May 21, 2024 | Peter Kinney

39 Foods We Grew Up With That Need To Come Back


Blast From The Past

When I was growing up, not a week went by where we didn’t either have pot roast or chicken a la king—two foods that you never see people making anymore. Things just aren’t as good as they used to be…but maybe if we brought back some of these old-school foods, they could get a little better.

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Shepherd’s Pie

It has nothing to do with shepherds, and everyone has their own favorite version, but one thing is for sure: Shepherd’s pie used to be one of the most beloved foods out there. Whether you were gravy or no gravy, beef or lamb, or peas and carrots or corn, it was always a satisfying meal.

Shepherd's PieJIP, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Peanut Brittle

It seemed like grandmothers everywhere made massive batches of peanut brittle every Christmas and distributed it to everyone they saw during the month of December, leading to many delicious moments—and more than a few cracked teeth, I’m sure.

I’d always keep some in my locker when we went back after break—but with peanut bans on campuses, this bygone treat is too risky to bring to school.

Peanut BrittleBryan Alexander, Flickr

Baked Ham With Pineapples

Ham used to be a staple protein growing up, served on Sunday family dinners and holidays alike. And if it was a special occasion, you know that ham was crowned with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries.

Baked Ham With Pineapplesboodoo, Flickr

Salisbury Steak

Ground beef wasn’t just for burgers growing up. It was also the basis for Salisbury steak, where patties of meat were cooked in a rich mushroom gravy. Not only was it a great way to “fancy” up a budget dish, it was also a classic comfort food.

Salisbury SteakJon B, Flickr

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Why go to the grocery store when you can raid the pantry? Most households way back when always had the core ingredients for tuna noodle casserole handy: canned tuna, egg noodles, and cream of mushroom soup, along with some cheese to round it all out.

Tuna Noodle Casserolesu-lin, Flickr

Ham Salad

At some point, it seems like all the party sandwiches had some kind of battle royale, and only chicken salad, egg salad, and tuna salad walked out of the arena intact. What happened to good old-fashioned ham salad? It had to be somebody’s favorite…

Ham SaladMariaPolna, PxHere

Sloppy Joes

Even if you rarely had them at home, Sloppy Joes were a cafeteria mainstay for many of us growing up. Whether it was homemade or from a can, there’s nothing quite like the beef-onion-tomato sauce (or ketchup) combo. Just remember your bib!

Sloppy JoesCayobo, Flickr

Aspic

It wasn’t a fancy party table if there wasn’t an aspic out. This savory gelatin dish came with a variety of fillings, from meat to boiled eggs to seafood. Though we might have been a little scared of them as kids, some of us actually have some fond memories of the tomato aspic that came out for holidays.

AspicClément Bucco-Lechat, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Pork Chops With Applesauce

At one point, it seemed like pork chops were the protein of choice. Cheap, quick, and easy to cook, they were a popular hit with stay-at-home and working moms alike. And you just had to have them with applesauce for the ultimate combination of autumn flavors.

Pork Chops With ApplesauceT.Tseng, Flickr

Chicken A La King

Chicken a la king wasn’t far off from chicken pot pie filling—but in our house, it was usually served with rice or noodles. And if mom was out for the evening, you might be lucky enough to get a Stouffer’s Chicken A La King, microwaved in those two separate steam bags. Stouffers, bring it back!

Chicken A La Kingstu_spivack, Flickr

Divinity

Had a neighbor or aunt really visited if there wasn’t a surprise box of divinity waiting in the kitchen when you got home? This sweet nougat-like confectionary is made from whipped egg whites, corn sugar, and syrup—often with a pecan on top.

Divinity Christmas CandyWarren Price Photography, Shutterstock

Cheese Balls

Sure, people are still making cheese balls for parties—but they are NOT the cheese balls we grew up with. One of the best combos back then was one of the weirdest: cheese mixed with diced pineapple and green peppers, covered in crunchy nuts.

Cheese BallsThreeIfByBike, Flickr

Beef Stroganoff

Growing up, it seemed like beef stroganoff was the height of luxury. This rich, savory dish of beef in a gravy leveled up with sour cream and mustard came out for special occasions—and had the benefit of being served on egg noodles, a nice switch-up from the usual potatoes.

Beef StroganoffChef Mick, Flickr

Stuffed Cabbage

If you had even an inkling of Eastern-European blood in your family tree, it’s likely that you grew up eating stuffed cabbage—a mix of rice and meat, or rice and veggies, wrapped in tender cabbage leaves and smothered in either a thin tomato sauce or a creamy mushroom sauce.

Stuffed CabbageЧакаровска, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Stuffed Peppers

…And if you weren’t having stuffed cabbage, it’s likely you were having stuffed peppers. With basically the same filling as stuffed cabbage, this dish was a huge crowd-pleaser—and it looked really pretty on the plate too.

Stuffed PeppersSharon Drummond, Flickr

Baked Alaska

The ultimate show-stopping dessert, baked Alaska needs to make a comeback for the age of Instagram. A classic baked Alaska features ice cream and cake covered in meringue and either baked or torched tableside, for the ultimate “wow” moment.

Baked AlaskaKimberly Vardeman, Flickr

Chicken Pot Pie

Sorry chowder—there’s nothing more satisfying and hearty than chicken pot pie on a cold winter night. Featuring tender chicken chunks and veggies in a creamy sauce with a buttery crust, this classic comfort food is actually one of the most popular American dishes of all time—for good reason.

Chicken Pot Pieedwin, Flickr

Ambrosia Salad

Is it a salad or a dessert? Well, depending on your household, ambrosia salad was either a side dish or dessert. It mixed canned fruit, marshmallows, coconut, and sometimes a dairy-based dressing, and is a Southern classic that might be the most nostalgic dish on this list.

Ambrosia Saladyi, Flickr

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Chicken Cordon Blue really felt like the height of luxury growing up—and who can blame us? It was named after the famous culinary institute, after all. This dish, featuring a stuffed and breaded chicken breast, just seemed to ooze elegance (but actually, it was cheese).

Chicken Cordon Bleuwhologwhy, Flickr

Meatloaf

Meatloaf was an incredible way to stretch out a pound of ground beef and feed the whole family—even hormonal teenagers. Whether your family’s version had a brown sugar glaze or bacon on top, it was always satisfying. Bonus points if it was served with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots. There’s no better trio in the world.

Meatloafjeffreyw, Flickr

Corned Beef And Cabbage

You can still find this Irish-American classic on pub menus on St Patrick’s Day, but it should be on menus year round. The meat is simmered slowly with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, making it a hearty choice for a crisp March day.

Corned Beef And Cabbagejeffreyw, Flickr

Clam Chowder

Seafood restaurants have shifted their focus to their raw bar, and simplicity but I’ll always pick a bowl of hearty chowder over cold clams any day. At the end of the summer, when those East Coast trips down to the coast got colder and colder, there was nothing better than a rich bowl of clam chowder.

Clam ChowderMarit & Toomas Hinnosaar, Flickr

Jello Salad

There used to be as many types of Jello salad out there as there were people. Generally, Jello salad featured, of course, flavored gelaton, along with a variety of fillings: fruit, marshmallows, nuts, pretzels, creamy things like sour cream…

Though they weren’t always appetizing, they were certainly visually interesting.

Jello SaladAlpha, Flickr

Biscuits And Gravy

Biscuits and Gravy are a Southern staple that could be served for breakfast…or at any other time of day, really. After all, who’s going to complain about flaky biscuits and a savory sausage gravy?

Biscuits And Sausage Gravyjeffreyw, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Rice Pudding

No, I never stopped eating it. Yes, I still think it needs to make a return, regardless. The ultimate in comfort desserts, rice pudding features rice simmered in milk or water, sweetened with sugar and flavored with things like vanilla or cinnamon.

Rice PuddingRudi Riet, Flickr

Oysters Rockefeller

Though they’re now way more popular served raw on the halfshell, some of us still long for this delicious baked oyster dish, featuring oysters smothered in butter, herbs, and breadcrumbs. Fun fact: It was actually created during an escargot shortage! The richness of the dish inspired the chef to name it after magnate John D. Rockefeller.

Oysters RockefellerLarry Hoffman, Flickr

Chipped Beef On Toast

From the high to the low! Chipped beef was a product borne of desperation. This Depression-era turned US military staple is made from dried beef cut into thin slices, smothered in gravy, and served on toast.

Chipped Beef On ToastEzume Images, Shutterstock

Deviled Eggs

Plenty of people still make deviled eggs—but we believe that it’s not a party unless they’re on the table. Though they’ve been overshadowed in hors d’oeuvres popularity by charcuterie and cheese boards, deviled eggs are still the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

Deviled EggsDebbie R, Flickr

Goulash

Goulash is one of those dishes that had a European origin but became pretty Americanized over time. While the Hungarian version was a hearty beef stew flavored with paprika, the more Americanized version features ground beef, tomatoes, and macaroni. Luckily, both versions are delicious.

Croatian GoulashMic of orion, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Hermits

We have Fannie Farmer and her ubiquitous cookbook to thank for hermits, a spiced cookie dotted with raisins, either made as a drop cookie or as a bar.

Hermits foodSarah R, Flickr

Pot Roast

A good pot roast is like magic. You take a relatively inexpensive and often tough cut of meat, cook it slowly, and let it transform into the most tender, rich, and flavorful meal. And you only really need one pot!

Pot RoastWhitney, Flickr

Turkey Tetrazzini

If there were leftovers after Thanksgiving, you’d count yourself lucky to have turkey tetrazzini as one of the meals to use up that turkey meat. This creamy pasta dish was a welcome respite from cold, dry turkey sandwiches.

Turkey TetrazziniJo Zimny, Flickr

Fried Chicken And Waffles

Cholesterol be darned. Fried chicken and waffles is a classic soul food combo that America fell in love with decades ago. It was a perfect salty-sweet combo years before people were indulging in things like chocolate-chip cookies topped with flaky salt. The only question: Are you team maple syrup or team honey?

Fried Chicken And Crispy WaffleArnold Gatilao, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Spaghetti And Meatballs

Bolognese is great and arrabiata has a nice spicy kick, but before we all got to know Italian cuisine, it was spaghetti and meatballs all the way. This classic combo might not have been as authentic as other dishes, but it was always a big crowd pleaser.

Spaghetti And Meatballssu-lin, Flickr

Clams Casino

As we mentioned earlier, shellfish isn’t used in baked dishes enough anymore—and clams casino is a restaurant classic that needs to make its way back onto the menu. This classic American dish features clams, butter, peppers, bacon, and garlic, all baked under a blanket of breadcrumbs.

Clams CasinoCharleston's TheDigitel, Flickr

Chocolate Lasagna

Though Olive Garden recently added a version of it to their menu, the chocolate lasagna that many of us grew up with was an icebox desert that got popular in the 1970s, featuring chocolate cookies, chocolate pudding, and a rich cream cheese layer.

Chocolate LasagnaUnknown Author, PickPik

Fried Catfish And Hush Puppies

Another classic soul food combo, fried catfish and hush puppies are the ultimate deep-fried delight. Featuring breaded and fried catfish and hush puppies, deep fried balls of corn dough, this dish is often served with a refreshing tartar sauce and coleslaw for contrast—and it’s a true comfort food.

Fried Catfish And Hush PuppiesArnold Gatilao, Flickr

Snow Desserts

Once upon a time, frozen “snow” desserts made from fruit pulp or juice, gelatin, and egg whites were all the rage at special occasions, and now, you rarely if ever see them.

Snow Dessertsghfjvb7890, Needpix

Carrots In Jell-O

If you were to ask my childhood best friend what her last meal would be, I’m sure that she’d still pick carrots in Jell-O. Though this variation on Jell-O salad might not be familiar to everyone, it was certainly beloved—featuring grated carrots and sometimes raisins in orange Jell-O.

Carrots In Jell-Orochelle hartman, Flickr


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