They’re classics for a reason.

By Stacey Ballis
February 03, 2021
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If you are in a culinary rut, craving comfort, but also in need of a kitchen reboot that doesn't require too much time or energy, look no further than the foods of your parents and grandparents for your inspiration. Old-school is new school these days, and there is something to be said for the retro meals that have fallen out of favor.

These old-school recipes bring more benefits than just a dose of nostalgia in the middle of a long winter. Many were developed to offer a well-rounded dinner for a family on a budget, so they are still great options for busy working parents and cash-strapped singles alike. Further, most of them freeze well, so leftovers become future meals or easy heat-and-eat lunches.

So, put away the glossy magazines and overhead shot contemporary cookbooks (just for a day) and think about rifling through your mom's (or grandmother's) recipe files, dig out a copy of the local spiral-bound church cookbook, or follow my lead right here, with these ways to bring nostalgic recipes back into your rotation this winter.

1. Think casseroles

Chicken Divan, Tuna Noodle, Turkey Tetrazzini: these baked one-dish wonders are always a good idea, whether you have a houseful to feed, or just yourself. These stick-to-your-ribs dishes are like a hug on a plate, and you have endless variations to make them your own. Don't love the cream of mushroom soup called for in a recipe? Try cream of celery for a slightly more elevated take. Swap out the usual breadcrumbs for panko for extra crunch or use fresh versions of some of the canned vegetables that often appear in the originals.

Try this recipe: Johnny Marzetti is the perfect casserole to start you off if you don't have a family favorite recipe in your back pocket. Just tell the family that Johnny is your mom's cousin once removed.

Creamy Tuna Noodle Casserole with Peas and Breadcrumbs
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Missie Neville Crawford

2. Stuff something

For a lot of us, second day leftovers were given new life by getting stuffed inside something! Leftover meatloaf? Stuffed peppers. Leftover pot roast? Stuffed onions. Leftover sloppy joes? Stuffed cabbage rolls. Salads also got the stuffed treatment, from basic egg salad stuffed tomatoes, to fancy crab salad stuffed avocados, to curried chicken salad stuffed melon or pineapples. My grandmother used to stuff cooked large shell pasta with tuna or chicken salad and I am a sucker for those to this day. Let's be honest: Whether you start from scratch or use it is as a way to make yesterday's dinner go a bit further, stuffing a vegetable, fruit, or large scale pasta with a hearty filling is a fun way to eat. Even more so when topped with cheese or something crunchy.

Try this recipe: Stuffed peppers are super classic; this version uses turkey for a lighter take on an old favorite. Turkey Stuffed Peppers.

3. Go big with meat and potatoes

There is nothing more retro than meat and potatoes. From diner-style plates like meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans, to Salisbury steak with loaded baked potatoes and peas and carrots, to the dinner party fare of your parent's heyday, like a Prime Rib with twice-baked potatoes and creamed spinach, the Mad Men era of cooking can be a great place to turn for that soul-soothing fare.

Try this recipe: A super simple Pot Roast is your meat and potatoes in one easy, braised dish.