Recognizing the importance of nutrition as part of the grand challenges faced by humanity—the current epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), sustainability and maintenance of Planetary Health—the United Nations (UN) has declared 2016–2025 the Decade of Nutrition. Research continues to underscore the extent to which ultra-processed foods dominate the contemporary nutritional landscape. Moreover, the dual role played by food technology and marketing in the expansion of ultra-processed foods is under increased scrutiny. As public health experts and clinicians contend with a crisis of NCDs, attempting to untangle a knotted assortment of interrelated strands of causation, an examination of the early origins of highly-marketed ultra-processed foods can provide valuable lessons. Here, we illuminate a little-known piece of history in the annals of ultra-processed nutritional science and childhood welfare. Astrofood was a commercially-marketed, collaborative government-industry effort that brought soy protein-enriched Twinkies as a nutritive breakfast cake to disadvantaged children; its concept and delivery demonstrated an unwillingness to deal with root-cause challenges. Although its official tenure was only about 7 years, we argue that Astrofood and its total food engineering still resonate throughout the global ultra-processed nutritional landscape. New scientific advances in nutritional psychiatry and the microbiome are on a collision course with the profits, marketing and intellectual dishonesty of the ultra-processed food industry. Solutions to the grand challenges of the Decade of Nutrition may be found in lessons from Astrofood. They provide clues to undoing the tangled knots which otherwise maintain an untenable status quo.