American food has evolved throughout the past century in many ways—we’ve traded TV dinners for meal kit boxes and overflowing bowls of cereal for morning smoothies. And while we agree that some formerly trendy foods, like as aspic, a savory jelly made with meat stock, should remain fully in the past, others, like a good meatloaf, hold a nostalgic place in our hearts from childhood, no gelatin added.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best classic American dishes that you may have forgotten about because they’ve disappeared from restaurant menus and our dinner tables. You’ll either be inspired to resurrect them from your mom’s old cookbook or reminded why you never want to see them again—we’re looking at you, ambrosia salad.
And for more, don’t miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Sloppy Joes are said to have originated at a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1930s as “loose meat sandwiches.” They’re essentially ground beef or pork seasoned with a sweet-tangy tomato sauce and served on a simple hamburger bun. This makes for a sloppy eating experience because the sandwich doesn’t hold its shape very well. Perhaps it could be lightened up by subbing in lettuce wraps instead to make a comeback, but this school lunch and summer camp food will likely stay in the past.
This pasta dish is mostly known as a way to use up a surplus of leftover turkey at Thanksgiving. It’s cooked like a casserole with pasta (typically spaghetti or egg noodles), mushrooms, peas, a creamy sauce, and a breadcrumb topping. It’s a dense meal that doesn’t fit with our lighter, vegetable-forward eating habits today.
Here are some better ways to use up leftover turkey.
A Southern potluck and holiday favorite, this “salad” (which was first invented in the 1800s) is a cloyingly sweet dessert-like gloopy mess. It would typically include marshmallows, shredded coconut, canned pineapple, and mandarin oranges combined with either sour cream, Cool Whip, or mayonnaise. Sometimes other fruits like strawberries, bananas, or maraschino cherries were involved, and sometimes nuts were added for a little texture. It’s pretty clear why this “salad” is mostly extinct. But here are some other old-fashioned recipes that fare better today.
Creamed chipped beef is thin-sliced dried beef that is slightly reconstituted in a thick milk-based gravy. Veterans who ate it in the armed forces would call it “shit on a shingle” or “S.O.S.,” and it was a popular cheap breakfast meal served over toast, even after the depression era was over. It is a gut bomb that has disappeared from most diner menus across the country.
Though it has a French name, this is more of an American classic: Swiss cheese and ham wrapped inside a chicken breast that is breaded and deep-fried. It is said to have origins in Switzerland in the 1940s and was a popular frozen meal up until at least the 1990s. There are much healthier ways to prepare chicken now, and this dish is rarely seen on restaurant menus. Here are some healthier recipes to make with chicken.
Another classic casserole uses canned tuna, egg noodles, a creamy sauce (sometimes with cheese), breadcrumbs, and a very minimal amount of vegetables such as peas, carrots, and corn. It was a favorite of the 1950s housewives who used canned condensed soup for the sauce portion, and it remained popular for a few decades as a homemade or frozen meal. It has disappeared as many Americans now buy higher quality tuna and tinned fish (taking a cue from Portugal and Spain) rather than cheap tuna for casseroles. Here are some tasty light casseroles to make instead.
Both of these desserts were popular as instant and homemade versions throughout the 1900s, thickened with rice or tapioca pearls. It was essentially pudding that you could chew. Overall, pudding has fallen from grace since at least the 1990s, but these two in particular are rarely seen nowadays. It could be the dessert-with-added-carbs combo that made them extinct. Here are some other vintage dessert recipes we no longer make.
For more, check out these 108 most popular sodas ranked by how toxic they are.