10 Sophisticated Variations on Your Favorite Childhood Foods

By: Chris Obenschain

You're an adult now. Use a fork and drink some red wine with that spaghetti. See more pictures of easy weeknight meals.

Have you ever wondered why certain foods taste better when you're a kid? As we age, our tastes become more refined, and the foods that appealed to us as children tend to lose their luster. Even popular foods like pizza and hot dogs are often better in memory than they are in adulthood. However, it's easy to rediscover the simple joys of your favorite childhood meals -- you may just have to tweak the recipes a bit to appeal to your older, more sophisticated palate.

In this article, we're going to show you how to create 10 sophisticated variations on your favorite childhood foods. Soon, you'll be devouring hot dogs and slurping up spaghetti like a child again, regardless of how much your tastes may have changed.


First, we'll learn how to make an adults-only version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

10: Grilled Cheese

What kid passes up grilled cheese? This simple sandwich appeals to anyone who loves melted cheese and toasted bread. It's become a standard childhood staple, but you can still enjoy this basic treat as an adult, even if your culinary tastes are more refined now.

First, start with the most important ingredient: cheese. Kraft cheese slices might work for children, but you're going to have to up the ante to please a sophisticated palate. The rich, exotic flavors found in Gouda, feta and goat cheese all make tasty adults-only sandwiches. If you're looking to create a high-end sandwich that recaptures the flavors of your youth, try choosing better quality American and cheddar cheeses from your local grocery store. There's a significant difference between a pricey block of sharp cheddar and the cheaper, generic slices kids tend to enjoy.


Of course, slapping an expensive cheese between two slices of Wonderbread doesn't make much sense, so be sure to pick up a distinctive-tasting artisan loaf from a nearby bakery. Freshly baked challah, sourdough or rye all work well.

9: Spaghetti

Kids eat pasta sauce straight from the jar; jazz up yours with some fresh herbs.
Kids eat pasta sauce straight from the jar; jazz up yours with some fresh herbs.

Kids love spaghetti. The long, stringy noodles are as much fun to play with as they are to eat. However, there are plenty of ways to turn spaghetti into a dish that adults will enjoy, no matter how long it's been since sticking pasta up your nose was socially acceptable. Upscaling spaghetti is actually pretty easy -- cook the pasta perfectly and enhance the sauce with some herbs and veggies.

You should use a lot of water when boiling pasta (about 1-1/2 quarts per pound). You want the water to completely saturate the noodles in order to remove all the excess starch. This will prevent the noodles from becoming bloated, gummy or crunchy [source: Spieler].


Adding a pinch of oregano or a couple cloves of garlic to the sauce can go a long way. You could also try mixing in some fresh vegetables. Onions, diced tomatoes, squash and mushrooms create a blend of complex flavors that really enhance the meal.

8: Bacon and Eggs

Like spaghetti, bacon and eggs is a pretty simple dish that isn't hard to tailor to cultivated palates. It's a classic combo that's readily consumed by both kids and adults, so you should try to enhance the meal instead of attempting to reinvent it.

The great thing about eggs is that they go well with a multitude of other foods. Onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and squash all make great additions to scrambled eggs or omelets, but if you'd like to really spice up your morning, try mixing in jalapenos or Tabasco sauce. For something different at brunch or dinnertime, add shrimp, lobster or crab meat. It's also not a bad idea to use a pinch or two of your favorite herbs and spices. Even adding a sprinkle of ground black pepper to a couple of eggs can have a profound effect on the flavor.


The best way to prepare bacon is to ignore the microwave. Just pick up some fresh, all-natural bacon at the supermarket and cook it in a skillet. Your taste buds will thank you.

7: Tacos

Stuff a taco with cilantro-lime marinated chicken and steak for an adult twist on a classic.
Stuff a taco with cilantro-lime marinated chicken and steak for an adult twist on a classic.

Most kids find tacos immensely appealing. After all, what's not to love? Seasoned beef topped with lettuce, cheese and sour cream in a warm tortilla or crispy shell -- it's an amazingly tasty combo.

If you want to class up these classic Mexican treats, you've got a lot of options. Tacos are technically just "a tortilla wrapped around a filling," which means you can cram anything you want into a tortilla and can still call it a taco [source: Mexconnect]. Grilled steak, chicken or pork all make excellent fillings, as do lobster, crab, fish and octopus. You can do away with meat entirely if you want and stuff a tortilla with tofu and cheese.


6: Pancakes

Who doesn't get a kick out of these warm buttermilk discs? Pancakes are made even more delicious by the toppings: globs of butter and ample amounts of sugary maple syrup.

Of course, any child with a sweet tooth can tell you there's much more you can do with pancakes than drown them in butter and syrup. Fruits such as blueberries, bananas and strawberries are commonly added to the batter, as are chocolate chips. Therefore, making sophisticated pancakes is really just a matter of selecting the right ingredients -- the essential cooking process remains the same.


Try mixing something unusual, like coconut, into the batter. Coconut is distinctive but sweet enough that it complements typical pancake accompaniments. You can also create seasonal pancakes. Pumpkin pancakes make for a unique and delicious treat in the fall, and eggnog pancakes are sure to be a hit around the holidays.

As long as you're experimenting with the batter, try some alternative toppings. This breakfast classic tastes great with honey, whipped cream and powdered sugar.

5: Peanut Butter and Jelly

Come on. You can do better than white bread smeared with peanut butter and grape jelly.
Come on. You can do better than white bread smeared with peanut butter and grape jelly.

You might not have eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since you were a kid, but they're as tasty today as they've ever been. In fact, if you use the right ingredients, a sophisticated PB&J will probably be better than any version of the sandwich you ate in grade school.

To begin with, pick up a fresh loaf of bread. A flavorful, textured bread like rye or sourdough can make all the difference when refining the classic PB&J recipe. Don't waste good bread on subpar peanut butter; use the all-natural kind. It will be thicker and richer than regular, heavily processed peanut butter and will provide a more authentic peanut taste. Of course, you'll want to spread on some high-end jelly. Classic PB&J flavors like grape, strawberry and apricot still hold their appeal, but if you're looking for something more exotic, there are plenty of options. Elderberry or crabapple preserves and pumpkin butter are all possibilities, although you might have to go to a specialty grocer to find them. You can even pick up a jar of jalapeno jelly if you want to add a spicy kick.


4: Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers

You may not think of hamburgers as "kid food," but most people readily accept that despite their popularity, hamburgers aren't exactly sophisticated cuisine. There's no denying that sizzling patties of beef are delicious, but you're going to have to put in a little extra effort to make this dish palatable for those who typically turn up their noses at kid-friendly food.

Like with bacon and eggs, the trick here is to enhance the meal, not completely reinvent it. The most important part of the burger is the meat, so make sure you use high-quality ground beef. Don't overcook it, as excessive heat will drain the patties of their moisture and flavor. Instead of going for a traditional sesame seed bun, try serving the patties inside toasted artisan rolls. Most importantly, don't be afraid to add a new, unique accent to your burgers. You can make a deliciously distinctive cheeseburger by using blue or feta cheese instead of cheddar or Swiss. If you'd like to add extra flavor, mix herbs, spices or other ingredients into the meat.


3: Hot Dogs

Hot dogs aren't made to be fancy. Buy the best franks, stuff them in buns and pour on the mustard.
Hot dogs aren't made to be fancy. Buy the best franks, stuff them in buns and pour on the mustard.

Let's be frank: Hot dogs aren't exactly posh. They may be popular with children and with baseball fans at ball parks, but you're not likely to find wieners sharing table space with escargot. There's no real way to transform a plate of hot dogs into an elegant dish, so don't try. Instead, just spruce them up a little, and focus on making them so mouthwateringly delicious that even hardcore foodies will be begging for a bite.

As a general rule, the cheaper the dog, the lower the quality, so be sure to pick up some of the pricier franks at your local supermarket. All-beef dogs from brands such as Hebrew National or Vienna are always a safe bet. To bring out the frankfurter's flavor, grill it.


To differentiate your upscale dogs from typical pedestrian franks, use petite baguettes instead of hot dog buns. If you really want to shake things up, try enveloping a dog and all its toppings in a corn or flour tortilla. Shredded cheese and sauerkraut both make excellent, top-shelf toppings on any quality hot dog, but if you just want to relish the taste of the frank itself, try adding a bit of salt-free ketchup. Not only is it better for you, it also has a richer, more tomatoey taste than regular ketchup.

2: Pizza

Most people garner a deep appreciation for pizza in early childhood. There's just something special about a crust of bread piled high with tomato sauce, cheese and toppings. Sure, you can go for the classic cheese and pepperoni pie, but you can just as easily create something unique and specifically catered to your personal tastes or mood.

The trick to making a sophisticated pizza is all in the toppings. You can use exotic cheeses or special sauces, but if you want your pie to really impress, incorporate something that's both unusual and delicious. Fish, shrimp, lobster and crab all make excellent additions to the pie, as do vegetables such as spinach, squash or artichoke hearts. If you don't like seafood or tend to stay away from veggies, think outside the U.S. for inspiration. Eggs are often served on pizza in France, for example, and green peas commonly sit atop pies in Brazil.


1: Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese might be the official meal of childhood. Countless boxes of unique shapes, flavors and cartoon mascots line the aisles of supermarkets across the country, angling for a place in the homes of families and in the bellies of children. Therefore, if you're trying to make macaroni and cheese for sophisticated adults, you should forget the box and start from scratch.

First, pick your cheese. The congealed, yellow mess that kids enjoy isn't going to work here. Lighter cheeses, like mozzarella and parmesan, are great choices that are reminiscent of those boxed ingredients kids adore, but have more depth and are much better tasting. You can also combine several stronger cheeses, such as Swiss and sharp cheddar or feta and blue cheese, for a flavorful meal.

Next, select your pasta. Just because you're making mac 'n' cheese doesn't mean you have to use macaroni. The distinctive snail-shaped lumache pasta, for example, can certainly class up the appearance of your meal, as can pizzocheri's hefty buckwheat ribbons.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Fanciulli, Jesse. "A Real Taste of Mexico." Greeley Tribune. 11/24/02. (10/29/09)http://www.greeleytribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20021124/WORLDSAPART/211240014
  • Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos - Part 1." Mexconnect. 01/01/06. (10/29/09).http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/2098-wrap-it-up-a-guide-to-mexican-street-tacos-part-i
  • Mountain Manna. "Exotic Jellies." (10/29/09).http://mountainmanna.net/jellies.htm
  • Perry, Charles. "A Stone-Age Snack - History: Pizza Topped with Tomatoes, Peperoni and Cheese is Only 100 Years Old, if That. But the Basic Idea of Pizza Actually Goes Back Thousands of Years." L.A. Times. 06/20/1991. (10/29/09).http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-20/food/fo-1104_1_italian-pizza
  • Spieler, Marlena. "Macaroni & Cheese." 2006. Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
  • Werlin, Laura. "Great Grilled Cheese." 2004. Stewart, Tabori & Chang. New York.