It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be a parent in the '90s. Back then, we didn’t have the internet at our very fingertips every second of every day; our foods didn’t have all the labels that they do now; no one talked about GMOs and pesticides and endocrine disruptors and hormones and, well, you get the picture. Simply put, there were less worries because we knew less. That doesn’t mean things were better, of course, just, different. What it does mean, though, is that parents could get away with making certain dinner choices in the '90s parents wouldn’t make today.
Granted, some of us still eat some of the things on this list because nostalgia, and also because we’re adults and there's no one around to tell us we can't. Plus, these foods are mostly on the cheap side and life is expensive these days. Still, many of us know that we probably shouldn’t be slopping this junk onto our kid’s plates. This is the era of clean eating, after all. These days, we can make the decision to eat organic, fair-trade, low or no sugar, low or no fat, low carb, seasonal, and even local (when we can afford it, that is). Take this list with a grain of salt (unless you’re worried about sodium content because, hey, I know I am), because trust me when I say that, as a mom who feeds her child a steady diet of chicken nuggets and rice and beans, I don’t actually judge anyone’s dinner choices.
Chef Boyardee Pizza Maker
Of all the ways to make a pizza, the last option on your list should be to use Chef Boyardee Pizza Maker. This box mix included crust mix, pizza sauce, grated cheese (the dry, bland kind because it’s not refrigerated), and pepperoni. At 42 grams of carbs per slice (assuming you cut it into 8 slices), most people would probably prefer to just order a pizza guaranteed to be delicious instead of spend the time making this flavorless pie.
While Hamburger Helper is still a staple for many poor college students, Tuna Helper is something most of us probably wouldn’t touch. Yet our parents seemed to think this was somehow a decent meal just 20 years ago. Maybe that’s because many of them grew up with it as well. Regardless, canned tuna has grown less popular in recent years and there’s a good chance Tuna Helper may be on it’s way out, too.
Anything Simmered In Chicken Tonight
Chicken Tonight had ridiculously catchy commercial jingle, but that doesn’t mean it was any good. Actually, to be fair, I never tried it, and I’m having a hard time finding anyone who did. Maybe that’s why it totally flopped as a dinner option and is now only sold overseas. So, basically, we wouldn’t serve this for dinner because we literally just can’t get it anymore.
Instant Mashed Potatoes With Instant Gravy
While we all still very much love mashed potatoes, in this day and age, we’d usually prefer to boil a few taters and mash them ourselves (and maybe even add some fresh or dried herbs). It really isn’t that hard to make real home-made mashed potatoes, sans the chemicals that we are much more hyper-aware of. Or at the very least, we buy pre-made mashed potato casseroles. Anything but those preservative-ridden potato flake packets, and let’s not get started on the instant gravy.
By now, we know that microwave dinners are gross. But back in the '90s? That’s just what we ate. We still lived blissfully unaware and in favor of quick and easy meals (and, I mean, there is something to be said for something that only takes a few minutes to "make"). In fact, we liked the ease of it all so much so that we created a special line catered to kids called Kid Cuisine. I actually bought one for my kid (thank you, nostalgia) in recent months and no, it’s still pretty gross, plus ridiculously high in sodium.
Stouffers made it on this list of the 15 unhealthiest frozen dinners four times (more times than any other brand). Their "Lasagna Italiano," for example, has 625 calories, 23 grams of fat, plus more than 1600 milligrams of sodium while their "Salisbury Steak" goes up to a whopping 34 grams of fat. Once in awhile is fine, but no one (I think) wants to voluntarily make this for dinner every night for their kid.
Canned Orange Pasta
How hard is it to make spaghetti? I’m a fairly lazy person, and not the best cook, and not what you would call even remotely rich, but spaghetti is one of the few meals I can whip up relatively easily. (And if I want to feel extra good about my parenting, I add sautéed veggies or a salad on the side.) Still, our parents frequently depended on the many variations of canned orange pasta like Spaghettios, Beefaroni, Sonic the Hedgehog Pasta, and the like. These days, if we’re feeling so inclined, we might at the very least spring for the Annie’s Organic Bernie O’s.
Anything Made With Olestra
You may recall the '90s fat-free food craze spurred by an ingredient known as Olestra. For those who don't remember, Olestra is a fat substitute that is basically zero calories, zero fat, and zero cholesterol. This was pretty damn awesome when we first heard of it. Then, well, the cramping and diarrhea it caused started to make headlines and suddenly it just wasn’t cool to eat this stuff anymore. No parent wants to give their kids the runs. Not back then, and certainly not now.
All The Sugary Drinks Forever
Not exactly a meal, but there sure was a seemingly endless supply of sugary drinks being served to us with dinner back then. Surge, Kool-Aid, Fruitopia, Josta, Strawberry and Chocolate Quick, Crystal Pepsi, Sprite Remix, and Hi-C Ecto Cooler were among the myriad of sickeningly sweet drinks adults seemed to be totally cool giving their kids. These days, many parents argue about whether or not to even introduce orange or apple juice to their kids, let alone something like Squeeze-It.