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It’s the Next Best Thing to Your Good Cooking: Nostalgic Foods from the 1970s

It’s the Next Best Thing to Your Good Cooking: Nostalgic Foods from the 1970s
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By Jill Matlow

I can still hear that familiar sound of the kernels popping. The popcorn was always burned but it was fun listening to the crackling sounds of Jiffy Pop on the stove, while waiting for the foil cover to expand. We usually made Jiffy Pop with our babysitter. Now we have microwave popcorn which isn’t as fun to make. And I admit, there have been nights recently where microwave popcorn was my ‘dinner’!

Boy, what we consider to be a ‘meal’ today has really changed over the years.

Back in the 1970s, we always had three square meals. Breakfast was either scrambled eggs (with the yolks included – gasp!), cereal (Cap’n Crunch, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks, Rice Krispies, Lucky Charms) with WHOLE milk, cinnamon toast (so delicious with butter, sugar and cinnamon), or Pop Tarts.  Lunch was usually bologna sandwiches (“My bologna had a first name..”), tuna fish, grilled cheese or peanut butter and fluffernutter, all made with white bread. Multigrain bread – what’s that?  And Campbell’s soup was Mmm Mmm good! Tastykakes (Butterscotch Krimpets or Peanut Butter Tandy Kakes) were often for dessert.

I think my friends must have thought that my mom was a nutritionist because we had every diet book imaginable on our bookshelves in the den  – The Stillman Diet, Dr. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Scarsdale, etc.  We also had the Encyclopedia Britannica which basically collected dust.

Now we can just use the internet to google facts about food and calories, but back then, we didn’t know from kale, quinoa or gluten-free. I grew up eating iceberg lettuce with homemade Russian dressing! (Here’s the secret recipe for the dressing: combine mayonnaise with ketchup).  I did not come from a family of “foodies”.

Meat, potatoes (the occasional tater tots) and a vegetable were served 3-5 times a week for dinner. At the dinner table, we’d have to ask, “May I please be excused” whenever we were finished eating. If we were bad, we were ordered to leave the table before the meal was over. Goodbye dinner, hello hunger! Fortunately, those nights were few and far between.

Swanson TV dinners (“It’s the next best thing to your good cooking” –  Wow, how bad could your cooking have been?)  did occasionally make an appearance. Remember how the stewed apples would spill into the mac and cheese?  I’m not sure how I was ever able to eat those ‘delicacies’ which were wrapped in tin foil but I did and miraculously lived to tell about it.

Sometimes Hamburger ‘Helper’ or Tuna ‘Helper’ were also served up. To this day, the name alone still cracks me up. Shake ‘N Bake (“and I helped”!) and Sara Lee (“Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee”) were also family favorites.

A big treat for us was when we’d pile into the wood-paneled station wagon and our parents would drive us to the Tasty Freeze a mile away. I  remember their vanilla soft ice cream being so awesome and I always loved getting multi-colored sprinkles (or as we called them “jimmies”) on top.  I admit I still get a little nostalgic when I hear the jingle of the soft ice cream truck.  The only yogurt we had was Dannon yogurt and it was only available in grocery stores. Our version of frozen yogurt was putting the Dannon yogurt in the freezer!

Speaking of Dannon yogurt, I always thought I would live to be over 100 years old, just like those people they featured in their TV commercials.  So far, I’m more than halfway there. And while I still find myself buying yogurt from the grocery store,  I haven’t been able to revisit the TV dinners or Tuna Helper as an adult.

Are there any foods from your childhood that you fondly remember? Take a walk down memory lane, do tell and don’t forget to share the recipes with us!



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Jill Matlow
Jill Matlow spent much of her career working in many different facets of the healthcare industry writing marketing proposals, creative briefs and tactical plans. She is thrilled to now be writing articles geared to baby boomers who are nostalgic about their past but still hopeful about their futures. While music is her first passion, writing comes in a close second.