What did women eat in the 1950s?

I collect vintage recipes- not just from cookbooks published in the 1950s but also those that were handwritten. Handwritten family recipes tend to be more authentic as far as what was being served at that time since many published recipe booklets were really ads for various food products.

Women in the 50s generally ate simple, wholesome foods and served them in a manner that wasn't necessarily picture-perfect by today's standards. (Have you seen the Regrettable Food Gallery over at Lileks?) People didn't cook with the idea that they would be posting pictures of everything they ate on facebook, nor was there pressure to make elaborate meals like a celebrity chef.

The photo above is from a 1950s Maine seafood recipe book. It looks pretty delicious to me!

A presentation like the salad above was common and also appears in a cookbook. Pictured below is a roasted chicken with homemade cranberry sauce also in a cookbook- very simple. I think some people might scoff at the stalk of celery thinking it an inelegant presentation.

I think when there's less pressure to make dinner into a modeling show and more emphasis is placed on creating nourishing, simple and wholesome good food, it is far more satisfying.

2012 is about "HOW DOES MY FOOD LOOK" and getting fleeting, in-the-moment good feelings from excessive portions overloaded with fats and sugars and large helpings of "likes."

1950 was more about "How does my food make ME look and feel" with the good feelings coming from eating a balanced diet that lead to good health and enjoying a meal with friends or family while sitting down together at the table.  


  1. I agree! And I think another aspect of 1950s eating was the idea of economy- using pantry staples, not fancy specialty ingredients. Less waste and more sensible!

  2. Absolutely true, too, SusieQT!

  3. The shape of the chicken in the picture looks so different from the chickens that are sold today, even the organic free range ones. There is clearly less breast meat. It really makes you think about how much our food supply is altered.

  4. Notice the lack of starch in the pictures. No bread. No potatoes. No rice. No corn. People in the 50s were smart enough to know that starch, not fat, was the culprit in expanding waistelines.

  5. Sarah how astute of you to notice- I didn't catch that! Good one!

    Hi Steve J L- Thanks for commenting! Also astute of you to notice the absence of starches in the pictures, but to be accurate, people in the 50s did eat starches but not nearly to the extent that we do today!

  6. I also believe that the PORTION sizes were much smaller in addition to the way food is processed. Sarah's comments are right on regarding the chicken. Also there was more physical activity inside and outside of the home-cleaning, gardening, hanging laundry outdoors, the old washer/ringers for some things (I can still see Mom & Grandma doing that even with trips to the laundry mat for the electro washer & dryer uses) and those great exercise programs by the late Jack Lalanne. There was stress on eating balanced meals and keeping/staying physically fit.

  7. it looks so much healthier than nowadays!

  8. It looks much healthier because it was.
    Not because we ate less carbs but because we did not have the processed food we have today.

    WWII brought in margarine but most used real butter, cream and whole milk because we had livestock and local farms close at hand. When food was rationed during the war my family did not have to ration because we were self sufficient.

    With the end of the war and by the 50's things began to change. Supermarkets and those who stocked them commercially brought change.

    Women moving or staying in the work place made food preperation a different way of life.

    My mother had a job so at 12 I was the chief cook and bottle washer for the family. I loved it and was thrilled. My grandmother taught me to cook when I was old enough to stand on a step stool (made by my grandfather just for me).

    So by 7 I knew how to can fruits, vegetables and meat ... something I did until about 35 even when I went to work.

    Because my grandmother was sort of a health food nut before there was such a thing I too was interested in healthy foods.

    We followed a standard of what a good meal consisted.
    I followed that as most of us did back then.

    So with every night dinner there was meat, 2 or 3 vegetables, starch (i.e. potatoes, rice AND BREAD) AND ALWAYS desert.

    This occurred with everyone I knew until the mid 60's when more women joined the work place and TV entered the home.

    Over the years I have watched fad after fad and study after study come and go. Don't eat butter, don't eat eggs, don't eat carbs, don't eat to much fruit.

    One could get whip lash trying to keep up with the latest food expert, study or fad.

    It is almost funny if obesity in the US was not so rampant.

    It does not take rocket science to understand if they feed livestock growth hormones, or lace our crops with growth enhancing chemicals that will transfer to those eating them.

    The solution is GROW YOUR OWN.
    Just like cook your own.

    I live in the central valley of CA and know chemical sales people.
    What organic farmers are allowed in the way of growing products IS NOT ALWAYS SO ORGANIC.

    So like everything else labels do not always mean what WE THINK they should mean.

    1. Thank you, Linda, for sharing your first-hand experiences! Your upbringing sounds wholesome and delightful. I also learned a lot about diet and cooking from my grandmothers, although I grew up in NYC. You are right that many of these fads and studies are ludicrous yet dangerous because they seem to place doubt in what should be common sense...and that's the goal. Keep people dependent upon cures and pills and industry sponsored experts.
      As for organic, many people also think it means NO SPRAY but that's not true at all. It would be interesting to hear more from your friends about the chemicals used in organics. Thanks again for commenting!

  9. Ah, the relish tray -- celery stalks, radishes, olives, and sometimes green onions or cherry tomatoes. A '50s way to eat raw vegetables daily, though how the olives got in there, I don't know, since they were usually out of a can. I've decided to start incorporating a relish tray occasionally, in my attempt to eat the '50s way. And for Christmas, I am going to stuff those celery stalks with a cream cheese and pimento mixture, also popular back then on holidays.

    1. Stephanie, I'm not sure if you saw this post; it's how I usually get some raw veggies in my day.

    2. Hey, thanks for bringing that to my attention. I'm still working on reading through your blog. I am finding it very helpful in achieving my back-to-the-past eating goals. I bought your first book, too!

    3. Thanks for your support, Stephanie! : )


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