Tag: School Cafeteria

Taste Testing Four Retro School Cafeteria Foods

We’re a little stir crazy, so we decided to taste test retro food products.

I want to complain about the snow, but also feel pride that this weather makes us tougher. When 20 degrees rolls around, I’ll be gleefully running errands without a hat while people in warmer states will shiver at the thought.

Yesterday read -6 with a doomsday windchill. The snowflakes remind me of the fake snow found in department store displays. It’s so light and fluffy that the winds whip it into white outs. Our little dog is stir crazy, too. Yesterday, I asked him if he wanted to head outside and go to the bathroom.

Trayse Collage Blizzard

Well, OK then. I suppose I wouldn’t want to either.

How does one fend off cabin fever during a week when school’s cancelled due to the cold? Taste test wacky retro products, of course. For this project, I visited Fareway‘s meat counter and Martin Bros. Food Market in Mason City, Iowa. I appreciate how the butchers at Fareway treat every product with the same dignity, from ribeye steaks to processed Mr. Rib patties. They carefully measure each item and wrap them tidy little packages with brown paper.

Fareway goodies wm
Martin Brothers sells bulk foods and party supplies. You’ll find items like big bags of vegetables and every fried appetizer you could possibly imagine in their coolers.

I selected four items that harkened back to my grade school cafeteria days: Pizza Patties, BBQ Rib Patties, and Chicken Crispitos from Fareway and Mexican Pizzas from Martin Bros.

Pizza Patty: I fondly remember “Pizza Burgers” from grade school. Of course, that was over two decades ago, but, then again, I still like corn dogs so there’s that. I remember our Pizza Burgers looking a lot different from this patty, but wanted to try it anyway. Think of the pizza patty as the center of a butcher wrap blossom. $1.66/each

Pizza Patty wm

Meet the Crispito. Back when I wrote a post about school cafeteria memories, I noticed a funny thing. Minnesotans raved about Italian Dunker Day while Iowans fondly remembered Crispitos. I bought two of the chicken variety. Price $1 each

Crispito wm

Hello there BBQ Rib Patty. Why our school never called this Mrs. Rib, I don’t know, but I won’t fight the gentlemen for this honor. You’ve got to appreciate the artistry that went into creating the pressed and formed rib shape complete with three rib nubs and painted on grill marks. I can only compare this product to my grade school memories, for I have never eaten a McRib. $1.25 each

Mr Rib wm

And finally, who remembers Mexican Pizzas? Our elementary school offered pizza once a week and always listed them as “Tony’s Pizza.” Pizza day was special because we could choose from big rectangles of cheese, pepperoni or sausage pizza or this hexagonal oddity, the Fiestada.

I was surprised to find bags of Fiestadas at Martin Bros. In fact, they carried bags of the other pizza rectangles, too. I did some research and home and read Martin Bros. sources this Mexican Pizza from Schwan’s who sources them from Tony’s (or something like that), meaning they’re the closest I’ll get to the real deal. $0.83 each

Mexican pizza

I baked the products at 375℉ until pizza was bubbly and the Crispito was, well, crispy.

Taste Testing Verdict:
Drumroll. . .

Everything Labeled

Pizza Patty: A reader mentioned this product is best fried. It crisped in the oven and oozed cheese. Long story short, this wasn’t our thing because we didn’t enjoy the strong sausage flavor. There’s a lonely Pizza Patty, whom I shall call Patty, chilling in our fridge. Any takers?

Mr. Rib: This was our favorite item. Baking the patty gave it a firmer texture while the sauce formed a glaze. We split the patty in half and them in small buns with dill pickle chips. Jake commented Fareway’s tastes better than the McRib. It’s so naughty-good we’re going to eat the second Mr. Rib. Sorry if you’ve gotten attached to him Miss Pizza Patty.

Crispito: When I first pulled the tubular Crispito from its wrapping, I knew my main goal was to make it crisp. Afterall, it is a Crispito, right? What appeared to be a corn tortilla shell did, in fact, crisp up in the oven. I have no idea what comprises the filling, but it tastes similar to the El Monterey Taquitos my mom used to purchase. Jake and I dipped each half into salsa and concluded the product tasted pretty good. If you like Taquitos, there’s really nothing objectionable about this. Jake still prefers Taquitos, but I prefer Crispitos.

*Some friends added Fareway’s Crispitos taste closest to the ones served in their school cafeterias while others nominated Martin Bros‘s.

Mexican Pizza/Fiestada: This hexagonal wonder still tastes like it did in grade school.

Fiestada Cooked

The only difference is the crust seems puffier. According to Schwan’s website, the crust contains 51% whole grains (not just 50%, but 51% lol) which lends a heartier texture.

“It tastes good. No wonder it’s still around,” observed Jake. While we want to space out our Fiestada consumption, we won’t cry over the five left in our freezer.

And this concludes my foray into revisiting school cafeteria foods. Is there a specific food you’d like to revisit or leave in the past?

For Better or For Worse: Most Memorable School Cafeteria Foods

Next month, I’ll return to Waverly, Iowa for the first time since my college graduation and it’s got me in a school [food] state of mind.

A Chowhound discussion about memorable school cafeteria food continues to pop-up and I never get tired of reading people’s memories. School cafeteria food is vividly burned into my memory and I can still taste and smell meals decades later.

It’s interesting to learn about the different iconic school cafeteria meals that exist even between states within the Midwest. Many of my Iowan friends fondly remember chili and cinnamon/caramel roll day and Crispitos, which I never saw in Minnesota. My college roommate grew up in a small town in Iowa and recalled the combination of “Pork shape on a bun” and butter sandwiches, which were spread with something that was definitely not butter. In fact, I don’t remember seeing pork served on lunch menus at my Minnesota schools during grade school.

These are the school cafeteria foods that are burned most clearly into my memory. Feel free to add yours in the comments section:

Elementary School (Diamond Path, Apple Valley, Minnesota)
Diamond Path became a “magnet school of international studies” in 2007. I have especially vivid memories learning about Frank Lloyd Wright in art class and making homemade pizza as part of a unit about Italy. As you can see in this photo, there’s a tiled pool in the entryway. During the year this pool was built, we all designed and painted our own clay tiles which I believe are still there.


In 3rd grade, I was a picnic table. Where are those dunkers?


  • Turkey Gravy: This was the most popular lunch item. The meal was simply a clear gravy with cubes of turkey served over mashed potatoes, but even the teachers would forgo their sack lunches on Turkey Gravy Day.
  • Tony’s Pizza: Our lunch menus always specified that it was Tony’s Pizza. Of course, there were the big rectangles of cheese, sausage & pepperoni covered in pale cheese that never browned. The Mexican pizza (technically called a Fiestada) was extra special because it was octagon-shaped and covered with bright yellow cheese. Tony’s still produces Fiestadas but only sells them through distributors like Schwan’s by the case of 96! They’re listed under the “Sheeted-Pizza” category because how else do you produce pizzas shaped like octagons?
  • French Toast Sticks: I actually bought a box at the grocery store last year for giggles. Sure, I can make my own french toast now, but these still tasted good.
  • Flavored/Seasoned Rice: This is the only food that stands out as being especially unappealing. And if I remember correctly, the menu literally this “Flavored Rice” and flavored it was. With something nose-wrinkling salty and chicken-bouillonesque that also turned it bright yellow.

Middle-High School (Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, MN)

All of my former schools’ menus have changed to include more fresh vegetables and fruit. In fact, I am gawking at the current elementary school menu that lists fresh spinach salad and fiesta bean dip and the high school menu which offers kidney beans, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes. These foods totally weren’t on our menus a decade ago. Times have changed! Italian dunkers are here to stay, though, I see no mention of that infamous elementary school turkey gravy.


  • Italian Dunkers: Italian Dunker Day was as popular as Turkey Gravy Day. Our cafeteria didn’t serve pizza, so this was the closet thing. Everyone left their sack lunches at home for hoagie halves spread with margarine and garlic powder, toasted with cheese and served with pizza sauce. My mom always complained that I reeked of garlic whenever I ate dunkers for lunch. And when I posed the topic of memorable school lunches on my Facebook pages, Minnesota friends mentioned Italian dunkers most frequently with favor, while Fargo friends mentioned them with loathing.
  • Salad Dressing: At Minnehaha, the cafeteria ladies would squirt the salad dressing onto our salads from big jugs with pump dispensers. Our choices were french or ranch, but all of the cool kids got both. Every once in a while when I’m at a salad bar, I’ll drizzle a sald with both and think of those giant salad dressing jugs.
  • Squishy Bagel Breaks: The cafeteria opened in the mornings and during breaks. The most popular snack among students were these squishy $1.25 bagels in which the cafeteria ladies would melt a slice of white or yellow American cheese for exactly 90-seconds in the microwave. The trendy thing to order was to dip a bagel with white cheese into cream cheese. I’ll recreate this snack about once every two years.
  • Weird Croutons: We always noticed our salad bar croutons were different the day after grilled cheese day. They transformed from their normal crunchy selves into cubes sandwiching a terribly chewy layer. Cutting leftover grilled cheese into croutons is a good idea in theory, but the fact that they were impossible chewy and kept at room temperature made us whisper.

College (Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa)
For a small liberal arts college, Wartburg’s Mensa (a.k.a. the caf) offered many choices. It wasn’t the wonderland of food that was the St. Olaf cafeteria, but good nonetheless. Our cafeteria meals were set at a single, all-you-can-eat price.

Our cafeteria featured several stations including the main hot food option, vegetarian, make your own sandwich and salad bars, grill & “International” dishes. You could sign-up on a hardcopy paper list located at the campus coffee shop and diner to transfer meals. I see the sign-ups are now online. Have I mentioned times have changed? The school also offered special, themed lunch buffets of which students could sign-up for $.50.

Towards our graduation, the cafeteria started providing more locally grown vegetables and vegetarian options. The staff also invited students to submit their favorite recipes which they would try to recreate and serve during meals.


  • BLT’s: Every once in a while, the main lunch line would feature hotel pans of toast, crispy bacon, lettuce, sliced tomato and mayo of course.
  •  Goulash: I was confused to find this was not Hungarian goulash, but ground beef and macaroni noodles mixed with a bland, slightly sweet tomato sauce. It never became a favorite, but was comfort food to the students who grew up eating it.
  • Inferno Wings: The Den was our on-campus diner that was open into the evening. I was obsessed with their Inferno Wings, a frozen product that the employees deep-fried to order. The wings were coated in a spicy batter, hense the name inferno. I’d squirrel a bag of these back to my dorm where I’d enjoy them with a Michelob Golden Light or Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss, beers that seemed fancy at the time.
  • Cool Cookies: The den also offered ice cream sandwiches made with homemade chocolate chip cookies and a variety of soft-serve ice cream flavors like chocolate-mint and cherry-almond.
  • Fish Fillet & Nachos: Whenever the cafeteria served fried fish fillets in the main hot lunch line, they were always accompanied by corn chips and cheese sauce. I always wondered what kind of pairing this was!
  • Wartburger Sandwich: I think these were Warburg’s version of a loose meat sandwich, but I avoided them due to the name.

What were your most memorable school cafeteria lunches? 

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