My mom used to make little pizzas on Thomas’ english muffins – I haven’t eaten one since I was a kid.

  33. Bologna sandwiches (white bread, Miracle Whip) were my favorites. If I was being fancy, I’d add iceberg lettuce! When my parents went out for dinner and left us with a babysitter, it was the always-too-hot-to-eat frozen chicken pot pie or the frozen Banquet fried chicken. No one’s mentioned Pop Rocks. I loved those! And what about jello molds? The first time my daughter saw a jello mold with fruit and (god forbid) cottage cheese suspended in it, she was horrified.

  34. I grew up in Florida, and every Christmas my parents would make a variety of “goodies” to share with friends and neighbors. There was divinity, pecan tarts, fruitcake (yes homemade) and orange balls. Orange balls were a no-bake treat made with butter, powdered sugar, crushed vanilla wafers and a can of thawed orange juice concentrate. Then they rolled them in flaked coconut. Truly horrible–but they loved them!

  35. Fried bologna sandwiches. They were the best packed in my lunch bag with mayo, lettuce and tomato. No one even thought about ice packs. I recently tried to make one but just not the same.

  36. One more to add….”Shake and Bake’ – oh…on pork chops and you’d fight to eat the parts that stuck to the pan! And corn flakes or cheerios that were NOT sweet so you’d have to heap LOADS of you sugar into your cereal bowl and it all sank to the bottom and your milk was crazy sweet by the end LOL.

    1. Caitlin in MD

      OMG I totally did this with cereal! I have such distinct memories of POURING sugar on top of Rice Krispies and then scraping my spoon along the bottom and getting soooo much sugar in each bite. I loved it. It makes me gag now, thinking about it. LOL

  37. I can relate to nearly every comment! So funny! My mom had an orange tupperware pitcher for orange juice (from concentrate) and a brown tupperware pitcher for iced tea. I can still picture the brown tea-stained ridged top. I lived on bologna and cheese, english muffin pizzas, sloppy joes, frozen lenders bagels with melted american cheese, onion dip and chips…Steak-ums were the first thing I ever “cooked” for myself on the stove. Our pantry was filled with black and white economy boxes. The snack I used to eat after school was vienna fingers cookies dipped in peanut butter – so weird but good at the time. Another commenter mentioned little wax bottles with juice inside – I remember those! I can still taste the wax and what the heck kind of juice was it?!? My childhood home never saw avocados, hummus, green juice, hemp seeds, etc. basically everything that I now have in my own home!

    1. And I don’t think I drank a full glass of water in the first 23 years of my life! I must have been so dehydrated!

  38. One of our childhood treats was the crescent rolls in the cardboard can- where you whacked the can on the edge of the counter, and the dough would burst out of the seams. One you got it out of the can, you rolled the dough sheet into the roll and baked them. Of course, you had to slather them with butter when eating them.

    And I totally had a McDonalds birthday party! The McDonalds in our town had a glassed in smoking room, and that’s where they held the parties- so the noise would be contained. As the birthday girl, I got a tour of the “behind the scenes” part of the restaurant, too.

  39. I grew up in the 1980s in Australia and there was plenty of white bread, processed lunch meats and cordial (colourful flavoured sugary syrup to add to water). My Grandma and Great Aunts served ‘salad’ for lunch where everything was from a can except the lettuce! This seems strange to me now as we have amazing produce and ingredients available here. As a family we try to cook a lot more things from scratch and my children don’t drink soft drink at all (soda). I’ve never heard of frozen orange juice before, interesting!

    1. I agree. I also grew up in Australia at the same time and many of the mentioned foods I’ve never heard of. But I do recall fairy bread, health food of a nation.
      I remember going to a McDonald’s birthday party and dressing up in my best party dress because it was an event. Hilarious.

    2. Cottees cordials! Mixing the orange one with soda water was the greatest thing ever! And my grandmother still serves ‘salads’ like that XD

  40. I once had a birthday party at a Burger King that had a huge play space, complete with a stage where a Burger King mannequin sang along with an animated mannequin band. I thought it was the coolest, but now it sounds downright bizarre. At the same party, I had a Carvel ice cream cake which was some sort of monster who had a full ice cream cone for a nose. Everyone wanted that nose-cone, but as the birthday girl, I totally got it :)

      1. Yes! I just went down the rabbit hole of a Google search. There’s some good info about the Cookie Puss. I totally forgot he had those eyes!

  41. I think these comments provide a very interesting insight into the demographic of your readership! A lot of “I don’t think they still make that!” or “I forgot that existed!” remarks about things that are absolutely still staples for many many families in the US, particularly ones living below a certain income level. I grew up on generic hot dogs wrapped in white bread (because we lived below the poverty line, hot dog buns were a luxury item) and store-brand macaroni and cheese but I was shocked into perspective when my daughter went to a friend’s house and came home raving about the glorious Kool-Aid she’d had there. That was my “People still buy that?!?” moment and it was pretty eye opening for me.

    1. Design Mom readers are highly educated, and I have no doubt that many of them experience lots of socio-economic privilege. That said, I don’t think it’s privilege to point out that a food that was once common, is no longer common. I mean, Kool-Aid had a good chunk of shelf space when I was a kid. And so did Hostess. They’re both still around, but measurably harder to find.

      1. They are hard to find for YOU. That doesn’t mean they are hard to find everywhere. I agree with Sarah D that privilege is showing. That’s not a slam on anyone. It’s great that so many kids are not being raised on the factory food that was ubiquitous in our childhoods. But that’s not the case for the entire country. It’s a fact that what happens on the coasts is often not the same as what happens in the middle of the country.

    2. I think that’s an interesting point – plus, how many readers are from outside the US? I’m from Australia, and Kool-Aid was something purchased from speciality stores, when I was younger, for a premium price. And age-range is also another quantifier – I had a McDonald’s party in the late 90s, when they were loads more accessible, financially than the very early 90s. I remember the hoopla when Oreos became available in Australia. It’s always interesting to see the similarities and differences around things like this.

  42. My poor mom was blessed with four kids with different schedules and a husband who wanted nothing more than meat and potatoes. She relied heavily on the convenience foods of the 70’s—Stove Top Stuffing, Hamburger Helper, and the bane of my existence, canned green beans. I still have a problem with green beans–even the fresh ones–as a result of having to eat those army green mush bites. The best convenience food by far signaled that mom and dad were going out—tv dinners! I still love Salisbury steak.

  43. Yes!! Frozen concentrate! I remember mixing two cans together for punch or unique flavors. This was summers with my cousins.

    Other nostalgic foods are home run pies and frozen dinner trays my grandma would buy with chicken nuggets and corn.

    Boboli pizza crust was also a norm in our house. Funny, because now with our kids, we make a 3-day cold fermented Neapolitan pizza dough for pizza nights with an outdoor pizza oven.

  44. I am so nostalgic reading all these comments. My favorite treat was fried bologna and cheese sandwiches YUM! Mom would serve it with Tang, and she would drink a Tab. For a special treat I remember chocolate space sticks.

  45. I’m firmly a 90s kid, so my nostalgia foods are still around: bagel bites, gushers and fruit roll ups, and pop tarts. It’s a stretch to call it food, yiiiiikes.

    (Possibly related) I am the world’s worst cook, but I live in Portland so we have a crazy awesome food scene. My kid would ask for bánh mì or pho or sushi as a toddler, much more adventurous and worldly than we were as kids.

  46. Oh wow, this is all so familiar. :) My parents ate really well— my mother was an endocrinologist and a good cook— but for us kids, it was all about the cans, Chef-Boyardee in particular. Ground beef with a packet of brown gravy mix stirred in was another, and “fish fingers.” American cheese melted on a piece of white bread was my dad’s idea of cooking when our mother was out (we loved it). Not many vegetables. My best friend’s mother was a good bit crunchier than my parents, and she bought a book called Feed Your Kids Right (still available on Amazon) that was the bane of my friend’s life— her lunches were so painfully healthy from then on. I had peanut butter and bologna sandwiches (and yes, I do mean both in the same sandwich— it was disgusting.). She’d give me some of her healthy stuff and I’d give her the packets of Smarties I had.

  47. I remember fruit cocktail and jello pudding in metal cans. My dad would take orange juice concentrate and add 7 up to it. That was a treat.

  48. This post and these comments are so great! My addition: when we were feeling fancy, my mom would take frozen concentrate lemonade and reconstitute with a bottle of club soda to make sparkling lemonade. Nectar of the gods, it was sooo good.

  49. Oh man, I had a McDonald’s birthday when I was in Grade 4. It was amazing – I still remember being able to decorate the ice cream cake with any of the old McDonald’s toys they had cleaned for the purpose.

    Frozen orange juice concentrate is something I’ve honestly never seen – we get oranges year-round, so there’s no need for it, I guess? We didn’t start drinking OJ as a thing until we moved back to the state my parents were born in. My grandmother bought this orange juice that tasted like heaven and it was my favourite thing ever. I swear, no OJ has ever tasted as good as the glasses I’d have at my grandmother’s kitchen counter.

    My family is loads more diverse with our eating than we used to be, but that is a side-effect of availability, too; sushi, dumplings, and noodles have definitely become a staple in western countries in the last 15-20 years or so. I find it funny that my immediate family has gradually defaulted back to things we ate when I was small – BabyBel cheeses, the same brand of lemonade that my grandparents bought, chocolate teddy bear-shaped biscuits. I didn’t see them at home from around 10-28, but suddenly they are in the pantry again.

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