The 1950s Diet

I know that the 1950s aren’t necessarily considered the epitome of the “healthy age.” Current conventional wisdom points to an overuse of butter, dairy and red meat, while the whole foods movement points toward increased use of processed food items like shortening, margarine and packaged cereals. Certainly it was the dawn of the convenience food. A brief Google search didn’t turn up any data on obesity rates (probably because no one cared back then), and death from heart disease has decreased since 1950 (which is a skewed number because it doesn’t take into account advances in medicine and surgical techniques that prolong life).

So, this post really isn’t meant to say “Aha! we were healthier int he 1950s because….” I have absolutely nothing to support that sort of statement. Honestly, I simply find this information charming, and comparing and contrasting then and now is always fun, even if you’re not trying to prove a point.

I’d like to present suggested nutritional information from the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book. I own a copy of a reprint of the very first Betty Crocker cookbook, compiled to help the modern woman of the 1950s learn basic cooking skills. Its adorable – full of prunes and mousses and noodle rings. Things many of us wouldn’t dream of eating, that might remind us of dinner at our grandmother’s homes. At the same time, this book has the best spaghetti sauce, the best shortcake and the best snickerdoodles I’ve ever made. It doesn’t just waste space on my cookbook shelf!

Here is what Betty Crocker’s authors proposed as good nutrition:

The Seven Basic Food Groups:

Group One: Green and yellow vegetables – one serving daily. I assume this means green beans, broccoli, spinach, wax beans, yellow squash and the like. It may also include corn and peas.

Group Two: Oranges, Tomatoes Grapefruit, Raw cabbage and salad greens – one serving a day

Group Three: Potatoes and other vegetables and fruits – turnips, dates, pears, prunes – two or more servings daily

Group Four: Milk and dairy products – cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc… 1 1/2 pts – 1 qt for children; 1 qt for nursing mothers; 1 pt for everyone else. There is a note that adds that all children and expectant mothers should have an additional 400 units of Vitamin D – from milk, cod liver oil or supplements. That is an astounding amount of milk (2 cups to a pt; 4 cups to a qt).

Group 5: Meat, Poultry, Fish or Eggs…. including dried beans, peas, nuts and nut butter. 1 serving daily, and make sure you get 3-4 eggs a week.

Group 6: Grains, including bread, flour and cereal – 3 or more servings daily

Group 7: Butter or fortified margarine. A whole food group for butter. Wow. There is no serving recommendation for this food group.

The biggest thing that jumps out at me is the suggestion of 3 servings of grain a day, as opposed to the 6-11 servings on the food pyramid I saw growing up. The recommendations advise that a little over 25% of your plate be grains – equal to the amount of vegetables, but more than meat, fruit or dairy. I think that in general I’m astounded at how little food is suggested here.

Look at these suggestions from Betty for meal planning. Milk is suggested for children at every meal. It looks like way more food here!

For Adequate Meals

Breakfast: Fruit, Cereal, Milk, Bread & Butter

Lunch: Main Dish, Vegetables, Bread & Butter, Fruit

Dinner: Meat & Potatoes, Green or Yellow Vegetable, Salad or Raw Vegetable, Bread & Butter, Fruit

For Complete/Abundant Meals

Breakfast: Fruit, Cereal, Milk, Egg/Meat, Bread & Butter

Lunch: Main Dish, Vegetables, Bread & Butter, Fruit, Cake/Cookies/Pudding

Dinner: Appetizer/Soup, Meat & Potatoes, Green or Yellow Vegetables, Salad or Raw Vegetable, Fruit, Bread& Butter, Dessert (Pie or Cake)

I wonder what my meals would look like if I tried to eat like this for a whole week. My meals are rarely this varied, so I wonder if perhaps I would feel more satiated by eating a varied meal, rather than a lot of only a couple of these food groups. I wonder if I’d be content with smaller servings of many things rather than a couple large servings of only one or two things. The one thing I really do like: this meal plan looks more nutritionally well rounded than what I eat normally. It looks much more varied in nurtrients than my everyday diet, and I think this comes from having three different vegetable and fruit groups.

I’m not sure I’m going to go off the deep end and start eating like Betty Crocker suggested back in the day. Bread and butter at every meal seems like overkill. Two desserts a day seems even worse. Fruit at every meal – that I could do. Raw and cooked vegetable, also doable. I’m just a little curious though….

What about you? Does your diet look anything like Betty’s 1950s suggestions? Does it look anything like How do you make sure you get all of the necessary nutrient into your diet?



Would love to hear your thoughts!

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