5 Eighth Grade-Inspired Recipes to Awaken Your Inner Awkward Teen

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Photo by Linda Kallerus, Courtesy of A24)

Critics are raving about Eighth Grade — check out that 98 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes! — and with good reason. This heartfelt comedy presents an unflinching look at the trials and tribulations of middle school with an honesty most teen films shy away from. Focusing on the socially awkward Kayla (Elsie Fisher), the movie speaks to anyone who remembers that often-cringeworthy time of life.

While lots of middle-school memories make us shudder, there are still plenty of happy ones — many of which revolve around the food we ate surrounded by friends in the school cafeteria. That got me thinking about the midday meals I enjoyed back in the day. Sure, in retrospect, some of them were wildly unhealthy, of questionable origin, or just plain gross — yet, they continue to inspire that sweet feeling of nostalgia.

With that in mind, I present some of my favorite middle-school lunch dishes, along with an upgraded recipe that gives each dish a modern flair. Just don’t tell the lunch lady.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

1. Meatloaf

This hearty — if aesthetically unpleasing — cafeteria stalwart gave us the fuel we needed to sit through math, history, and even that most awkward of subjects: health class. Use your pressure cooker for this delicious update on a classic. Don’t skimp on the ketchup!

(Image credit: Jerrelle Guy)

2. Ham and Cheese Sandwich

Does anything say “middle school lunch” like Oscar Meyer’s finest and bright-orange American cheese in between a couple of slices of Wonder Bread? Take it up a notch (or several notches) with a far more internationally flavored baguette sandwich.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. Tater Tots

The ultimate in cafeteria sides, there was nothing like biting into these crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside salt bombs. Try this veggie-packed tater tot casserole for a more grown-up version, then challenge a friend to see who can stuff more in their mouth.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

4. Chicken Nuggets

Although they were never quite as good as the ones from McDonald’s, seeing a tray full of chicken nuggets at the cafeteria always brought a smile. Try these healthier chickpea nuggets, which only require six ingredients to make.

(Image credit: Diana Yen)

5. Sloppy Joes

The unkempt king of cafeteria food, the better it was, the messier you got. Swap out the mystery meat for some ground turkey in this awesome take while wondering why life as an adult, unfortunately, is filled with far fewer sloppy Joes.