The Most Iconic American Foods That Defined Each Decade
Travel with us and explore some of the most popular American foods and food trends of the past!
1920s: Green Giant
“Ho, ho, ho!” The Jolly Green Giant first appeared in advertising for the Minnesota Valley Canning Company in 1928. He was such a hit, the company was renamed for him! Eating veggies seemed a lot more fun when they came from a package featuring this colorful character. Here are more of the top food mascots of all time.
1920s: Wonder Bread
Wonder Bread grew in popularity in 1925, when it became America’s first sliced bread. During World War II, metal was conserved for the war effort and slicing blades weren’t available. So the loaf with the red, blue, and yellow balloons on the package again became—briefly—unsliced!
1920s: Gerber Baby Food
When Daniel and Dorothy Gerber began straining solid foods at home to feed their infant daughter Sally in 1927, Gerber Baby Food was born. In 1928, the company sold carrots, peas, prunes, spinach, and beef vegetable soup… and debuted the famous sketch of the Gerber Baby.
1930s: Birdseye Frozen Foods
Clarence Birdseye made frozen foods possible on a commercial scale when he developed a flash-freezing process, ensuring optimum food safety, texture and taste. In 1930, stores began carrying refrigerated cases filled with his frozen vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and oysters. Find out why cooking makes us so nostalgic for the good old days.
1930s: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
“A meal for 4…in 9 minutes.” That slogan appeared on yellow boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, which first hit supermarkets in 1937. The 19¢ meal proved popular during the economic hardships of the Great Depression. The blue-colored box? It didn’t appear until 1954. Check out these recipes for the grown-up versions of your favorite childhood foods.
That intriguing blend of ham and other pork products, SPAM made the scene in 1937. During World War II, over 100 million pounds of the “miracle meat in a can” was shipped overseas to feed allied troops… and plenty of folks enjoyed it on the home front, too.
Love those O’s! General Mills introduced Cheerioats, the first ready-to-eat oat cereal, in 1941. In a bright yellow box with a big blue circle, Cheerios also had a mascot: Cheeri O’ Leary. The cereal’s name was shortened to Cheerios in 1945. Don’t miss how 16 more iconic foods got their names.
1940s: Betty Crocker Cake Mixes
A dessert shortcut gained widespread popularity when General Mills offered Betty Crocker cake mixes in 1948. Home cooks who were tired of baking from scratch now had an alternative that still tasted good. In other words, they could have their cake and eat it, too!
1950s: TV Dinners
With I Love Lucy and other hit TV shows, it’s no wonder Americans were glued to the tube in the 1950s. Swanson made it easy to stay there when the company debuted TV dinners in 1953. For 98¢, TV watchers could enjoy a main course and several side dishes—all on a disposable, oven-ready tray. Find the best of the ’50s and beyond with these retro potluck recipes.
1950s: Diet Soda
By the time the 1950s rolled around, sugary soft drinks had existed for decades. But weight-conscious folks cheered when Diet Rite Cola, the first zero-calorie diet soda offered nationally, appeared in 1958. By the early 1960s, it was the fourth most popular soda in the United States.
1960s: Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
Who can resist the lovable giggle and belly poke of Poppin’ Fresh? The Pillsbury Doughboy first won hearts in a TV commercial for Crescent Rolls in 1965. Since that time, the cute character has been in hundreds of commercials featuring more than 50 Pillsbury products. See our most-shared vintage recipes of all time.
1960s: Cool Whip
In 1966, sweet tooths could top off their desserts in a jiffy thanks to Cool Whip. The ready-made, frozen whipped topping quickly replaced real whipped cream for many home cooks and became a holiday staple. Get a taste of the decade with these vintage recipes inspired by the swinging ’60s!
1970s: Hamburger Helper
Amidst rising beef prices and an economic recession, General Mills debuted Hamburger Helper in 1971 to help families stretch their food budgets. With the added appeal of an entire meal prepared in one pan, the first Hamburger Helper flavors included Beef Noodle, Potato Stroganoff, and Rice Oriental.
A national dish of Switzerland, fondue was all the rage of ’70s gatherings and après ski parties. This trend spawned scores of home fondue sets—table-top pots for melting cheese and long skewer-like forks for dipping bread, veggies, and meats. (Fondue is making a comeback, so dust off your old set.) Throw a groovy party with these recipes perfect for a 1970s cocktail party.
1970s: Happy Meals
This decade saw the birth of the Happy Meal, and since then, kids everywhere have been bugging their parents for this McDonald’s treat—mostly for the toy inside! Along with a cookie and a soda, those first Happy Meals included prizes like a stencil, spinning top, or McDonaldland character eraser. Find out what the McDonald’s menu looked like the year you were born.
“Pesto is the quiche of the eighties.” This line from When Harry Met Sally captures the fascination Americans had with traditional Italian cuisine. More people were dining out and discovering dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Piccata, and the tastes of sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh basil pesto.
1980s: Pizza Rolls
Kids of the ’80s loved their pizza rolls, a bite-sized way to get that pizza flavor we craved—driven in part from repeated viewings of those pizza-loving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! But pizza rolls (first introduced under Jeno’s, later as Totino’s) were loved by adults too, as an easy-to-make party appetizer.
1990s: Crystal Pepsi
Trying to capitalize on the fad of “clear = pure” (remember Ivory Clear Soap and Clearly Canadian Water?) Pepsi gave us this clear, caffeine-free cola in 1993. Despite a campaign that included a Van Halen song and a Super Bowl ad, Crystal Pepsi did not catch on and disappeared from store shelves rather quickly. Here are the best regional sodas from every state. Do you recognize a few?
1990s: Molten Chocolate Cake
A French chef working in New York City accidentally touched off a popular dessert trend of the ’90s. The little chocolate cakes Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten made for a large party were underbaked, with liquid centers—and people loved them! Soon, molten chocolate cakes (sometimes called lava cakes) were on restaurant dessert menus everywhere. This collection of vintage desserts will give you inspiration for your next sweet treat!
Time-crunched parents were happy to send kids to school with these easy, pre-packed lunches. And kids thought it was cool to assemble their own mini pizzas or cracker-deli meat stacks, with a drink and candy to boot. Lunchables are still around, and the appeal of this compartmentalized meal is also seen today in DIY bento box-style lunches.
Cupcakes experienced a surge in popularity in the early 2000s. After a cupcake-eating scene outside Magnolia Bakery in an episode of Sex and the City, customers flocked to the pastry shop for weeks after to get a cupcake of their own. Cupcake bakeries popped up across the country offering decadent varieties like Salted Caramel. Cupcakes will always be in style, especially with flavors like Tres Leches and Key Lime Pie. Here are 20 more things we all miss about the 2000s.
2000s: Bacon Everything
The love for bacon reached a fever pitch in this decade, some say due to the popularity of meat-heavy diets like Atkins. People everywhere embraced their love affair with bacon—wrapping it around whole turkeys, crumbling it over doughnuts and adding it to cocktails. There were bacon-themed products too, like toothpaste and gum! Next, check out the most popular candy the year you were born.