10 Retro Foods Those Stranger Things Kids Would’ve Been Eating in 1986

10 Retro Foods Those Stranger Things Kids Would’ve Been Eating in 1986

The '80s kids among us can practically taste it all now.

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Stranger things production still of El and Max laughing over ice cream
Image: Netflix

Stranger Things fans have a good weekend ahead of them: The sci-fi horror Netflix series, currently in its fourth season, will drop its two-episode finale on July 1. The year is now 1986 for the kids of fictional Hawkins, Indiana, and as a Midwestern ’80s kid myself, I am feeling a lot of nostalgia when I watch the show.

But what would the characters from Stranger Things have been eating during this era, whenever they weren’t busy saving the world? I did some research, and revisited my own memories of those days, to find out. Let’s wander through the culinary landscape of 1986 to find out what exactly would have gone into those Ghostbusters lunch boxes.

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Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken Commercial (1986)

KFC’s menu hasn’t changed much through the years, but the TV commercials have definitely evolved. In 2022, the Colonel is teaming up with rappers like Jack Harlow to sell chicken, but back then KFC had way less of a cool-guy vibe and more of a wholesome, fun-for-the-whole-family one. In 1986, the Colonel was still selling corn right on the cob, giving the whole meal kind of a cookout feel. Can’t you just picture the Wheeler kids sitting down to a dinner of KFC while their father Ted complains about something?

(While lots of people complain that things like McDonald’s pies and Wendy’s fries aren’t as good as they used to be, for my money, KFC tastes exactly the way I remember it tasting 35 years ago.)

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Taco Bell Seafood Salad

Taco Bell Seafood Salad

Taco Bell Seafood Salad commercial 1986

Look upon this old 1986 Taco Bell commercial and marvel at the fact that Taco Bell ever thought it was a good, scalable idea to serve an entree filled with shrimp, crab, and whitefish. Though I’m not opposed to the idea in theory (more as a homemade dinner than a fast food one), the Seafood Salad is obviously not around anymore; it was quickly removed from the menu, and perhaps for good reason. We’ve waxed poetic about Taco Bell’s archival menus before, like the original one from 1962 featuring the gorgeously named Bell Beefer. I’m not convinced the kids from Stranger Things would opt for the Seafood Salad at Taco Bell, and that’s a good thing, because it allegedly caused multiple cases of food poisoning. Best to stick to the crunchy tacos.

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Rocky Road Cereal

Rocky Road Cereal

Rocky Road cereal commercial (1986)

Even as a kid I never saw the appeal of rocky-road-flavored anything—to this day, I still think marshmallows are boring as shit—but thanks to the genius of 1980s cereal marketing I can see why any kid would have been tempted. In the TV commercial above, artoon chocolate and vanilla puffs dance around the screen, while a chocolate-covered marshmallow sings to children who are more than excited to dig into a bowl of Rocky Road Cereal from General Mills. Too bad for us, the cereal’s long been discontinued.

I’m guessing Will Byers in particular would like Rocky Road Cereal. Why? Because the real-life actor, Noah Schnapp, has his own brand of chocolate hazelnut spread.

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Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut 1986 Pan Pizza Commercial

Sure, Domino’s might have paid a ton of money to be branded the official pizza of the Stranger Things universe, but back in the 1980s, Pizza Hut was the only pizza chain that mattered. It was always an occasion when my family went, since it had table service; I remember those booths and red cups like it was yesterday. Not to mention that the 1980s saw the peak of the Pizza Wars, in which Domino’s and Pizza Hut each fought to become America’s go-to pizza. In 1986, Pizza Hut opened its 5,000th franchise location, a milestone that indicates the chain was top of mind for many Americans.

A stoner employee named Argyle from fictional pizzeria Surfer Boy Pizza plays a part in the fourth season of Stranger Things, but we never actually get to see anyone dig into those decent-looking pies.

The whole gang really deserves to treat themselves to some pan pizza from Pizza Hut, hopefully in a scenario when, you know, everyone’s not so damn stressed out. Red cups and vinyl seating for everyone. And way less blood.

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Goobers

Goobers

1986 Nestle Goobers candy commercial.

If you’re younger than I am, chances are you won’t remember Goobers commercials. That’s because Goobers, which are a simple candy consisting of chocolate-covered peanuts and nothing else, aren’t as popular these days, presumably because growing awareness of severe peanut allergies means they’re not as present in schools or other public venues. While I don’t necessarily see Goobers on the shelf as often as I used to—individual-sized packages have been discontinued—the 1980s ads for Goobers are forever etched in my mind.

The Stranger Things teens spend a sizable portion of episodes at the mall, where they’re bound to encounter Goobers at the movie theater. Too bad the last time they were there, things didn’t go so well.

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Eggo Waffles (obviously)

Eggo Waffles (obviously)

Eggo Waffles - 1986

Eggo Waffles were a huge part of my childhood. We ate them for breakfast before school almost every day. In fact, we ate them so often that I can’t even look at them anymore without feeling mildly sick. But you know who apparently doesn’t have that problem? Eleven. When she’s not busy honing her powers, she still loves her Eggo Waffles, eating them through thick and thin. She isn’t the hungry silent kid from season 1 anymore, but old habits die hard.

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Burger Chef

Burger Chef

Burger Chef Commercial 1982

Hawkins, Indiana, where much of the show Stranger Things is based, is a fictional small town in the Midwest. But small towns aren’t impervious to the siren song of fast food, and one bygone burger chain, Burger Chef, was originally based in Indiana, with many of its locations found in places a lot like Hawkins (minus the supernatural stuff).

By 1986, Burger Chef’s locations were on the decline. The chain was purchased in 1982 by Imasco, a Canadian company that owned Hardee’s at the time. In fact, many Burger Chef locations were eventually transformed into Hardee’s stores. But some Burger Chef outlets would have remained in 1986, offering burgers, fries, shakes, and hot fish sandwiches. Who doesn’t love some Indiana fast seafood?

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Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen

1986 Dairy Queen Commercial “Blizzard” with Dick Clark

Dairy Queen has been around since 1940, but it didn’t release its signature Blizzard until 1985. Both Steve Harrington and Robin Buckley would probably be sick of ice cream, since their jobs at Scoops Ahoy keep them awash in frozen treats. But for everyone else—especially Eleven—this exciting spin on soft serve would be hard to turn down. (The Dairy Queen commercial slogan in the 1980s, “We treat you right,” is a top-tier jingle.) In the TV spot above, Dick Clark himself extolls the virtues of Blizzards made with Butterfingers and Heath bars. DQ really does treat us right.

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Hostess Pudding Pies

Hostess Pudding Pies

80s Commercial | Hostess Pudding Pies | 1986

I used to house Hostess Pudding Pies when I was a kid. For those who aren’t lucky enough to have grown up with them, these little fried hand pies had log been available with apple or cherry filling—but in the ’80s, it was all about the chocolate pudding variety. Since the kids from Hawkins do a lot of riding around on their bikes with their backpacks on, I guarantee at least one of those backpacks has a few pudding pies stashed away as a snack (hopefully not squashed at the bottom).

While Hostess has reverted mainly to selling apple and fruit pies (with a different formula), the good news is you can get similar chocolate cream hand pies from places like 7-Eleven. It’s just not quite the same when it isn’t fried in beef fat, you know?

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Juicy Fruit

Juicy Fruit

Juicy Fruit Commercial - 1986

Chewing gum was big in the ’80s. The TV commercials all made it seem like you were living quite a life if you pulled out a stick of Doublemint or Big Red (the latter of which practically guaranteed you’d be making out with everyone in town if you chewed it). The ultimate 1980s chewing gum, however, was Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit. My father was obsessed with this stuff and chewed so much of it he’d buy it by the box, not the pack. It was even more popular with kids, and from California to Indiana, it would have been in the backpack of several Stranger Things characters. 

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