6 Delicious Origin Stories of Kids’ Food Staples

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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

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

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Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

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Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

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The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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Never Got a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine as a Kid? You Can Still Buy One This Holiday Season

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LUCKYPENNY VIA YOUTUBE

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Even as toys have gotten more complex in recent decades, one low-tech item has held a perennial spot on holiday wishlists. The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine was a hit when it debuted in 1979, and kids and nostalgic adults can still get their hands on one this December.

People who grew up in the 1980s may remember commercials promoting the “yum-yum fun” plastic appliance. Like the Easy Bake Oven and the Frosty Sno-Man Sno-Cone Machine before it, the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine allowed kids to make edible treats at home. The Peanuts branding made the toy popular with kids, and despite the elbow grease required to crank a couple of ice cubes into shaved ice, it's stuck around.

If you asked for a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine for the holidays as a kid and never received one, you can still make your childhood dreams come true. The retro product is available practically unchanged from how it appeared in the 1980s. The biggest changes are that the hand crank is now easier to turn and there's a clamp for stabilizing the machine while you use it. Get one for yourself or a loved one from Amazon today for $30.

Looking for more nostalgic gift ideas? Here are some items the Millennials in your life will love.