The Truth About Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

The Truth About Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

For most Americas, crackers or cornbread is a common accompaniment served with a bowl of chili.  In the states of Indiana and Ohio, a peanut butter sandwich is also an acceptable and normal side with a bowl of chili.  Surprisingly, to several Midwest states, a bowl of chili is usually served with a cinnamon roll on the side.


Chili and Cinnamon Rolls


Try our favorite recipes for Contest Winning Chili Con Carne and Perfect Cinnamon Rolls!

While chili and cinnamon rolls may seem a strange paring to most of the nation, this food combo is Midwestern cold weather comfort food.  For the past couple years, rumors have been floating around the internet on popular discussion strings, such as Reddit and social media site Twitter, about this mystery food combo.  Inquiries keep popping up to find out if it is a crazy myth or true.  Even the trendy news site Buzzfeed picked up on the question and introduced this concept to a global audience.  According to a lengthy discussion string in a popular Instant Pot® Community Facebook group, a roll call of users hailing from the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, rural Washington, and Wyoming claim a bowl of chili served with a cinnamon roll on the side is indeed a favorite food pairing!


History of Chili and Cinnamon Rolls:

This regional meal combination of chili and cinnamon rolls has been served as a school hot lunch favorite for many Midwesterners that goes as far back as the early 1960’s.  Many adults fondly recall the excitement they felt when it was Chili and Cinnamon Roll day at school!  The school lunch ladies always made their chili and cinnamon rolls homemade from scratch.  They recall walking by the lunch room in the afternoon to see the lunch ladies sorting and soaking the dried beans the night before.  The next morning when school started, they would be rolling out the dough for the large batch of cinnamon rolls.

Kemper Catholic elementary school  in Iowa reports that Chili and Cinnamon Roll day is the most popular day for parents to come eat lunch with their children.  One Midwesterner quoted, “It would be very disappointing to eat chili without a cinnamon roll.” Also a quote from a Reddit discussion string, “It’s about as common as eating fries with a burger, not required, but almost assumed.”


Chili and Cinnamon Roll for school lunch
Photo credit: The Witchita Eagle

Cinnamon rolls served at Chili Suppers and Chili and Cinnamon Roll Cook-Offs are common fundraisers hosted by churches and local community groups.

1949:  Post World War II, a Chili Con Carne recipe was introduced into the smaller school lunch programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics into the National School Lunch system.

1960’s:  The states of Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, and Washington school systems all want to claim they started serving Chili and Cinnamon rolls in the early 1960’s. The menu item became institutionalized by several school systems and stayed as regular menu item.

The School Lunch guidebook by Marion Louise Cronan published in 1962, features chili con carne and cinnamon roll recipes for school lunch menus.  Schools in Spokane, Washington also list a planned menu for Chili and Cinnamon Rolls served together.

Chili and Cinnamon Roll on 1962 School Menu Plan


2007:  A popular fast food chain In Nebraska, called Runza, offers a Chili and Cinnamon Roll meal combo on their menu.  Cinnamon rolls were added to the menu in 2007 after they purchased the licensing rights to a famous cinnamon roll recipe from now defunct department store called Miller and Paine in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Runza even runs local commercials to promote Chili and Cinnamon Rolls combo meals during winter time.

Runza Twitter post for Chili and Cinnamon Rolls


How to Eat Chili and Cinnamon Rolls:

The most popular question on internet and social media discussions strings is “How do you eat chili and cinnamon rolls?”

Many wonder if the two foods are supposed to be mixed together in the same bowl?  The most common reply by well experienced chili and cinnamon roll connoisseurs is to enjoy the cinnamon roll for dessert right after the bowl of chili has been finished off.  There is much nostalgia and debate on the different methods for enjoying this combination.

  • Eat the cinnamon roll for dessert after finishing your bowl of chili
  • Tear off sections of the cinnamon roll to dip or use as a scoop for your bowl of chili.
  • Take a bite of chili then alternate with a bite of cinnamon roll and repeat.
  • Eat the top half of the cinnamon roll first, then dunk the bottom half in the chili.
  • A few renegades even admit to putting the cinnamon roll into the bowl first and pouring the chili right over the top of the roll!

Whatever the eating preference, It is the salty, sweet, and spicy flavor combination that works well together.  Many Nebraska natives claim that the smell of chili on the stove and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven is a heavenly aroma in the home during Fall football season.

Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to find out for myself what chili and cinnamon rolls taste like when eaten together.  I first tried dipping cinnamon roll bites into the chili, but for me I found that alternating a bite of chili first then cinnamon roll next was where the flavor magic happens!  Take a bite of chili, then when you still have some chili flavor lingering in the back of your mouth and your chest starts to warm, take a bite into a strip of heated up cinnamon roll.  It’s like being wrapped into a cozy blanket! 

Try this meal combination out for yourself with our recipes for Contest Winning Chili Con Carne and Perfect Cinnamon Rolls and make your own judgement.


Contest Winning Chili Con Carne Recipe

Chili Con Carne

Perfect Cinnamon Rolls


BuzzFeed “I Just Found Out That Mixing Chili And Cinnamon Rolls is A Thing And I’m Confused” by Caleb Chin, September, 29, 2017
Reddit “Is it normal where you are from to eat a cinnamon roll with chili?”, posted by user eanfran, November 29, 2016
Facebook Group: Instant Pot® Community Discussion strings on Chili and Cinnamon Rolls
Lincoln Journal Star “Runza Gets Rights to Miller & Paine Recipe”, article by Jeff Korbelik, published February 1, 2007
Journal -Advocate, “Chili, the American way” by Sue Davis, posted 2/14/2012
U.S. Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture, “School Lunch Recipes for 20 & 50”, September 1949
The School Lunch by Marion Louise Cronan, Copyright 1962, Publisher C.A. Bennett Co
Daily Times Herald, “Made-From-Scratch Cinnamon Rolls Star on Kemper Catholic Lunch Trays”, published February 16, 2015


Chili and Cinnamon Rolls




Comments and Reviews

10 Responses to “The Truth About Chili and Cinnamon Rolls”

  1. nJohnson

    …of course it is a “thing!” I’m from Seattle WA and one of the best school lunches growing up. Yes they made everything in house, fresh the day they served it. As we walked toward the building before school, the aroma was amazing! Yummm! I still serve chili at home this way. 😛

  2. JMixon

    I read this article when I was trying to explain the tradition to others. It was fun to learn the history of a favorite lunch option when I was in school in the 80s. For some verification of timeline in Nebraska. I called my mom, who graduated from a Nebraska school in 1963, and she said it was an option (and the most popular combo) at the Lincoln schools at least by around 1960, possibly earlier (she started at the junior high/high school in 1957 and doesn’t remember if it was an option all six years but didn’t think it was new at the end of her time there).

    • Nancy

      Thank you for adding some personal history, it is fun to learn about food traditions and has always been a part of learning to cook new things.

  3. Kat

    Chili and cinnamon rolls is called a old fashioned loggers breakfast…they used to eat this before work….high n calories helped loggers work all day

  4. Bliss May

    The Chili Soup is the main Course, and the Cinnamon Roll is the Dessert. They are weird mixed together, But very filling when eaten by themselves. The cinnamon roll cures the sweet tooth that begins after eating a bowl of chili. Lots of people don’t understand it outside of the mid west. I don’t understand why people think they are dipped and eaten together at the same time, Let alone why someone would do such a weird thing…. To make a cinnamon roll taste like chili is beyond me. But eating the cinnamon roll as dessert is the way to go and makes complete sense on a cold winters night in the Midwest. Plus making them from scratch warms up the entire house, and makes it smell like home tot go with a fresh batch of chili

  5. Cynthia Hendrickson

    I can attest that this was a combo at my Kansas City, Kansas grade school in the mid 50s onward. Delicious and the cafeteria smelled delightful!

  6. Mark

    I grew up in small town Denver Iowa and we absolutely LOVED chili day! Our cinnamon roles were always served about as hot as the Chili. Especially, in the winter when the lunch room room was freezing cold. Never in my life did I ever think I would look fondly on those days but now I treasure them.

  7. Chef Ram Say

    That’s called “dessert”.

  8. Nebraska Gal

    Grew up in Lincoln and this was the best meal at school. The chili was your meat and vegetable portion while the cinnamon roll was your bread and dessert. School lunches had guidelines to follow for balancing nutrition. Now here’s where it might get weird for some people but hear me out. When eaten at home we dressed our bowls of chili with cheese, chopped onions and chopped dill pickles. Not relish or sweet pickles- dill pickles. Saltines on the side or crushed on top. Cinnamon roll was still a dessert for after. I married a man from Texas who knew his chili and he also liked onions, cheese, and crackers on top. It took him a few years before trying with the chopped dill pickles and 30+ years later he won’t have it without them. To wrap your head around it, think of a hamburger with chili on it.

  9. Margot Potter

    Sorry…not sorry. This is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of since chicken and waffles. How can anyone in their right mind not find this gross? Keep it – no fank you! No wonder the French hate us!


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