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.

Image: Upfield

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.

Image: Nestlé

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.

Image: McDonald's

5. McRib


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.

Image: McDonald's

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.

Image: Nabisco

8. Nutri-Grain


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.

Image: Kellogg's

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


dustinbank1 40 months ago
Enjoying the article. Thanks for sharing.

Andreya 41 months ago
Very interesting to see the history behind some of these popular items. It's amazing how much these products and their advertising have changed throughout the years.
Peter_Falk_Fan 41 months ago
I used to drink Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers back in the 80's, but I really loved those great commercials.
MissTheOldDays 41 months ago
I loved seeing and reading this. It took me back.
41 months ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this article!
OldTVfanatic 42 months ago
Nowadays when I hear about Chicken Nuggets, all I think of is Baby Yoda.
JKMallaber 42 months ago
Still love the McRib, even if I don't know what it's made of. :-)
UTZAAKE 42 months ago
1. Unfortunately Baltimore-based J.H. Filbert was cannibalized by Unilever five years later.
6. In the middle and latter parts of that decade, those Bartles & Jaymes Wine Cooler commercials were ubiquitous. Act was similar to Penn & Teller in which the bespectacled dude did all the talking and the other one quietly provided the comic relief. Tried a wine cooler once and was underwhelmed.
Zombie 42 months ago
I wish the McRib sandwich at McDonald's was an everyday item on the menu board. My favorite sandwich, then the new version of the Big Mac ( quarter pound sized )
EmBee Zombie 42 months ago
The McRib shows back up on the menu when pork prices go down.
kkvegas 42 months ago
I loved Nutri-Grain corn cereal. It was like corn flakes, but stayed crisper in milk and contained no sugar. I wish they still made it.
Dillon45 42 months ago
My mother made a version of McNuggets back in the late 1960s. She called them 'chicken bits' and they were ten times better than McDonald's version...
JoeGuenther 42 months ago
Our METV affiliate in NJ won't be airing three hours of cartoons on saturdays
Moody JoeGuenther 42 months ago
Really?! What are they showing instead? What could they possibly have against Sat morning cartoons I wonder? smh
Moody 41 months ago
Maybe, its the host.
Toshone 42 months ago
I used to play basketball in Willingboro, NJ as a kid but I lived in Philly. After practice, my Uncle- who was my coach- used to stop at McDonald’s to made sure I ate before I got back across the bridge. He ordered me chicken McNuggets with sweet n sour sauce - man they were delicious that night - I will never forget that ride home 😆😆
daDoctah 42 months ago
Back in the day we wondered if the makers of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter would ever do a product tie-in with Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific. They could call it Gee I Can't Believe Your Hair Smells Like Butter.
lynngdance daDoctah 42 months ago
Hilarious!!! 😂🤣😆🤪
MissTheOldDays daDoctah 41 months ago
Too funny. 😂😂
idkwut2use 42 months ago
Only one I don’t know is Bartles & Jaymes. Don’t remember Better Cheddars too well either but have probably tried them. Love the rest!! :D
DerekBird 42 months ago
I've never tasted any of them. I am even prouder to say that I cannot stand any of the cooked food from McCrappy's other than their pies and fries and the only other thing that I eat there is their ice cream.
Moody 42 months ago
I always liked the Better Cheddar crackers but haven't had them for a long time. I think the McRib is about the most disgusting item on McDonald's menu which is saying a lot. McNuggets run a close 2nd.
Load previous comments
Moody MrsPhilHarris 42 months ago
Thank you, it's good to be back. I wonder where Robdcert went also. I miss his posts. I hope everything is ok with him & his family.
texasluva Moody 42 months ago
Yeah I know. No one seems to know his whereabouts. Last was like 7 months ago. You were gone like 5. A few of us have left him a message on previous postings. He has not responded. I still remember the one he did on these obscure dolls. They were a precursor to a coming out but never sold. I spent like half a day looking for them on-line and found them. If it wasn't macabre or unusual it was certainly something interesting we did not know. Funny too
texasluva MrsPhilHarris 42 months ago
Hello. I hope how your New Year has started out well. Sorry to have been late on this Movie Quiz. I have been busy plus changing my PC monitor out today among other duties. I will put it on the 1961 TV Guide quiz. Oh it's this one How about top of the post and 7 P.M. Hope to see ya there. That would be 7 P.M. CST. If anyone else seeing this they may also join in our weekly Movie Quiz. Some weeks easy some tough. Once it is guessed you get to see the movie.
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 41 months ago
Same to you! 🍾 🥂
NevaMo 42 months ago
I want a Carnation Breakfast bar, chocolate chip, please.
jeffduv NevaMo 42 months ago
Peanut Butter for me, please.
ncadams27 42 months ago
There is a website that tracks where the McRib is being sold. Currently they have been spotted in MD and PA until mid-Jan. With so many better options, I have no interest in the McNugget.
Go to the website mcriblocator.com and a map pops up with "flag/pins indicating where they are being sold, and if anyone has spotted anyone eating them. {There's one flag for "dispute," one for "observed." Something like that.}
AnnieM ncadams27 42 months ago
As of today (12/30/20), we still have them available in NW PA. At least that's what the signs say.
RedSamRackham 42 months ago
* McRib a great BBQ quick fix! In early 1980's it cost $1.25 ... ☺
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?