We often associate the time before microwavable meals and fast food being more wholesome and healthy—with farm fresh vegetables and fruits in abundance—but the typical 1950s American diet was actually considered to be quite high-fat and indulgent.
According to a 2008 article in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, the 1950s diet was largely made up with fatty meals—even predating the rise of fast food. Common dishes included the likes of meat stews, creamed tuna, meat loaf, corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes with butter, breaded and fried veal cutlets, deep-fried vegetables, French fries… you get the idea.
Lifestyle author Anne Barone, who grew up in the 1950s in Texas, commented that the only “sanctioned pleasurable activity was eating,” adding that church family-night dinners were considered to be “food orgies.”
Barone also recalled that as an overweight teenager in Texas she doesn’t remember eating hardly any fresh fruits or vegetables, with the quality of produce available in stores being extremely low—hence why canned goods, and homemade cakes, pies, and cookies reigned supreme.
With that in mind, here’s exactly what happened when I tried to follow a typical 1950s American diet for a week and why, while I love a good plate of cookies or slice of pie, I won’t be quick to give up fresh veggies any time soon.
As a strict vegetarian with relatively healthy (and modern) eating habits, I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to spending the week eating baked goods and deep fruit foods but I was still curious to see what it would be like.
I decided to pull out some old dishes from my childhood to really get into it—and committed to dinner eating at 5pm every day. I usually follow a strict intermittent fasting schedule so this was a bit of an adjustment. I made a vegan meatloaf with a side of steamed potatoes which was actually delicious but I was hungry again by 9pm.
By day two I still had enough meatloaf to eat leftovers—which to me sounds very 1950s family style.
Eating at 5pm was definitely the most difficult thing to get used to and I decided to just lean into the idea of having a little bedtime snack around 8pm when my boyfriend was eating.
Today is when I realized just how much the typical 1950s American diet reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in the 90s but because my grandmother lived with my family, she did a lot of the cooking when my parents were at work. We’d eat dinner every night at 5pm—sometimes even earlier—and it was always either meat and potatoes, hamburgers, stews, or macaroni and cheese.
As I sat down to eat my frozen vegan macaroni and cheese dinner after finishing my office hours for the day, I felt weirdly reminiscent eating a carb-heavy meal while it was still bright out.
Despite my little walk down memory road, I was really craving fresh veggies by day four. I did the next best thing and cooked up canned peas, carrots, and corn, and paired it with slices of tofurkey. While it’s not necessarily an unhealthy meal, I definitely prefer fresher vegetables and am very grateful that I have easy access to an abundance of local produce.
By the end of the week, I was looking forward to getting back to my normal salad-and-smoothie, very present-day diet. That said, I did find it rather fun to cook all these atypical meals and eat earlier in the day—especially when I realized the parallels it had with growing up with my grandmother’s cooking and the fond memories of my childhood.