Traditional recipes

Classic American Recipes Through the Decades

Classic American Recipes Through the Decades


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From gelatin salads to avocado toast

lechatnoir/E+ via Getty Images

From Jell-O desserts at the start of the last century and Jazz-inspired chicken and waffles in the 1930s to vegan burgers in the 2000s, these dishes are an ode to the cultural influences of America.

So here’s how to cook your way through American food trends from the early 1900s to the 2010s.

1900: Jell-O desserts

Photo courtesy of Belly Full

1910: ‘Dainty foods’

© Martin Rettenberger/Dreamstime.com

According to Food Historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson, “dainty foods” were all the rage among middle- and upper-class women in the 1910s. And while you could opt for tea sandwiches or mini cakes, the most popular were mayonnaise-based salads like chicken or egg salad. This version is a lighter version of the classic.

1910s: Meatless meals

Photo courtesy of McCormick

Between 1917 and 1918, amid World War I, the U.S. sanctioned voluntary rationing to help free up food supplies for soldiers abroad. In doing so, many households skipped meat on one day of the week, which is also where the term "Meatless Mondays" was coined. As an ode to that time, make this vegetarian chili loaded with peppers, hearty sweet potatoes and corn.

For the Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili recipe, click here.

1920s: Icebox cakes

Photo courtesy of Happy Money Saver

1920s: Kitchenette-friendly meals

photominer/Shutterstock

According to Wassberg Johnson, more Americans started living in urban areas than rural in the 1920s and had to make do with apartment-sized kitchenettes. This shift made way for meals that didn’t require much space at all to cook — like grilled cheese sandwiches, which were inexpensive during a time of economic uncertainty as well as easy to whip up with three ingredients and a pan.

1920s: Cocktails at home

Courtesy of the National Mango Board

1920s: Ethnic foods like a Chinese egg tart

Photo courtesy of Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs

Eating at Chinese, Italian and Bohemian restaurants was a popular pastime among the upper class in the ‘20s, and the mingling of cultures reshaped the racial landscape. This version of a Chinese egg tart is made special by its custardy base with flavors of honey and orange juice.

1930s: Jazz music brings chicken and waffles

Photo courtesy of Perdue

The Post-WWI Great Migration of African Americans from the South to northern cities was a key part of the 1930s. Black jazz creatives were transforming urban pockets like New York City during what became known as the Harlem Renaissance. And with it came the invention of the beloved chicken and waffles. Next time you’re deciding what to make for brunch, try this mini version of the classic combo.

For the Buttermilk Chicken and Waffle Bites recipe, click here.

1930s: Salads

Courtesy of Seasonal Cravings

Americans were really into salads in the 1930s and a lot of it had to do with influence from Southern California and Hollywood. French-influenced dishes like leafy green salads became more and more common. Though there are hundreds of salad combinations to choose from, this spring green salad with chunks of avocado, blanched asparagus and delicate greens is a bowl of freshness.

1930: Mexican-American food like tamale pie

Photo courtesy of McCormick

Folks in the ‘30s developed a newfound interest in Mexico and the American Southwest, which led to Americanized Mexican dishes like tamale pie. Typically, tamale pie is a two-step process that involves making the chili first and then the cornbread that is added on top before the whole thing is baked in the oven. This version is made in a slow cooker over several hours, which requires a lot of patience but at least most of the cooking is hands-off.

1930s: Macaroni and cheese

Photo courtesy of Happy Money Saver

As families were pinching pennies in the 1930s due to the Great Depression, many Americans switched up their meals as well as their parties. According to Wassberg Johnson, people would throw rent parties where they would cook low-cost bulk meals, like macaroni and cheese, and charge a fee for dinner so they could make rent. This mac and cheese recipe is not only a cheap dinner dish, but it’s ultra-creamy thanks to the addition of heavy cream and chicken broth in the cheese sauce.

1930s: Banana bread

Photo courtesy of Bits and Bites

1940s: Homegrown dinners like tomato salad

Photo courtesy of Seasonal Cravings

1950s: Italian dishes

AS Food studio/Shutterstock

The ‘50s were a time of travel and foreign foods, including Polynesian, Chinese, German, Hungarian, Spanish and Italian cuisines. This stracciatella soup is an Italian soup with a delicate meat broth and thin strands of eggs made using a method of drizzling the egg mixture into boiling broth and stirring it gently until it’s cooked.

1950s: ‘TV dinner’ casseroles

Photo courtesy of McCormick

TV dinners were a hit in the 1950s as most middle-class families now had a TV set and portable dinner trays replaced sit-down dining room meals across the country. Casseroles, loved for their time-saving element and one-pot ease, became a popular choice. This dish is everything a casserole should be — gooey, cheesy and hearty, with taco meat and beans topped with crispy tater tots and cheese.

For the Taco Tater-Topped Casserole recipe, click here.

1960s: Hippie culture and vegetarian dishes

Photo courtesy of McCormick

The counter-cultural movement and lifestyle of hippies was a massive part of the 1960s, and their way of life also influenced what foods were popular. They created their own free lifestyle and often followed vegetarian diets and rejected the mass production of food, which isn’t so far off from what some Americans follow today. This farmers market-inspired one-pan chicken dish is a solid celebration of those ideals and fresh, wholesome flavors.

1960s: The Beatles and curry

Photo courtesy of Perdue

1960s: Soul food

Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Temple

1970s: Feminist foods

zoryanchik/Shutterstock

At the start of the ‘70s, women entered the workforce in droves and began using the microwave more often for easy ways to feed their families with a busy schedule. This mug cake can be an ode to that promise — combine all the cake ingredients in a mug, whisk until smooth and microwave for two minutes. Voila.

1980s: Baby vegetables reign supreme

Photo courtesy of Beef. It's What's for Dinner.

Micro or baby vegetables were all the rage in the 1980s and extremely popular in haute cuisine. This dish celebrates baby bell peppers for all that they are — small, stuffable, sweet and perfectly roastable. These colorful peppers are packed with ground beef, spinach and couscous before being baked in the oven and then sprinkled with cheese.

1990s: Midwestern food

Photo courtesy of Pillsbury

1990s: ‘Lotta’ lattes

Candice Bell/iStock / Getty Images Plus

2000s: Bacon on everything

Photo Courtesy of Jason Goldstein, Chop Happy

Meat-eating home cooks were putting bacon on everything in the 2000s, following of course the trend set by celebrity chefs and restaurants. This guacamole is a great example of the bacon-phase: taking something already perfect (guacamole) and adding some bacon just because you can.

2000s: Vegan desserts

Photo courtesy of Amanda Paa, Heartbeet Kitchen

2010s: Alternative meat

Photo courtesy of Beyond Meat

One of the biggest food trends of the 2010s (that is still going strong into 2020) is alternative meats as part of a more plant-based diet. Brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are busting out meat-like products to replace the red meat in typical burgers, sandwiches, tacos and more. This kimchi burger is a flavor-packed meatless meal, with zesty Asian ingredients like chili garlic and kimchi and well-seasoned Beyond meat patties.

2010s: Avocado toast

Photo courtesy of Phil's Fresh Eggs


The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century Hardcover – August 23, 2005

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The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century Hardcover – August 23, 2005

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The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century Hardcover – August 23, 2005

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The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century Hardcover – August 23, 2005

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The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century Hardcover – August 23, 2005

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