I learned something new about Babyface this past weekend. I found out that growing up, he never had school lunch as we know it. Neither of us are sure if it’s a typical Canadian thing or just a Thunder Bay thing or just the schools he went to, but he never experienced lunch ladies, pale green plastic trays or greasy, droopy pizza. Weird, right? They just brought their lunches from home. It’s such a crazy concept to me. School lunch is a serious rite of passage, as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, this came up because I made tater tots!
I’m not sure there are many foods out there that are more synonymous with school lunch than tater tots. I actually think the vast majority of my lunches during my sophomore year of high school consisted of a bag of tater tots, a Mountain Dew, and an Oatmeal Cream Pie. Or maybe a Star Crunch, if I was feeling a little crazy.
Nowadays, my diet has expanded a bit past deep-fried potatoes and Little Debbies. But sometimes, it’s fun to step back in time and try to make a classic junk food into something that fits better into a clean and healthy diet. Instead of deep-frying white potatoes, I baked up a flavorful sweet potato mixture. Sweet potatoes are one of nature’s greatest sources of vitamin A and by baking instead of frying, the tots get crunchy and tasty without the added fat and calories of oil.
These guys were so incredibly good. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, but the Panko outside gets all crunchy and crispy and the inside is soft, fluffy and sweet. The parmesan adds a really nice contrast to the sweet, earthy potatoes. We are big fans of these tots.
Keywords: sides, sweet potatoes
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My favourite school lunch food was the french bread pizza… and chocolate milk. Least favourite… definitely fish sticks. They were always served with tartar sauce and cole slaw yuck yuck and yuck. At least there was chocolate milk on those days.
We never had French bread pizza at school, but I did have it all the time at home! I totally forgot about it. Must. Make. So crunchy and yum!
First off, these tots look awesome. I might have to adapt the recipe a little for a g free diet, but they seriously look so good. Anyway, I’ve been a veg head forever and my school didn’t have veggie friendly menus, so my favorite day was cheese pizza day. They were few and far between, but that rectangle pizza was heaven to me. My least favorite days were when I had nothing else to eat but pb&js. I ate those nearly every day.
I can’t even imagine what it was like to be a vegetarian at school. Thinking back, there was pretty much NOTHING that was meat-free. I think even our pizza days you had a choice between pepperoni and sausage. I wonder if schools now offer more veggie options?
I think I mostly brought my lunch, but I remember we had these little deep fried burritos in high school. I would get a PILE of shredded cheese on the side so I could stuff some into every bite. I also had a free hour right before lunch so we’d usually share some nachos (like movie theatre nachos) while playing dominoes at 10am. :)
Wow, your school lunch sounded much more awesome than mine. We were on a constant fish stick, pizza, chicken sandwich rotation. I would have loved burritos!
I don’t eat seafood so I never remember fish sticks. I do know we had pizza, and I’m pretty sure we had hamburgers and chicken sandwiches every day. Other than that it was pretty varied. I also remember cherry cobbler. :)
I live in Ottawa, Ontario and my high school had a cafeteria to buy lunch, but most people brought lunch from home. Everyone’s favorites caf lunch foods were the french fries, chicken burger(with lots of mayo) and perogies were a big deal. The school didn’t serve tator tots, but they were a big part of my high school years. My girl friends and I would always make them late at night at sleep overs or parties. It was I go to food when we had the munchies.
I haven’t had tater tots in years and will definitely be making these soon!
Thanks for this awesome recipe!!!
I always think it’s so fascinating how different but similar our two countries are. It’s like, I keep expected everything to be the same, but it isn’t, because, duh, it’s a totally different country! I’d say 98% of people bought lunch at my school. It actually was “uncool” to bring your lunch. Which is ridiculous. Oh the things teenagers use as fodder for bullying…
As a Canadian reader, from Southern Ontario, I can confirm that I never had a “school lunch”.
Wow! That’s so crazy! Babyface thought it might just be that his schools were too small. He did say there was a small window where you could buy non-perishables (bagels, brownies, etc.) but nothing like we have in the U.S. with full on breakfast and lunch service with lunch ladies.
Ps. I love Babyface’s staunch Canadianism and your proud adoption of the northern-half of your partnership!
Haha, we both love each other’s countries, so it works out well. :)
I grew up in a small town just outside of Ottawa and it was a bit of a mix. I had a cafeteria in middle school and was given a food allowance of $5 a week. Most times I brought my lunch and got a cookies and cream drumstick, or sometimes I got curly fries topped with nacho cheese and ketchup.
By the time I got to high school, there was a cafe but my group of friends tended to walk to the close fast food places (McDs, BK, Tims, sometimes subway) and then drive later. I still had a food budget, so I would usually bring my lunch and get a pop or something to go with it. Or when I was trying to ‘diet’ I’d get a diet pop and some gum for lunch. Gah.
…. those tots look frickin’ amazing, that may be on the list of goodies to have once I start reintroducing a bit of gluten ;)
My high school never let us leave campus for lunch! Which actually makes a lot of sense because there isn’t a restaurant within 20 minutes of my high school, but still! I’m jealous. :)
I think I’ll have to try this recipe as I JUST bought two sweet potatoes this afternoon. I’m not sure what Panko breadcrumbs are, do you think plain ol’ bread crumbs will work?
In elementary school I loved the spongy pizza we would get, but hated the green pile of mush called spinach. In junior high and high school, it was cheeseburgers or tater tots on a plain bagel with cream cheese. Healthy, huh?
Breadcrumbs will work okay for the filling, but Panko really helps them crisp up on the outside. You could also crunch up some cereal, crackers or chips to work. I find Panko right next to my regular breadcrumbs in my regular ole grocery store. They are just bigger, fluffier breadcrumbs that do an amazing job of crisping up in the oven.
Another Canadian (Western Canadian) and I never had “school lunches”. In high school we had a cafeteria and would sometimes buy french fries, but I’d also say the majority of people brought lunch.
Fascinating! Craig said the only way he knew about “school lunches” was because of American TV shows and movies.
yum! those sound good, and easy to make gluten free, just use gluten free bread crumbs.
I loved the personal pizzas that they served at the high school. the crust would come up about an inch on the side and keep in the completely saucy, cheesiness of the thing.
I also loved the lemon sorbet they would sell in the lunch room.
Wow! Lemon sorbet? That’s fancy! The closest we ever had to that was a Slushie machine we had in the lunchroom for a year. There were tears shed when it was taken away.
Oh, school lunch….We always qualified for free lunch, and I was never picky – I ate everything! Or at least before I went pescetarian from middle school to high school. Then I remember picking the turkey off the Jennie-O subs and looking forward to cheese pizza. Sometimes we even had veggie burgers in middle school!! My high school had amazing fresh baked chocolate chip cookies that everyone went crazy for. And mmmmm, bruschetta pizza! There was a downside to my diet restriction: I remember envying my friends when they ate gyouza in front of me. But I remember loving tater tots, and these look scrumptious!
Sometimes the lunch ladies needed extra help and would pull kids out of classes fifteen minutes before lunch to help in the kitchen…this was in elementary. I always always wanted to be picked. But it only happened a handful of times. I wonder if other schools did/do that?
Yeah, that definitely never happened at my school! And wow, you had some awesome food at your school! Bruschetta pizza!? Veggie burgers!? It wasn’t until I got to college that we actually started getting fed stuff like that.
Chiming in on the Canadian experience – I’m from Nova Scotia and my elementary school had a cafeteria, but most of the time I brought my lunch – we had a mix between people who brought lunch from home and people who bought their lunch. No tater tots though – I don’t think they existed back then ()1970s – early 80s). My high school did not have a cafeteria, though it had a canteen. My husband went to high school one county over and his school had a cafeteria.
Now you’ve got me interested in the history of tater tots. Off to Google…
Another Canadian here! I grew up in the central prairies, and finished my school years on the west coast. And no school lunches here! My husband is American (but we live in Canada) and we often have the conversations about how different/the same Canada and the US are. He also had school lunches growing up ;)
I think the different/similar thing is such a mind trip! I mean, we’ve been together over six years and we’re still figuring out things that are different about our two countries. Just last night, I explained to him last night that the word “expiry” (as in, an expiration date) isn’t really used in America. People will know what it means, but I’ve never heard an American say, “The expiry on this milk is tomorrow.”
I’m agreeing with the other Canadians on here – grew up in Ontario (my husband did the school thing in Ontario and Saskatchewan), and neither my husband or I had school lunches. We always brought ours from home because if you didn’t, you went hungry!! In high school we had a VERY small cafeteria that had maybe 3-4 things? I ate one thing from there once and that was it. Mostly everyone I know brought lunches from home. :)
It so crazy that it was such a different experience. The only time I ever packed a lunch was when we went on field trips. And even most of the time they took us to a fast food restaurant on those.
Oooh la la! Those look delicious! And with autumn right around the corner sweet potatoes will be back on my mind! :) Thanks!
I’m not sure sweet potatoes ever leave my mind. :P
Star Crunch, I loved them!!! And the Oatmeal Creme Pie. I have to avoid them at the grocery store because one box would do me in. Your tater tots sound wonderful. :)
Oatmeal Cream Pies are seriously the best. Although, for some reason, I only liked the big ones that they sold individually. I never liked the ones that were in the box.
*shakes head* I can’t believe I ate that way everyday.
Two words: Sloppy. Joes. My all time favorite school lunch. I would get so excited on those days. Also, chocolate milk and chocolate cookies were a constant at my school
OH MY GOSH. I totally forgot about school Sloppy Joes! We were also SO excited on Sloppy Joes day. I’m sure it was just commodity ground beef mixed with a giant can of off-brand Manwich, but SO GOOD.
These looks great and a nice change from an old school tot.
For us, like once a month, the cafeteria would make these GIANT cinnamon rolls and we would go nuts for them. Now, if I ate one of those I would nap for 3 hours.
Erin – ekcantcook.blogspot.com
Oh gosh! Giant cinnamon rolls would have been heaven! We definitely didn’t have anything like that.
Oh thank God, something new to do with all the sweet potatoes my CSA keeps sending me! =)
Hahah! We didn’t do a CSA this year, but we did for a few years and it always seems like there is one thing you get WAY too much of every single week. Last year, it was arugula. I’m not a big arugula fan, but I can eat small amounts. I definitely can’t eat three pounds worth every week.
Ha yeah, I had to tell mine to stop sending me lettuce. I am only one person, and getting through 3-4 heads of lettuce before they start to get nasty is darn near impossible. Lettuce is cheap and easy to find, so if I want it, I just buy it. I’m lucky that my CSA allows that kind of control!
My favorite school lunches were french bread pizza with sloppy joe’s in a close second.
All this talk about French bread pizza has me seriously craving some!
Another Canadian here! I grew up about an hour north of Toronto and we didn’t have a cafeteria until high school, where, as other people have said, people mainly just bought fries, if that. I started going home for lunch when I was in 6th grade, so I never brought my lunch either! I always thought it was weird in US TV shows when everyone ate in the cafeteria. Or when there was tension around picking where to sit in the cafeteria, I was always like, “just go home for lunch!” (Not that everyone lives close enough to do that…)
Haha! We weren’t even allow to leave the cafeteria at lunch. No going to the library, no eating outside, and definitely no leaving school property! That’s where the anxiety came from. Being forced with all of your classmates to sit and have a meal together in a little room. :P
Yeah, I think I needed a hall pass just to go to the bathroom during lunch. How embarassing is that!?!
Yup! We had that, too. There were actually monitors at the doors going into the hallway that wouldn’t let you out, and the only set of outdoor doors in the cafeteria were locked. Fire hazard, what?
Wow these look so good :) I need to try these! As for the school lunch thing, I think that’s normal for small towns. There’s no school lunch here at all. In Vancouver where I grew up we didn’t have a cafeteria in elementary school, only in middle school and high school and most kids still brought their own lunch anyways. Then again, in high school we could leave school property so there were way better places to eat available to us too :)
I had sweet potato tots for the first time this summer at a brewery in Colorado. And man- they were good (though I’m sure they were deep-fried, which usually doesn’t agree with my stomach). I’ll have to try your recipe out!
I pretty much always bought lunch in school (guh!!) but I would usually spend my $2 my mom gave me on Tastycake doughnuts (the 6 pack of chocolate frosted ones) and a chocolate milk. Unless it was taco day- then I’d buy that. Makes me SHUDDER now to think of crappy I ate as a teen! In my 8 years of teaching public school I never ONCE bought cafeteria food. I knew better as an adult!
These look amazing, I will have to try them soon.
Glad you mentioned Little Debbie Star Crunch Cookies in your post or I may never have found you. I came across these (and your blog) accidently by doing a google search for [homemade] Little Debbie Star Crunch Cookies.
Tater tots are delicious ! Cheese and potatoes are always great together !
These look delish! My daughter is allergic to egg :( What could I do about that? She LOVES sweet potatoes, so I’m sure she’d love these.
I’d say a chia or flax egg would probably work (although, I haven’t tried it). Just mix 1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax seed with 3 tablespoons hot water. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until gelled, and then use like a regular egg.
These sound great and I cannot wait to try them. You didn’t say if you partially cooked the sweet potato before shredding them. If you did partially cook them, did you boil them and for how long. Thanks.
Do you think you could freeze these and then pop them in the oven as needed? Or do you think they would need to be pre-baked and then frozen?
I think you could probably get away with doing them either way! Let me know if you try it out.
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