If you’re in your 40s you’ll probably remember dinnertime with these 6 nostalgic foods we ate in the 80s. And I share with your their modern, Instant Pot or slow cooker, counterparts.
Nostalgic Foods we ate in the 80s
As a child raised in the 80s, I have a lot of fond food memories. I grew up with 6 siblings, a stay at home mom and a hard working dad. We always ate dinner at home. I hardly remember going out to a restaurant. Like ever. I do remember the trips to Pizza Hut every now and then to redeem a Book It personal pan pizza. Man, those were the best. A whole (little) pizza all to yourself.
Mom would cook dinner every night. Lots of casseroles. Meals that would stretch a pound of meat farther. She would also seem to prepare a lot of side dishes…canned green beans, broccoli with homemade cheese sauce and canned peaches battered in graham cracker crumbs and topped with a dollop of cool whip.
While convenience foods and microwaves became popular in the 80s we still made a lot of our foods from scratch. I do remember wishing for boxed mac and cheese and boxed hamburger helper. I’ll always remember the time Mom made hamburger helper over a camp stove when we stayed in a cabin at Yellowstone. I thought it was the best dinner I ever had.
I also greedily stared at the other kids’ lunchbox contents in elementary school. Fruit roll-ups, twinkies, ding dongs and white Wonderbread sandwiches were the wish of my heart. But instead I got a real turkey sandwich on homemade wheat bread…I was so picked on! (Insert eye roll here. What was I thinking??? I must have had a garbage palate).
I also remember drinking milk with every meal. Like a whole glass of milk. Although for many of my growing up years we had powdered milk. I thought it was great back then…that’s all I knew. Now if I tried to have it on my cereal I think I would gag lol!!
Greg has a lot of the same feelings that I do regarding growing up in the 80s. He also had 6 siblings. He also hardly went out to dinner. His mom cooked dinner every night just like my mom. There was a lot of complaining, apparently, about his mom’s salmon surprise casserole. And Greg was NOT a fan of broccoli casserole. If I ever make something with cooked broccoli in it he’ll politely pass on dinner. I love broccoli cheese and rice casserole…he, however, is not a fan. Our poor moms. They worked so hard to make a nice homemade dinner with limited funds and I’m sure at least 2 out of their 7 kids complained (if not more).
Here are 6 nostalgic foods we ate in the 80s. Can you add to my list? Make a comment below and tell me what you can remember eating in the 80s.
#1: Sloppy Joes
“A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.” Don’t you remember the tagline? My grandma always made sloppy joes for an easy meal the night before Thanksgiving. Of course, she didn’t use a can of Manwich but a homemade recipe.
These days I’m loving my creamy sloppy joe recipe which brings the loose meat sandwich to a whole new level. It adds in cream cheese. Drop the mike!
You might also want to try the Maid Rite Loose Meat Sandwiches. These are not so saucy and have a different flavor profile than sloppy joes.
#2: Rice A Roni
Although we didn’t have a ton of boxed foods this was one I always remember being in our pantry. The “San Francisco treat” was always happily gobbled up. Try making the homemade version in your Instant Pot or slow cooker. Pro tip: buy vermicelli so you don’t have to take time breaking spaghetti into small pieces.
#3: Shepherd’s Pie
Oh how I loved me some shepherd’s pie! Mom would usually make this on a Monday with leftover mashed potatoes from Sunday night’s dinner. She used ground beef, canned green beans, canned tomato soup, mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese. Kind of an odd combination as I think back on it. I loved it. My sister, Gina, hated it. There’s always one kid you can’t please! Try my Instant Pot shepherd’s pie casserole for an updated take on this classic.
#4: Pasta Primavera
The New York Times says (speaking of pasta primavera), “The dish, rarely seen now, became an absurdity of 1980s so-called seasonal cooking. Meant to be an expression of spring, the mad jumble of vegetables over pasta was mostly an expression of the death match between French and Italian cuisine (cream versus olive oil, sauce versus pasta).”
I probably ate this dish more in the 90s than the 80s. We always made ours with penne pasta instead of spaghetti. I loved it and still do!
#5: Beef Stroganoff
I never knew that “real” beef stroganoff was made with top sirloin or another expensive cut of beef. I always had the ground beef version of stroganoff growing up. I loved the egg noodles, creamy sour cream sauce and mushrooms (which my sister Alicia would always pick out). Try making stroganoff with beef stew meat! It works so well in the slow cooker or Instant Pot.
#6: Hot Pockets
Hot pockets hit the freezer aisle of grocery stores in 1983. And I’m 100% certain that the only place I ever ate a hot pocket was at a friend’s house. I know my mom wouldn’t have purchased them. These days I’m loving making homemade hot pockets. The bread dough comes together easily when you proof it in your Instant Pot. Mix and match your favorite fillings. You can eat these fresh or freeze them for later. Make sure to yell out the sing-song slogan “Hot Pockets!” before partaking and watch Jim Gaffigan’s bit on Hot Pockets for a chuckle.
More throwback recipes…
Instant Pot Homemade Hamburger Helper
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Carole Rosenthal says
When I was growing up, Dad wasn’t much of an earner. We lived in the projects (NYC) so my mother made homemade spaghetti sauce and her recipe for potted meatballs. She also had a friend who taught her to make lasagna (I can’t make it as good), but my one granddaughter squeals w/ delight when I serve the potted meatballs and the spaghetti and meatballs.. My husband calls them my “signature dishes”. It’s amazing that the dishes our Moms made stick w/ us. She also made Horn & Hardart’s (Automat) mac and cheese. I still make it the way she did (she put pieces of stewed tomatoes in it) Unfortunately, as she got older, she couldn’t rememvber how to make the lasagna, and my one regret, not asking my maternal grandmother (Bubby) how to make her flat apple pie, and I can’t seem to make her matzoh balls “like lead balls!” As a PS- my two girls will make the potted meatballs and then call to say they’re good, but not like mine. So, as an afterthought, I asked the younger daughter if she spit in it and as usual. she said, Mom, get real. You are on crack!!!!!
Judi Degraaff says
Carole, For the Matzoh balls, I use club soda and a bit of chicken broth. The less you handle it the better.I also do not boil them so long. Maybe half the time.Otherwise they are like rubber.
Richard Criswell says
YOUR NOSTALGIC FOODS LIST SURE RANG A BELL AT THIS HOUSEHOLD. JUST ABOUT EVERY ITEM LISTED IN THE MESSAGES WAS IN THE REGULAR MENU FOR OUR 5 SONS DURING THOSE TIMES oNE THAT WAS OFTEN SERVED WAS OPEN FACE SPAM AND CHEESE SANDWICHES BUT ALL THOSE GOOD EATS MUST HAVE OK i JUST TURNED 90 YEARS OLD AND THREE OF MY SON ARE NOW RETIRED
yOUR COOKBOOK IS MY BIBLE
Wow 90 years old and still cooking! I’m so proud of you!
Debbie Thomas says
As the oldest of six boys and girls, I seemed to peel potatoes EVERY NIGHT and didn’t start cooking (bless my husband) until I discovered the Instant Pot just a few years ago (of which your website ,Karen, is one of my favorites) To this day, I have never fried a chicken because we had chicken and mashed potatoes almost every Sunday and what potatoes we didn’t eat, we had later in the week, with MORE mashed potatoes!
Preparing chicken in the Instant Pot is soooo much more fun!
Ha! I love this. Thanks for sharing the nostalgia!
Kim B. says
OMGoodness! Your comment about the Pizza Hut Book It pizzas sure brought back memories. I was teaching 1st grade during the 80’s & 90’s and my kids would work their little “hiney-bumpers” off to get those free little pan pizzas! I made them keep a Reading Journal & they were soooo proud when I’d check it & hand them that little coupon. You’d have thought I gave them a gold brick!! Super good memories. Thanks.
🤣 They were super motivating!!
I enjoyed your post and family photo snd the details about all that your mom did. Her mom must have trained her well! Today’s girls don’t seem to be schooled so much with the old fashioned honored role of mother and wife. Our childhood fave was Friday nights: “Kraft dinner (what we called the boxed Mac n cheese) and fish sticks” followed by the Brady bunch, the partridge family and the Carol Burnett show!
My husband mother raised 3 kids on her own mostly and served her children all manner of meat stretching casseroles and fried baloney sandwiches and shepherds pie (which my husband hated with a white hot burning passion – stuffed it into his Johnny walker high tops one night after his mom left the table !
Oh man! He stuffed the casserole in his shoes??? That is so funny 🤣
We did a lot of spaghetti, meatloaf, tacos, and soups. Sunday special dinner was lamb chops with steamed cauliflower and a white cream sauce and peas. She also did sausages over mashed potatoes with a cream of mushroom soup can using only half a can of milk so it was a gravy.
Oh, and we also did a lot of Libby’s canned corned beef hash which I dearly love to this day.
We didn’t eat out much on average. I grew up more in the 70s. By 85, I had left for college and tried all kinds of different casseroles and things my mom hadn’t made. But what did I want when I came home? Meatloaf and her hamburger soup. I can follow her recipe but it never tastes the same…it’s missing that love that got cooked into it.
Food is never as good when you have to make it yourself! That’s what I think!
We never had lamb chops and now I’m feeling picked on 🤣
Loved your family photo! Seven sisters, wow.
You also told our story, hardly ever ate out. Did not have fast foods back then, Not even KFC.
Thanks for sharing yourself with us.
You’re welcome! Thanks for indulging me!
Peggy Bawden says
Karen, my family lived in Great Falls in the 80’s and 90’s and knew your family. We are a lot of the same meals on a budget that your family did. I’m loving your recipes.
Oh how fun! Your name sounds SO familiar. I will ask my mom.
pat wilson says
Oh now my mouth is watering Nancy. I have not had a beef tongue in years. my mom used to pickle it too and was that a treat. if I ever find one in store again I think tongue would be perfect in IP. Thanks for the memories.
My mom loved beef tongue as well. When we first moved to San Jose, she found a German deli where she was able to get it. It’s long gone and the other German delis won’t make it. Do you have a good butcher you could talk to? I wanted an old hen to fricasse in my IP and my butcher was able to find me one…frozen solid like a cannon ball but the coq au vin was flavorful.
What about. SOS…OR HAM HOCKS AND BEANS OVER WHITE BUTTERED BREAD. Or tv dinners before microwaves..we waited till they cooked in oven.. we were a patient crew back in the day.
Oh man…I remember when we first got a microwave. Such a huge deal!!! That and the VCR. So funny.
We had SOS all the time! I was a military thing , lol. I loved that stuff. I made it for my kids a while back and they were NOT impressed. 😆
J Jo says
‘Creamed Dried Beef’ (if you please), was a treat when mom made it for us. (over mashed potatoes…) YUMMM!
I LOVED SOS! Military brat here. I just bought a jar of chipped beef to serve it to my military brat kids so we will see how that goes! They did LOVE biscuits and sausage country gravy. Found a super easy and great “scratch” biscuit recipe and they ate it all and wanted more!
That’s ugly! No need to make those type of comments. If you don’t like it just move on….
Don’t forget the tuna casserole or the ham hock bean soup.
Yes the tuna casserole! For sure! And the ham and bean soup with the ham bone in it…mmmmm
J Jo says
Mac ‘n Cheese Tuna casserole… I’ve tried making that, but its not the same at all! Mom didn’t use recipes for casseroles… a kitchen veteran all the way!
Shepherd’s pie can not contain beef, it’s a cottage pie if it has beef. Why? Shepherd’s preferred sheep.
Lol! I don’t know why we called it that. It’s more like beef casserole. But that doesn’t sound as fun.
Growing up, our shepherd’s pie was ground beef mixed with cream of mushroom soup that was put in a greased casserole dish on top of drained, canned green beans, covered with a later of mashed potato (sprinkled with paprika because you can’t serve plain white food) and baked. My family still enjoys this dish!
Lori Sari says
There was only 3 kids in my family, but my childhood was similar. My mom was a school nurse in a high school, so she was home by 3 and cooked every night. Spaghetti with homemade sauce and meatballs, homemade chili and rice, beef stew with dumplings. She made great homemade soups too. A lot of meals were things she could make ahead of time on the weekend and then freeze. Occasionally we had hot dogs and baked beans with sauerkraut. Rarely went out to eat (usually Sunday brunch after church). Once in a great while we had take out pizza or Chinese. I didn’t have Spaghettios, Hamburger Helper, or Rice a Roni till I was in college! 😂
Your mom sounds wonderful! I’d love to eat those dumplings and beef stew yummmm
Karen. Yours is my go for the instant pot. I wish they would include your web site with every pressure cooker sold. Had I not found you my instant pot would be delegated to a far away shelf and used twice a year if that. Thanks so much!
As a retired hospice nurse I have to share with you one of my experiences. My patient was a wonderful man with supportive family..a wife and 7 daughters ! Using there bathroom I noted a plaque on the wall stating “there is a special place in heaven for a man with 7 daughters”. With a smile I commented on it and his reply was “ya. And only one bathroom!” Bless you and yours.
Haha I love hearing this story Betty! I will have to tell my Dad that.
Jason C. says
I can’t believe you wrote my childhood down so exactly. 🤯
Turkey a’la king. Which, honestly I don’t know what it was. Left over chicken mixed with mayo and served on toast? I remember it was served on toast from one of those awful toasters that could only burn things…on one side of the bread.
My mom would make gravy with peas in it and we’d eat it over toast. I loved it lol!! And that’s so funny about the toaster!! Gotta make do
Mary Westerlund says
My Mom always made chili with beans. This was served on a pile of mashed potatoes and then covered with canned corn. I still make this occasionally although my husband gags 🤣.
I like that idea! Chili on mashed potatoes. Maybe not the corn though lol
Chili is a good filler for potato skins, also.
Three kids in Indiana; but we dined similarly in the fifties. Creamed chipped beef was a frequent entre as were buttered noodles and tuna casserole (can’t even look at it now).
I think a lot of us feel that same way about tuna dishes 🤣🤣
Nancy Sorrels says
I got a chuckle out of your lunchbox description. I always said my beef heart or tongue sandwich was “roast beef” as I knew if truth was told there would be gagging and squealing. That was my childhood in the 50s, no bit went unused. My children, in the 70s and 80s, were much pickier than I, fatherly influence. We did partake of tuna casserole, hot dogs and beans, turkey tetrazzini and tamale pies. I remember my kids gagging when I repurposed leftover grits as fried mush with syrup. I think that is served in fancy places now as polenta and serve it with tomato sauce. Sorry for rambling but you triggered some memories.
Oh yes! I forgot about tetrazzini. My mom would always make chicken tetrazzini. We loved it. And I actually think the grits sound good! lol!!
Lisa Anderson says
We had the same shepard’s pie! Because it doesn’t look like today’s shepard’s pie, I call it hamburger casserole. I still make it today, I love it.
Ha! Yes hamburger casserole is probably a more accurate name. Shepherd’s pie was what my mom called it. Not sure why!
Similar experience in the 70s & 80s, remembering all the weekly meals like meatloaf and spaghetti! We had potatoes with every meal, and some kind of salad, lots of times they were jello “salads” with fruit in them or apple salad with mini marshmallows and nuts, coated with miracle whip and dream whip… If we didn’t like the meal, we sat there til we finished cleaning our plates – ugh! I don’t remember hiding food to avoid having to eat it, but my oldest friend loves to tease me about the pork chop I pulled out my sock…
LOL!!! Did you really do that with your pork chop??
Brett Piercy says
lol We had the ground beef stroganoff too! I remember when I was an adult and I went to make it and searched the Campbell’s website for the recipe and saw that it called for a cut of meat. I laughed my head off because I could just imagine my (Depression-era) grandmother saying, “Sirloin? What are we, Rockerfellers?!” and using ground beef. Other funny story: My little brother wouldn’t eat it, so my mom served it over rice instead of noodles and called it Mr. McGillagoo, and he LOVED it.
I love your comment! The Rockerfellers?? Haha! My friends mom would always say to us when we left the lights on, “what do you think we are? Millionares???” And I love the name Mr McGillagoo. That is great. I’ll try that on my son 😂
your son wasen’t raised in the 50’s or 60 ‘s so would probably be clueless