In the years after WWII, Americans became more affluent than they had been in previous generations. Veterans were going to college and buying homes in droves, the population boomed, and cities around the country grew rapidly.
As Americans enjoyed greater prosperity, their day-to-day habits changed due to new innovations and technologies. They wanted to be able to come home after a long day of work, put on their favorite 1950s TV show, and enjoy a quickly cooked meal with their families. Refrigerators were more accessible to the average family than ever before and they soon came to change the American palate. Consumers didn't have to go to the butcher shop every day to pick up the night's entree, and leftovers could be stored overnight without spoiling.
Families of the 1950s wanted everything to be convenient and filling, and some of the dishes that figured heavily in American diets reflected those purposes. Some of those foods have disappeared in subsequent decades, but others are still with us.
The popularity of cereal has waned in recent years; however, in the 1950s, packaged cereal was an everyday staple for most families. Breakfast cereal was first marketed as a health food around the turn of the 20th century.
However, by around 1910, companies found they could successfully entice children by including a prize in every box. By the 1950s, TV ads for cereal were largely focused on children. Animated mascots like Tony the Tiger, the Trix rabbit, and the Sugar Crisp bears - Handy, Dandy and Candy - convinced kids to request their favorite cereals.
After WWII, cereals were sold pre-sweetened; mothers no longer had to spend time sugaring their children's cereal. Parents found the food convenient, and kids were hooked on the taste.
Although the dish dates back to 5th-century Europe, meatloaf was introduced to the US as a breakfast food in the 1870s. It took another two decades to gain a foothold in American cuisine as industrial-scale meatpacking became more commonplace. During the Depression and WWII, the meal allowed American families to make the most of whatever meat they had by mixing in breadcrumbs or cereal and eggs.
After WWII, meatloaf exploded as a family favorite across the country, so much so that there were 70 different recipes for the dish in Doyne Nickerson's book 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger. American moms everywhere made meatloaf to stretch the family food budget, and families enjoyed the hearty, ketchup-covered dish. Today, some restaurants feature meatloaf as a nostalgia trip for those who miss this long-established comfort food.
Crisco shortening was in every pantry in the 1950s. Proctor and Gamble introduced it in 1911 as a healthy alternative to lard. It was made from partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, which made pastries flakier and fried foods crispier.
During the middle of the 20th century, Crisco became increasingly popular as an alternative to other fats. By around 1950, health advocates began warning of the dangers of saturated fats; concerned for their health, many families switched to Crisco. This trend, however, reversed in the 1990s when studies showed that trans fats were actually worse for you. Crisco is still on store shelves today, but has a different formula than it did in the 1950s.
If you grew up in the '50s or '60s, chances are you ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches pretty regularly. While the combination has been around since the dawn of the 20th century, the sandwich became increasingly popular during WWII when it was featured on ration menus. When servicemen came home to their families, they brought the sandwich with them and passed it down to their kids. From there, its popularity only increased.
In its heyday, the sandwich was eaten in the home, the workplace, school cafeterias, and campgrounds. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were perfect for a post-WWII America in which women were breaking social expectations and entering the workforce: PB&Js were easy to prepare and connected generations.