6 Delicious Origin Stories of Kids’ Food Staples

istock
istock

The scenario is so classic, it’s almost cliche: Parent serves a new dish for dinner, kid refuses to try it, and eventually the parent gives in and makes a box of macaroni and cheese or heats up some chicken nuggets. Below, explore the history of six meals that would become the dinner savior for parents across the country.

1. KRAFT MACARONI AND CHEESE

Cheese was a part of J.L. Kraft’s entire life. After growing up on a dairy farm in Ontario, Kraft headed to the U.S. with $65 and the dream of launching a wholesale cheese business. The issue was how to get the cheese from farm to household without it going bad in between. In 1916, Kraft acquired a patent for his processed cheese, which could travel long distances without spoiling. 

During the Great Depression, an innovative salesman in St. Louis, Mo. wrapped a packet of Kraft shredded cheese around a box of pasta and convinced retailers to sell the two as a unit. Kraft macaroni and cheese as packaged by the Kraft company launched in 1937 (although in a yellow box, that would become the classic blue in 1954). 

Kraft had found a hit. The long shelf life and the fact that a customer could buy two boxes with one food ration stamp helped the dish become a classic. During WWII alone, 50 million boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were sold. 

2. FISH STICKS

The earliest fish sticks date from the 1920s, when consumers stopped buying whole fish, but those versions were just fillets cut crossways into long strips. During the 1950s, commercial fisherman were having trouble selling off their increasingly larger and larger catches. At the time, the tons of fish that were being harvested from the ocean each year were filleted and then frozen into giant, solid blocks. Trying to separate the fish later resulted in mangled chunks of frozen fillets. Needless to say, customers did not find this sort of packaging appealing. 

Processors then started sawing these blocks into rectangles that were 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, and then breading and deep frying them. Sales exploded: Production of fish sticks jumped from 7.5 million pounds in 1953 to 63 million pounds two years later.  It took the efforts of E. Robert Kinney, fish stick enthusiast and CEO of what was then called Gorton-Pew Fisheries and is now Gorton’s, to turn the hot dog of the ocean into the token vehicle for tartar sauce it is today. 

3. PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY

The staple of kids' lunch boxes everywhere first began as a sandwich for fancy parties and high teas. The first written recipe by Julia Davis Chandler appeared in 1901 in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics. “The combination is delicious, and, so far as I know, original,” she wrote

The popularity of peanut butter rose dramatically before and during World War II due to three factors: the product began being commercially manufactured, manufacturers started adding sugar to the nuts, and meat shortages during the war meant Americans on the both the war and home fronts need to find alternative sources of protein. When advertisers lobbied to get the sandwich served in schools, the PB&J’s position in children’s diets was cemented. 

4. CHEF BOYARDEE SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

One of Chef Ettore “Hector” Boiardi’s first culinary jobs after he immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in 1914 was catering the wedding of President Woodrow Wilson to his second wife, Edith. One hundred years later, Boiardi is known for being kids’ favorite spaghetti and meatballs chef since 1928

Boiardi opened his first restaurant in Cleveland in 1924. The spaghetti and meatballs proved so popular that he began selling milk bottles full of the sauce to his customers, along with prepackaged packets of dried noodles and Parmesan cheese. In 1928, he and his brothers Mario and Paul launched “Chef Boyardee,” spelling their last name phonetically to help their American customers. At the time, the brothers were the largest importer of Parmesan cheese to the U.S. 

5. CHICKEN NUGGETS

Before McDonald’s, there was Robert C. Baker. Baker, a professor of poultry science at Cornell University, and his graduate students are responsible for all things processed chicken: chicken hot dogs, chicken cold cuts, chicken meatballs and more than 50 other ways to make chicken not look like chicken. In 1963, he proposed the “chicken stick,” a frozen and breaded manipulation of poultry. 

Baker entered into the Frankenstein science of chicken with the best intentions: to persuade people to eat more poultry. At the time, chicken was usually sold whole, which was time-consuming and complicated for home cooks to deal with. Baker worked with graduate student Joseph Marshall to create a method for both grinding the meat and developing the correct breading. In the first market tests for the new, easy-to-cook chicken at five supermarkets, 1200 boxes were sold in the first six weeks.

6. ANTS ON A LOG

The one way you could always count on getting kids at camp to eat their vegetables started, like peanut butter and jelly, with a much fancier background. In the late 19th century, bite-sized stuffed vegetables were the de rigueur appetizer to serve at a dinner party. Vegetables were usually topped with cheese and spices, and peanut butter as a filling rose in popularity in the 1960s. 

How the two became one dish is a little unclear. George Washington Carver included recipes for soups and salads that combined celery and peanuts in his 'How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.' Many attribute the combination, complete with raisin “ants,” to the Girl Scouts, although the first written record of the combination by its rightful name doesn’t appear in scouting cookbooks until 1964. It seems that Ants on a Log, like some things, was just meant to be. 

All images courtesy of iStock

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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More Than 38,000 Pounds of Ground Beef Has Been Recalled

Beef-ware.
Beef-ware.
Angele J, Pexels

Your lettuce-based summer salads are safe for the moment, but there are other products you should be careful about using these days: Certain brands of hand sanitizer, for example, have been recalled for containing methanol. And as Real Simple reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) recently recalled 38,406 pounds of ground beef.

When JBS Food Canada ULC shipped the beef over the border from its plant in Alberta, Canada, it somehow skirted the import reinspection process, so FSIS never verified that it met U.S. food safety standards. In other words, we don’t know if there’s anything wrong with it—and no reports of illness have been tied to it so far—but eating unapproved beef is simply not worth the risk.

The beef entered the country on July 13 as raw, frozen, boneless head meat products, and Balter Meat Company processed it into 80-pound boxes of ground beef. It was sent to holding locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina before heading to retailers that may not be specific to those four states. According to a press release, FSIS will post the list of retailers on its website after it confirms them.

In the meantime, it’s up to consumers to toss any ground beef with labels that match those here [PDF]. Keep an eye out for lot codes 2020A and 2030A, establishment number 11126, and use-or-freeze-by dates August 9 and August 10.

[h/t Real Simple]