As the years go by, trends change – especially when it comes to foods. The baby boomer generation grew up eating some pretty strange things. Food science was flourishing, which meant food corporations spent a lot of time and energy on marketing campaigns that mid-century moms and housewives bought into the latest food innovations. Out with fresh meals made from scratch and in with time-saving processed foods for families on the go.
While younger generations may turn up their nose to a few of the foods on this list, baby boomers have fond memories of them from their childhoods and still eat them with pride today.
1. TV Dinners
Say what you want about TV dinners; they’re super convenient! There’s debate about who was the true inventor of the TV dinner, however it was a Swanson advertising campaign that made them a household name. The company had over 260 tons of Thanksgiving leftovers they needed to get rid of, so an employee named Gerry Thomas suggested they package the leftovers in compartmentalized food trays, like the ones he had just seen on a Pan Am flight. Swanson named their new product after a new invention that was taking the country by storm: the TV.
Sure, TV dinners may not be the healthiest food option with all the extra preservatives the put in to keep the food from going bad, but they actually don’t taste that bad (most of the time). Besides, who cares about health when these bad boys were literally marketed to families who wanted to cook less and eat their dinner in front of television?
2. Watergate Salad
Also known as Pistachio Pineapple Delight, Shut The Gate Salad, and Green Fluff, Watergate Salad is popular dish often brought to potlucks, barbecues, funerals, and family gatherings. It’s recipe is simple, containing just pistachio pudding, canned crushed pineapple, cool whip, mini marshmallows, walnuts, and maraschino cherries. However, there’s a bit of mystery of the exact origins of this delightfully sweet and fluffy dessert.
Kraft Foods claims they first introduced the recipe under the name Pistachio Pineapple Delight when they launched Pistachio-flavored Jell-O pudding in the 1970s. One theory is that the dessert got its name from a journalist who published the recipe in a newspaper who jokingly said “dessert salads are made the way Watergate was handled.” Others claim that the recipe came from a sous chef at the Watergate Hotel itself.
Origin story aside, all we know is that there’s a good chance we’ll see it at our next family reunion.
3. Vienna Sausage
Vienna Sausage originated as a long wurst in Austria that was quite similar to a hot dog. However, in the United States, the name eventually became synonymous with short, smoked, canned wieners in the early 20th Century.
You’ve probably eaten these at some point in your life, however, popularity of these bad boys have significantly declined since 1970s. Honestly, it’s probably for the best since 1095mg of sodium in just one 4 oz can!
4. Tuna Noodle Casserole
Baby boomers sure do love casseroles and this one has been a staple American homes for decades. Personally, canned tuna reminds me of cat food, but that never stopped my mother from making this dish on the reg. Tuna Noodle Casserole is cheap, easy to make, and is perfect for families on the go. Check out our recipe here.
When Hormel Foods released Spam in the 1930s, it quickly became America’s favorite canned meat. There are few theories on how the mystery meat got it’s name. Some say it’s an acronym, standing for phrases like “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter” or “Shoulder of Pork And Ham.” Other’s think it’s combination of the words “spice” and “ham.”
The official story, however, is that Hormel had trouble deciding on a name for the produce and held a naming contest at a New Years Eve party in 1936. The winner received a prize of $100. Kenneth Daigneau, a Broadway actor and brother of Hormel Foods VP, came up with the name “Spam” and the rest is history.
6. Chicken Tetrazzini
Don’t let the name fool you; Chicken Tetrazzini isn’t actually an authentic Italian dish. It is, however, named after opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini. Traditionally, the dish is made with either chicken or turkey (but you can use seafood too if you want) and mushrooms in a creamy wine or sherry sauce and is served over spaghetti or egg noodles. Some recipes call for cream of mushroom to create a richer sauce, while instruct you to bake into a casserole.
7. Olive Loaf
You can still find olive loaves in most delis, but does any actually eat this stuff? It’s basically bologna made with pimento-stuff olives and cooked in a loaf pan instead of a sausage casing. The meat itself is typically seasoned with garlic, basil, and/or peppers to add extra flavor. Personally, I think this stuff is an abomination, but a lot of people seem to like it.
8. Sweet’N Low
If there’s anything Baby Boomers love, it’s artificial sweetener – especially Sweet’N Low. The iconic little pink packets are available in cafes and diners everywhere. Sweet’N Low is made with saccharin, dextrose, and cream of tartar.
Saccharin-made Sweet’N Low was banned in Canada until 2014 because it was believed that the additive caused bladder cancer. However, that theory was later debunked when those studies were proven false. Even though Sweet’N Low isn’t directly linked to cancer, it’s still important to be mindful of your intake. Even though it’s zero calories, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than sugar.
9. Chipped Beef on Toast
If you’ve never had Chipped Beef on Toast, it’s probably because you didn’t grow up in a military family. Commonly known as “s–t on a shingle” or “SOS,” Chipped Beef is made with pretty basic ingredients: dried beef, milk, butter, flour, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Cook everything up in a sauce pan over medium heat and serve on top of a piece of dry toast.
It may not sound like much, but this was great meal for troops because the ingredients were low cost, easy to make, and had a decent nutritional profile. Chipped Beef isn’t as common as it once was, but is still a favorite comfort food for those who grew up eating it.
10. Jello Salad
Jello salad, sometimes referred to as aspic, is an abomination to food everywhere. They’ve been around for centuries and for some reason still haven’t been outlawed. Jello salads can sometimes be made with fruit and cottage cheese, however, some masochist decided that serving up gelatinous concoctions made of meat and vegetables would be appetizing. Just because you can put anything into a jello mold, it doesn’t mean you should.
To think that these things used to be considered fine dining is honestly offensive.
The origins of fruitcake can be traced back to 16th Century Europe. however, never in my life have ever met anyone who actually enjoys it. Someone always brings in the store-bought tin-packaged nightmare to holiday family gatherings, and yet, no one ever takes a slice.
Johnny Carson once joked: “The worst Christmas gift is fruitcake…there is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” He might’ve been on to something.
Meatloaf is classic, all-American comfort food. No meatloaf is better than mom’s (except maybe ours). During the Great Depression and World War II, it was a great go-to recipes for families who needed a hearty meal that used inexpensive and leftover ingredients. Some like it smothered in a ketchup-y glaze, while other prefer their meatloaf with a side of savory mashed potatoes and gravy.
Sure, you’ll probably never see on the menu of a high end menu, but it’s still a favorite in my book.