We Asked a Dozen People: What’s the One Store-Bought Grocery That Feels Like Home?

updated Jan 15, 2021
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Grandmother and mother cooking whilst daughter doing homework in the kitchen.
Credit: BONNINSTUDIO | Stocksy

There’s something deeply and hauntingly comforting about clinging to foods from your past. My throwback food is those Danish butter cookies in the round, blue tin that my mom’s parents would bring when they came to visit us. Were they actually Danish cookies? I didn’t care. They were butter-loaded, sugar-dusted twists and ovals (plus the slightly less desirable plain wreaths and circles) that all tasted exactly the same. How could you go wrong?

When I spied those throwback tins in Trader Joe’s last year, I had to get my hands on them. Did the cookies live up to my memories? Of course they did. They’re cookies! They’re the treats Grandma Nora and Grandpa Mike used to bring us! In a special container! In a fortuitous twist, they’re safe to bring home to my son who has food allergies and can’t eat many packaged cookies. It was meant to be — a present to me from my past, in a keepsake tin to boot.

We all have our own version of these cookies — the groceries from the early years that bring us back, in an almost visceral way, to our childhood kitchen, Grandma’s house, even our first apartment. We asked a dozen people to think way back and divulge the store-bought groceries that give them that familiar rush. Here are their picks.

1. Old Bay Seasoning

“I was born and raised in Baltimore where we put Old Bay on everything (crabs, fish, chicken, fries, chips, eggs). I still use my hometown favorite seasoning — love it on popcorn and in bloody Marys.” — Megan Levinson Bottiglieri

Buy: Old Bay Seasoning, $3.89 for 6 ounces at Target

Credit: Target

2. Rice-a-Roni

“My mom never made ‘that boxed stuff,’ so on the rare nights when she had to work, when my brother and I were young teens, we’d walk to the grocery store and buy a box of Rice-a-Roni, then come home and make ourselves dinner. The carbs! The sodium!” — Melanie Mannarino, author of The (Almost) Zero-Waste Guide

Buy: Rice-a-Roni, $.99 for 6.9 ounces at Target

Credit: Fresh Direct

3. Breakstone’s Whipped Butter 

“Fresh rye bread, sliced, with Breakstone’s Whipped Butter takes me right back to Sundays in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where my grandparents lived.” — Michelle Kronenberg Goodman

Buy: Breakstone’s Whipped Butter, $2.54 for 8 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Amazon

4. Ken’s Steak House Lite Northern Italian Dressing with Basil & Romano

“When we moved from Princeton, New Jersey, to Southern California, my two kids really missed the house salad at our favorite pizza place back east. We realized we needed to buy this bottled dressing to replicate the exact taste.” — Susan Oleinik

Buy: Ken’s Steak House Lite Northern Italian Dressing with Basil & Romano, $2.69 for 16 fluid ounces at Target

Credit: Target

5. Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

“I still eat mint chocolate chip ice cream — ONLY Breyers, though. I eat it with pretzels because that’s how my mother ate it, which is how HER family ate it when she was growing up. You simply dip the pretzel into the ice cream, almost as if it were a spoon. My mom died almost 20 years ago and I still feel a total connection to her when I eat it.” — Susan Swimmer

Buy: Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, $4.49 for 48 ounces at Target

Credit: Pillsbury

6. Pillsbury Biscuits

“I still sometimes buy these Pillsbury Biscuits in the cardboard can to go with a fried chicken or lobster dinner when we’re tired of all the other carbs.” — Audrey Slater-Spiegel

Buy: Pillsbury Biscuits, $1.77 for eight biscuits at Walmart

Credit: Amazon

7. Mallomars

“Mallomars are unique in that they’re seasonal — these cookies are only available from September to March (in certain parts of the Northeast) because they’d melt in spring and summer. It was always a special treat when my mom brought them home. I recently visited my childhood home, where my parents still live, to happily find Mallomars in the house. I couldn’t resist. One bite and I felt like a kid again!”— Ken Greenberg

Buy: Mallomars, $3.89 for 8 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Amazon

8. Kraft Spaghetti Classics 

 “I miss my ‘green box’ spaghetti from my Oklahoma days. Nowadays, I have to order it on Amazon!” — Julie Taylor

Buy: Kraft Spaghetti Classics, $1.49 for 8 ounces at Kroger

Credit: Amazon

9. Bigelow Constant Comment Tea

“My mom and I used to stay up until midnight drinking tea, waiting for The Three Stooges to come on. I still love this tea because it feels like home!” — Michelle Schmid

Buy: Bigelow Constant Comment Tea, $2.79 for 20 bags at Target

Credit: HyVee

10. Shake and Bake Pork Chops

“This old-school dinner came back into the rotation this year. I love to pair it with Motts applesauce of course. #CovidEating.”— Sean McCarthy

Buy: Kraft Shake ‘N Bake Original Pork Seasoned Coating Mix, $4.54 for a 10-ounce box at Walmart

Credit: Ronzoni

11. Ronzoni Pastina

“Pastina is much harder to find here in the D.C. area, but it’s very much a comfort item from growing up on Long Island. It’s such a tasty treat with a little milk and sugar.” — Lucy Carone Elliott

Buy: Ronzoni Pastina, $1.99 for 12 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Wonder Bread

12. Wonder Bread

“My parents always had this cheery white, yellow, red, and blue Wonder Bread bag by the toaster. We’d sometimes slather the spongy slices with Parkay margarine. We converted to whole-wheat in high school, but I loved whenever we had this around. I haven’t bought it in years but I do still enjoy white bread.” — Camille Chatterjee

Buy: Wonder Bread, $1.99 for 20 ounces at Target

What store-bought grocery feels like home to you?