Monday, March 13, 2017

Food By The Decades

Mom and I were talking the other day about how foods have changed over, well, her lifetime, from what we can remember. We brain-stormed a little, she got on the iPad and did some research, and when I got home, I continued to look up some articles. I am going to offer fair warning: all of this got very jumbled and I don’t think I could footnote if my life depended on it, but there were general thoughts on what was a new thing each decade.

That, along with “what the Klines' ate, or what the Netts' ate, or what the Derges' ate” became an interesting discussion. I haven’t written from “notes” since I was in college, 43-46 years ago, so my challenge is in organizing all this information about—food!


Mom was born in 1931 and there isn’t much to remember from the 30s and the Depression anyway. Her family did not starve, but if I knew my grandmother, it was simple fare. In 1942 my grandfather began working at the newspaper, and he worked second shift. That kind of household, with schoolchildren in it, is just different. Period.

There was rationing during the war, but Mom remembers chili and soups, lamb, and gravy (actually my great-grandmother would bring that over), fried pork chops and fried chicken, peas and corn, Jello© with vegetables such as carrots in them (no salads as we know them). There was a refrigerator, but NOT a freezer, so foods were fresh, not thawed. For desserts, she remembers gingerbread with lemon sauce, and cakes and pies.

At school, the elementary kids packed, but the high school had a cafeteria, and a restaurant nearby, where the kids would go.


My mother was married in 1950 and much of what we had was what my father wanted. He did not work shift work, so I don’t remember a time when we didn’t all sit down together, chaotic as it may have been. My father liked beef and potatoes, but Mom fried chicken also. She made the only liver and onions that I would/will ever eat. She also made a hash from leftover beef and potatoes and usually some onions. We still ate the corn and peas and Jello© and we did have a small freezer over the refrigerator. I’d say that we had a dessert three times a week. Macaroni and cheese was a side dish, and we did use Kraft© boxes. Mom made a hamburger pie which essentially predated Hamburger Helper©, made with her own ingredients. She also made potato pancakes with left-over mashed potatoes.

We had full breakfasts, with eggs, pancakes, bacon, and cereal. Maybe we as children did not eat them all at once, but we did not take off to school with a Poptart©. We snacked in the evening on old-fashioned made popcorn (before microwave!) and soda.

Outside of the Kline household, in 1950 Betty Crocker’s© Picture Cook Book was a best seller. In 1951 Duncan Hines© introduced a cake mix. Some women went “Yay!” while others stood by their old standbys, with their noses in the air re: box cake mixes. In 1952, Saran Wrap© came out and we wrapped our leftovers in something other than aluminum foil.  Lipton© introduced onion soup mix and life and meat loaf was never the same. Also in 1952, the first sugar-free (diet) soft drink was marketed. 1953 brought us Eggo© and Cheez Whiz©. This was the year I was born. I guess I couldn’t come into a world without Cheez Whiz©!!

The first frozen TV dinners came out in 1954. My mother notes that TV was telling us increasingly what we should be doing, how we should be acting, and this went way beyond food. Per my notes, Burger King© came out in 1954 and McDonalds© in 1955. I thought McDonalds© was first, but what do I remember? (Jerry had a relative that said McDonald’s would never succeed!)

About this same time, Tappan© marketed the first microwave, and the electric can opener was born. In 1957 sushi bars immigrated to America, and Pam© cooking spray was patented. For the first time margarine outsold butter, and Sweet’n’Low© appeared on the restaurant tables.

To end the decade, Haagen Dazs© improved our lot. Recipes that changed the landscape were (Kraft©) Clam Dip, Lipton© California dip that appeared after the onion dip. Campbells© soups created the casserole—tuna noodle being among the first if not the first. Baked Alaska was created by a chef in New York City. It was considered elegant. Chicken Tetrazzini, named after Italian singer Luisa Tetrazzini, made it possible for aspiring gourmets to make easily and impress their company.


It’s safe to say that the Sixties changed our lives in many ways! Fast food was taking off and we were Lovin’ It.© Kentucky Fried Chicken© became my grandmother’s dinner of choice for company, especially if they just dropped in. Usually my Dad was the messenger. In our hometown, a pizza chain changed our world. However, we couldn’t always afford it, so we made those Chef Boyardee© pizzas at home, especially as young people gathered. In our home, we squeezed cheese on Ritz© crackers; sloppy joes, homemade spaghetti sauce (my Mom says spices came later), and little pizzas as a snack. We had pot pies, but we may have had them in the 50s, we are not too sure. To this day, I must have them with rice!

Outside our household, meatballs with grape jelly, chicken a la King, fondue, stuffed crescent rolls as in “pigs in a blanket” (we did do that with hotdogs, but not rolled up asparagus), Beef Bourguignon© as Julia Child premiered in 1963, shrimp cocktail, and the infamous tunnel of fudge bundt cake.

THE SEVENTIES—when I set up housekeeping.

Convenience food became even more popular as more women were working. While I did learn to make a mean homemade spaghetti sauce, I was using just as much Hamburger Helper and Hungry Jack© mashed potatoes. I never looked back.  Quiche came to the scene, but I didn’t learn to make mine for at least ten more years, cheese balls and cheese logs, stuffed vegetables (peppers), crepes, ranch dressing everywhere and pineapple chicken. Carrot cake rose in popularity, another one of my favorites, and we were seeing salad bars for the first time. In our town, it was Ponderosa Steak House©. I don't have a source for this, but I believe that the 70s were the beginning of crock pot cooking.


Some new things and remade old things made their debut. Spinach dip in a bowl (or Hawaiian bread, whatever you used) was always a favorite. We saw more pasta salads, and Totinos’ Pizza Rolls©. (I have some in my freezer now, don’t judge). Vegetable and fruit trays, while not new, were purchased more as a last-minute need for a party or picnic. Those Chef Boyardee© pizza mixes improved and I can really make a nice pizza with them.


Salads with cranberries, pecans, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette were something new. I’ll take bleu cheese though. HOT POCKETS! Lunchables, as I sent children to Preschool and eventually school. Chinese chicken salad with mandarin oranges, pizza bagels, chicken Caesar salad, Dunkeroos©, Teddy Grahams©, and Slimfast©, for after we ate all this stuff.

THE 2000s

This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, we were eating healthier with No Carb/Atkins© diets, watermelon and feta salads, on the other hand, after 911, we sought comfort foods. Meatloafs, chicken pot pie, HOMEMADE macaroni and cheese, pizza and all things comforting. I will insert that MY favorite meal is meatloaf with creamed potatoes and peas. Well, I get my vegetables.

We said goodbye to Supersizing©, and became a Coffee Nation (someone save me!) We began to eat locally and sustainably, and formed recession recipes, which is different to each person. In about 2010, we began to see food trucks. They were there all along, but they really took off in 2010!

What we see here is a morphing of foods, a return to former foods of old, and creating new healthy choices. And ALWAYS, there is a recipe that is a favorite at a family reunion that goes way back and sometimes we don’t even KNOW the origin. Those foods are important too.

We have more information than we ever have had in the past, and those of us “of a certain age” have seen the villainy of a food come and go. I think of eggs. They were good for you, then they were bad for you, now they are good for you. Most of us cannot get to the healthiest eggs, so we do the best we can.

The only thing that is constant is change.

Please add comments. I know I haven’t thought of everything.


  1. P.S. This is the 400th blog that I have written.

  2. My mother made the best chicken and wide noodle dinner. It can stand alone or be served over mashed potatoes or biscuits as Bob Evans does today. Mom's was the best. Aunt Jo