8 favorite foods that first appeared in 1981
Happy 40th birthday to the McRib, the McNugget, Pudding Pops and Lean Cuisine.
1981 was an exciting year for snackers. Revolutionary, we might say. Cult classics like pudding pops and McNuggets first hit freezers and fryers that year.
It was also the start of the health craze. Though, looking back, not all these things would likely be counted as diet foods by today's standards.
Let's take a look!
1. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter
The bygone Baltimore-based manufacturer J.H. Filbert was big in the margarine game. The lab cooked up an even better butter alternate, which prompted the husband of a woman working in the office to proclaim, "I can't believe it's not butter!" The name stuck. Years later, romance-novel model Fabio would become the face of the brand.
2. Lean Cuisine
In the '80s, people started talking a lot more about dieting, cholesterol, aerobics, etc. All those folks doing Jane Fonda workout tapes needed a quick microwavable meal. Enter Stouffer's, who cooked up (and flash-froze) these easy, ready-to-nuke dishes. There were 10 options at launch, each calibrated to come in under 300 calories.
3. Pudding Pops
"Pudding" and "popsicles" might not strike you as health food, but, believe it or not, the pudding pop was originally conceived of as a "nutritious light snack." Take it from this article published in an agricultural journal in 1982: "Corn-based snack foods and yogurt have increased in popularity as have puddings, breakfast bars, and other between-meal offerings (frozen pudding pops) because of the nutritious light snack image." While the Jell-O Pudding Pops might be the more widely remembered, Swiss Miss offered its Pudding Bars, igniting a "pudding pop war" in 1981.
Image: Kraft Heinz
4. Chicken McNuggets
The miraculous McNugget was first cooked up in a lab in 1979. McDonald's introduced the dippable bites in 1981 — in select markets. The chicken supply chain was not yet robust enough to take the McNugget nationwide. By 1983, it had spread from coast to coast.
McDonald's was on a creative roll — literally — in 1981. The cult-favorite McRib first hit barbecue sauce and bread that year. The sandwich stuck around until 1985, when it was removed from the permanent menu due to poor sales. Of course, absence only made fast-food lovers' hearts grow fonder, and the thing has popped up for a limited time ever since.
6. Bartles & Jaymes
Hard seltzers and other low-calorie beer alternatives are all the rage these days. In many ways, the trend began with Bartles & Jaymes Wine Coolers, as Gallo Winery found a new way to market wine to a less-stuffy demographic in 1981. David Rufkahr and Dick Maugg played Bartles and Jaymes, respectively, in the commercials. Yes, they were actors. Barely. Neither had acted before! Rufkahr was an Air Force vet and cattle rancher who won a talent search.
Image: E & J Gallo Winery
7. Better Cheddars
Nabisco originally marketed these cheese crackers as a "San Francisco" food. Largely because they had sourdough in the ingredients, initially. The commercials even featured actor and pitchman Ron Carey of Barney Miller hanging off a trolley in San Francisco.
The Nutri-Grain name is now associated with breakfast bars, but the name was first used for bowlfuls of cereal in 1981. Kellogg's offered four varieties — rye, corn, barley, and wheat. Like we said earlier — health consciousness really kicked off in the early '80s.