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School Lunches from the 1950s Housewife

(Illustration by Arthur Sarnoff)

Providing a hearty, healthy, nutritious lunch in a clean, sanitary lunch box or other container for both hubby and the kids was a housewife’s daily duty in the 1950s. The guidelines included the following:

  1. “It should be abundant in amount for a hungry, healthy individual. A little too much is better than too little.”
  2. “It should be chosen with regard to nutritive needs of the individual, and in relation to the whole day’s food.”
  3. “It should be clean, appetizing, wholesome, and attractive.”

Food Selection

Solids and liquids were both included in the lunch plan. Guidelines urged housewives to choose at least one item from each of the following groups:

Milk — in food, such as pudding, or drink.

Bread — whole grain used in sandwiches.

Meat, Cheese, Eggs, or Fish — used in sandwich fillings, salads, or main dishes. Left over meat loaf, pot roast, and other food items were often used in sandwiches in the 1950s.

Fruit — whole or diced in salads or desserts.

Vegetables — used in sandwich fillings, salads, main dishes, or whole. Crisp, raw vegetables preferred.

Surprise – cookies, nuts, raisins, or other special treat.

What Season is it?

~ In winter, include something hot, such as soup, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate in a thermos.

~ In summer, include cool, refreshing items such as lemonade, fruit juice, iced tea, or iced coffee in a thermos.

Tips

*Remember to include utensils, napkins, and straws.*

*Provide spicier, more flavorful food for hubby and milder but flavorful food for the kids.*

*The goal in the 1950s was to keep packed lunches appetizing, varied, and balanced nutritionally.

Menus

Cream of tomato soup

Ham sandwich with mustard and lettuce

Celery sticks and olives

Fresh pear

Cookies

~

Cheese sandwich with ketchup and lettuce

Tossed vegetable salad and dressing

Pickles

Whole orange

Cake

Hot cocoa

~

(The first lunch box set was produced by the Aladdin Company in 1950 and featured Hopalong Cassidy.)

The National School Lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946, provides school lunches in public schools for a fee or for free. I don’t know nowadays how many kids still bring their lunches to school. I remember kids getting teased when they reached a certain age who still brought their lunches to school. My favorite part of lunch in school was the chocolate milk that came with the cafeteria lunch. And, in high school, we used to sneak off campus and hit the local Taco Bell. Many adults eat in the company cafeteria, if one is provided, or order fast food. But some adults still bring their lunches to work.

~

Information retrieved from The American Woman’s Cook Book, 1952 and the Internet.

Dawn Pisturino

September 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Baby Formula from the 1950s Housewife

I was in the beauty salon getting my hair cut yesterday, and all the ladies were on fire about the current national shortage of baby formula. This shortage has been going on for a while but recently worsened with the recall of Similac baby formula products a few months ago. The news media has been reporting on the shortage, otherwise, unless you have babies or grand-babies, you probably wouldn’t know anything about it.

Similac PM 60/40 Lot# 27032K80 was voluntarily recalled by Abbott Laboratories after customer complaints about infants becoming infected with Salmonella (Cronobacter sakazakii) and after one infant died.

My husband reminded me that when the CEO of a baby formula company in China was indicted for producing bad batches of baby formula in 2008 that poisoned 300,000 Chinese infants and killed six, he was executed by the Chinese Communist Party. The formula contained melamine, a toxic substance that was used to increase protein levels.

And I clearly remember the complaints against Nestle in the 1970s when the company urged third world women, particularly in Africa, to stop breast-feeding and use their baby formula products. This turned into a huge scandal which the company is still trying to live down.

Although commercial baby formula products have been around since the 1800s, breast-feeding is still considered by pediatricians to provide the best nutrition for infants. Breast-feeding popularity has gone through phases, however. Post-World War II, breast-feeding lost some of its attraction for middle-class housewives, and more women were in the workforce, so homemade baby formulas became the norm. This held true into the 1960s, when more advanced baby formulas came onto the market. In the 1970s, women’s groups demanded a return to breast-feeding as the more desirable source of nutrition for infants. Today, breast-feeding and formula use go hand-in-hand. Some women are unable to produce enough milk naturally and must supplement with formula. Some babies have special digestive problems or allergies and require special formulas.

**Some women, frustrated with the shortage of commercial baby formula, are making their own based on a 1950s recipe that was the standard for that time. Here’s the recipe, but I am not recommending that anybody use it. All mothers should check with their pediatricians before using it. The formula may not contain all the nutritional requirements that babies need. Infants have a sensitive digestive tract and may develop digestive issues or be allergic.**

In the 1950s, a housewife would make enough for the entire day (24 ounces) and divide it into 6 sterilized baby bottles (4 ounces each). She would refrigerate all bottles until needed.

1950s Standard Baby Formula

13 ounces evaporated milk

20 ounces water

2 tablespoons Karo corn syrup

Heat and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.

The 1950s doctor would prescribe liquid vitamins and iron for the baby to ensure that he or she was getting the proper nutrition. **Consult your pediatrician before giving vitamins and iron to your infant.**

Feeding Schedule

The normal schedule was to feed the baby every 4 hours, at 6 am, 10 am, 2 pm, 6 pm, 10 pm, and 2 am. I don’t know when Mom got to sleep! But the breast-feeding schedule can be even more rigorous, with baby getting fed every 2 to 4 hours.

The evaporated milk in the formula contained Vitamin D to prevent rickets. To prevent scurvy, baby was started on a solution of orange juice at 3 weeks, with the typical ratio being 1 tablespoon orange juice to 1 tablespoon water. Baby received this solution at least once a day. **(Please consult with your pediatrician before giving your infant juices and solids. The current recommendation is to wait until a baby is one year old before giving him or her orange juice.)** In addition, mom was expected to offer baby boiled, cooled water in-between feedings to prevent dehydration.

A typical baby schedule in the 1950s:

The term “hold out” is confusing, but it apparently means to hold the baby out to facilitate with passing urine, feces, and gas. Fresh air and sunshine were important components of the baby’s day, something which still holds true now. Don’t forget the sunscreen, sun hat, and clothing! I don’t know if anybody puts their baby outside to sleep anymore. I would certainly suggest that mom or another adult stay with the baby, if they do.

The importance of a schedule is to teach kids regular habits, discipline, and responsibility, but later parenting methods called for a looser lifestyle for both baby and parents. Of course, babies are all individuals with their own likes and dislikes. Some babies willingly go along with a schedule, while others don’t. And that’s okay!

Dawn Pisturino

May 12, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

**REMEMBER TO CONSULT WITH YOUR PEDIATRICIAN BEFORE CHANGING YOUR INFANT’S FORMULA, USING HOMEMADE FORMULA, AND CHANGING THE FOOD INTRODUCTION SCHEDULE (WHAT TYPES OF FOODS AN INFANT SHOULD EAT AT WHAT AGE). THE BABY’S DIGESTIVE TRACT CANNOT TOLERATE SOME FOODS AT AN EARLY AGE OR MAY DEVELOP ALLERGIES.**

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Afternoon Tea from the 1950s Housewife

Although afternoon tea is not an established tradition in America as it is in the British Isles, women in the 1950s would often get together in the afternoon for card parties, tea parties, and luncheons in order to share gossip, recipes, husband advice, child-rearing suggestions, fashion, hairstyles, make-up, current affairs, and plans for vacations and interior decorating. These social events broke up the boredom and mundane routine of household chores, encouraged bonding and friendships, and strengthened neighborhood cohesion and security. Neighbors knew one another back then and turned to each other in times of trouble. On the flip side, there was the usual rivalry over who was buying the newest car, the biggest house, the most expensive television set. People gossiped about each other shamelessly, with everyone knowing each other’s business. But, shhhhh, don’t talk about it out loud! That would be bad manners.

Afternoon Tea Menu

Assorted sandwiches (see suggestions below)

Toasted Sponge Cake

Small cakes (like Petits Fours – see recipe below)

Sweet wafers (vanilla wafers)

Bonbons, such as nougat candy and fudge

Cookies, such as assorted macaroons or French macarons

Nuts

Tea with sugar, cream, and sliced lemon

Tea Sandwiches

“The tea sandwich is seldom made of meat, though such things as minced chicken, lobster, or crab meat, and sardines beaten to a paste, are sometimes used for it.”

Thinly-sliced bread, with or without the crust.

Fillings may include lettuce, mayonnaise, chopped olives, nasturtiums and other edible flowers, watercress, cucumbers, cheese, Vienna sausages, jam, preserves, butter, and almond spread.

Buttered hot biscuits with cream cheese and preserves provide a delicious alternative.

Recipe for Petits Fours

2 cups sifted cake flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Fondant (can be bought pre-made)

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cream shortening, vanilla, and sugar together until fluffy. Add sifted ingredients and milk alternately. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into 2 greased (9-inch) pans. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees F.) about 25 minutes. Cool, then cut into 2-inch squares or triangles or use cookie cutters. Brush off crumbs, arrange on wire racks, and place racks on waxed paper. Melt fondant slowly over hot water (using a double boiler), tint with food coloring, and pour slowly over cakes. Decorate with nuts, candied fruit, small candies, coconut, or ornamental frosting pressed into flower shapes with a pastry tube. Makes about 30.

(Photo from Land O’Lakes)

Preparing the Tea

Avoid metal when preparing the tea! Glass or earthenware pots make the best tea. (Of course, every 1950s hostess had her favorite China teapot.)

Heat the teapot by filling it with boiling water. Empty it. Add the dry tea leaves (1 teaspoon of tea per 1 cup of hot water is a good guideline) and refill the pot with fresh boiling water. Cover and allow to brew for 3 to 5 minutes in a warm place. Serve immediately.

Tea may be served with sugar, cream, milk, lemon, cloves, candied cherries, orange peel, rose leaves, or mint. Cream should be used with black tea.

Mate and herbal tea may be substituted for traditional tea.

All menus and recipes from The American Woman’s Cook Book, 1952.

Dawn Pisturino

March 1, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

42 Comments »

Christmas Dinner from the 1950s Housewife

(1956 Christmas table setting – Photo from Click America)

Christmas Dinner 1950s Style

Note the formal table setting above. Elegant, polished, shining, and decorative. Polishing the silver was a long and tedious job, but so worthwhile! Beautiful!

Christmas Dinner Menus

Menu #1:

Oyster Cocktails in Green Pepper Shells

Celery and Ripe Olives

Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing

Apple Sauce

String Beans

Potato Puffs

Lettuce Salad with Riced (Grated) Cheese and Bar-le-Duc (currant jam)

French Dressing

Toasted Wafers

English Plum Pudding

Bonbons

Coffee

Menu #2:

Cream of Celery Soup

Cheese Sticks, Salted Peanuts, and Stuffed Green Olives

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding

Potato Souffle

Spinach in Eggs (hard-boiled eggs filled with cooked spinach)

White-Grape Salad with Guava Jelly (peeled and de-seeded white grapes on lettuce leaves)

French Dressing

Toasted Crackers

English Plum Pudding with Hard sauce

Bonbons

Coffee

(Menus from The American Woman’s Cook Book, 1950)

Christmas Cocktail Parties

(Cocktail wiener tree.)

Cocktail parties were popular in the 1950s, and the Christmas cocktail party was no exception.

Favorite drinks:

martinis

daiquiris

mint juleps

whisky sours

champagne cocktails

punch laced with alcohol

Appetizers:

Finger foods such as canapes, Vienna sausages, cocktail wieners, cheese, deviled eggs, and olives.

Sweets such as petits fours, candies, cookies, and other small desserts.

1950s Cocktail dresses:

1950s Christmas tree with lots of tinsel!

Christmas is timeless, however it’s celebrated.

Dawn Pisturino

December 12, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

35 Comments »

Culinary Tips from the 1950s Housewife

Dedicated to my mother, Adeline Lucille Spencer

The 1950s housewife was expected to cook three wholesome and nutritious meals every day for her family; send children off to school with filling and healthy lunches; set an elegant and lavish table for entertaining; and keep her husband happy and satisfied with a full stomach.

She was expected to know how to choose the best foods at the best prices, and to plan weekly menus that fulfilled the nutritional needs of her family. She read women’s magazines and cookbooks, looking for new recipes and advice about raising happy, healthy kids. Over cups of coffee and freshly-baked cookies, she swapped recipes, shared marital secrets and advice, and complained about housework to neighborhood friends and family. The 1950s housewife was highly-regarded and well-respected as the glue that kept the family and society together. And she benefited from post-war prosperity with new innovations in household appliances, television, and increased leisure time. 

Simple Breakfast Menu

Fruit Juice

Coddled Eggs (hard-cooked or soft-cooked boiled eggs)

Graham muffins (or bran muffins)

Coffee and Milk

Simple Lunch Menu

Bacon and Liver Sandwiches (or Bacon and Liverwurst)

Lettuce and Onion Salad Bowl

Chiffondale Dressing ( a variation of French dressing)

Baked Stuffed Pears

Simple Vegetarian Lunch Menu

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

Stewed Tomatoes

Cottage Cheese Salad

Prune Whip

Custard Sauce

Simple Dinner Menu

Roast Beef

Yorkshire Pudding

Toasted Carrots

Buttered Onions

Lettuce and Chicory Salad Bowl

Cheese Tray and Toasted Crackers

Coffee

Simple Vegetarian Dinner Menu

Cheese Souffle

Mashed Potatoes

Buttered String Beans

Radish and Cucumber Salad

Strawberry Shortcake

* * *

A huge part of entertaining guests in the 1950s was setting a proper table using the best china, glassware, silverware, linen napkins and tablecloth, condiment holders, place cards, and centerpiece. Monogrammed napkins and tablecloths were quite popular in the 1950s. Buffet dinners, in particular, gave the 1950s hostess the opportunity to show off her best silver, glass, and linens.

The Formal Dinner

1st course – Appetizer

2nd course – Soup

3rd course – Fish

4th course – Roast 

5th course –  Game

6th course – Salad

7th course – Dessert

8th course – Crackers and Cheese with Coffee 

9th course – Nuts and Raisins

10th course – Fruit

The Simplified Formal Dinner

1st course – Appetizer

2nd course – Main Entree

3rd course – Salad

4th course – Dessert

5th course – Coffee with Fruit or Crackers and Cheese

Courses were served individually in a particular way, and the place setting and position of knives, forks, and spoons reflected the order in which the courses were served.

1950s Food Wisdom

“Expensive foods are not necessarily the most nutritious.”

“Prepare all food so attractively, and season it so well, that it will be irresistible.”

“Beautiful color and dainty, attractive arrangements play a large part in a successful meal.”

“A combination of colors pleases the eye, stimulates the digestive juices, and creates an appetite.”

“When planning combinations, follow the day’s nutrition schedule and good combinations will result.”       [Today, we have the food pyramid that provides nutritional guidelines.]

“Fine flavor in foods is developed by proper cooking. Additional flavors are provided by herbs: garlic, onion, celery, and by spices. Highly-seasoned foods whet the appetite, while sweets satisfy it. For that reason, well-seasoned foods are served for appetizers and sweets for desserts. Serve only one strongly-flavored food at each meal.”

“A most important point is the serving of at least one each soft, solid, and crisp foods at each meal.”

“Serve hot foods hot and cold ones cold.”

“Plan meals that do not have too many last minute touches. When entertaining, avoid serving food that will be ruined by a few minutes waiting.”

“If planning to bake one dish, arrange your menu so that the whole oven may be used.”

“Learn to buy so that there is a minimum of food left over.”

“In summer, the market provides foods low in energy value but high in minerals or vitamins, such as fruits and vegetables. In winter, high-energy foods, as fats and carbohydrates, are needed, too.”

* * *

When my mother got married in the 1950s, she did not know how to cook! She was given a wonderful cookbook called The American Woman’s Cook Book (1952) as a wedding gift. I pored through that cookbook when I was growing up. The colorful pictures of fabulous desserts and  savory cooked meats always fascinated me and made me want to experiment in the kitchen. I treasure that cookbook as a beautiful reminder of my mother and days gone by.

Dawn Pisturino

May 25, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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