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Sorry to call you out, moms and dads, but the fact is most of us grew up eating some really nasty food. It’s not really our parents’ fault, though. I blame the ‘70s. And the ‘80s. And the ‘90s.
I asked my coworkers to share their childhood misery meals, which are below, but I will begin with mine. My mother is 100 percent Italian, and although a stereotype, she is, indeed, a very excellent cook. (Mangia!)
That said, she also dished up demented delicacies like boiled marrow bones (I think the butcher gives those away for dogs?), fried bologna slices (not gonna lie, kind of craving those right now) and all of the Helpers (tuna, cheeseburger, hamster). We also ate a lot of microwavable meals because the microwave was still a relatively new concept, and we marveled over the fact we could "make" a burger and fries in three minutes. Sure, the bun turned to cardboard once it cooled and the fries were limp, but you guys: THREE MINUTES!
Somehow, we survived without contracting rickets or other diseases caused by wonky nutrition.
Here’s some of the icky eats my coworkers devoured as kids.
Sandwich spread. When I was in kindergarten / early elementary school, my dad was working his butt off to be a broke AF single father of two and we ate what we could afford, including sandwich spread, aka ham salad. Sandwich spread is basically a puree of minced ham, mayo, relish and whatever else you need to get rid of. The local Piggly Wiggly sold it CHEAP and it was in our lunch on the daily. I liked it then (I think after a while we actually started to ask for it), but I can't even look at it in the deli now. Much love to my dad for grinding it out all those years, but oof. – Nick Barth
Casseroles. My mom (and who am I kidding – my dad couldn't stop making them either) was the queen of casseroles. You name it, she made it. Tuna, chicken, hamburger, whatever. To me, casseroles were just a bunch of crap thrown together – not really all that impressive, Mom. Thankfully, I've grown up quite a bit and I love me some casserole now. Especially cheeseburger ones. This question also made me ask my mom what I did or didn't like and apparently I hated potatoes. WHO can hate potatoes? The biggest travesty in all of this is that it included potato chips. What!?! I guess I'm making up for the fact that I didn't eat them till I was 9 or 10 because I can't get enough of that starchy goodness now. – Carolynn Buser
Brussels sprouts. I think I speak for all kids everywhere when I say that, by far, the grossest thing I ate growing up was vegetables. Brussels sprouts, especially. Repulsive. I still don't understand their disgusting appeal. Who wants to eat something so green anyway? – Jimmy Carlton
Liver. I don't have too many "gross" food memories from childhood, since my mother was actually a fairly accomplished cook. However, there were definitely foods that my childhood palate didn't have the sophistication for. Take for instance one of my mother's favorite dishes, liver and onions. Although I can appreciate the subtleties of liver now, I absolutely did not appreciate my mother's version, which tasted dry and pasty and just plain horrible. I also had no love for her soups. Her chicken noodle was probably the worst of all of them. She made the noodles by hand (I have fond memories of seeing them hanging on the backs of our wooden kitchen chairs to dry), and they were delicious. But, the stock itself was never salty enough for my taste. My siblings and I always joked that it was just water with vegetables floating around in it. Sadly, it meant that we rejoiced on the rare occasions we were able to indulge in a can of Campbell's chicken noodle with its mushy noodles and umami-laden salt-ridden flavor. I also had a "thing" for cold hot dogs. Actually, I loved them. – Lori Fredrich
Tuna casserole. My mom would make a huge pot of tuna casserole with celery and peas. It doesn't sound inherently bad, but it needed something like more cream of mushroom soup to hold it together. Instead it was super bland. My siblings and I never wanted to eat it, so we would take as small a portion as possible, but this would come back to bite us. Inevitably the casserole would end up back into the refrigerator and over the next week and a half it would be trudged out and re-microwaved over and over. Every night the tuna and noodles got drier and drier and we crossed our fingers, hoping to beat the odds of hot spot / cold spot. I haven't eaten tuna casserole since I left for college. – Jason McDowell
Jambalaya. As a millennial who regularly – and happily! – dines on SpaghettiOs, cheap ramen and various bagged salty snacks, I'm admittedly a bad person for a question about sub-par food options. I grew up with fairly food-forward parents, so while I got to hear their stories about eating meals of liver and onions, and giblets, I myself never had to try to swallow any of those down.
I do have one story about food I THOUGHT was gross, however. When I was about 8 or 9, my mom decided to cook up jambalaya one night – and she was going all out. This wasn't some frozen bag or boxed dish; she was really trying to make jambalaya. So she spent most of a weekend, cooking and crafting and slicing and dicing and sweating over this massive pot of jambalaya ... which my sister and I then took one bite of and instantly declared it disgusting. Looking back, I realize my sister and I were, to put it generously, little a**holes. But at the time, it was full-on repulsion.
Considering my current dining options tend to be self-made overcooked spaghetti and string cheese, I can't believe I ever turned down a meal that good. – Matt Mueller
Sugar bread. Still deciding if this qualifies as gross or amazingly awesome. Wonder Bread and Mrs. Karl’s White Bread were the crap of bread brands many years ago. Mrs. Karl’s was local, and – for what it’s worth – involved in a merger that got a its fair share of federal scrutiny in 1995.
Anyway, my family loved both of these massively unhealthy breads. And, my sister and I used to pile sugar into the center of slices, roll ‘em up and eat these treats we simply called sugar bread. My parents tried to stop it, and probably did often but we found plenty of time and ways to sneak sugar bread sessions into our weeks. Ah, childhood. Ah, kinda gross. Yet, kinda good. – Jeff Sherman
SpaghettiOs. With all due respect to the millennials (sorry, Matt) who will scoff at my dissing the kitschy coolness of SpaghettiOs, these mushy little pasta rings with the blandest, most textureless tomato sauce were perhaps the grossest food we ate as kids, though I'm not sure we knew it at the time (not counting the insane pure sugar candy – Pop Rocks, seriously?! – we ate as kids in the '70s). My grandmother lived with us until her death when I was almost 8 and I like to think her Italian roots helped shape the fact that we ate pretty good as kids, especially compared to how I saw other families eating. Though we always wanted TV dinners, we rarely got them and McDonald's was an occasional treat. And while my mom couldn't completely resist the food industrial complex's full-court press on boxed pre-fab foods (I do recall her shaking pork chops in a plastic bag), I vividly remember her at the stove and the oven every night actually cooking food, not simply opening boxes. (She did win some sort of "homemaker" award at South Division.) Maybe it says something that I didn't have access to a microwave until I moved out. – Bobby Tanzilo
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.