It has been regarded as one of the hardest times in history. The Great Depression. This all began in 1929, following the Stock Market Crash, and it was more than a bit of a hard time financially. The entire world suffered from an economic downturn and every aspect of life, from the cost of food to the cost of rent, was affected.

The end result was that people were struggling to eat those all important three meals a day and those who were working were making less money. As well as this, there was a significant decrease in healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables because dust storms were killing off crops across the United States. Yikes.

How did people in America survive? The answer was they got creative with the food that they had available and created some meals that you can still find today. So, if you want to learn more about nutrition and diet during the Great Depression, read on, as here the best and worst recipes will be explored.

Mac and Cheese

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Almost everybody the world over has heard of macaroni and cheese.During the Great Depression. Both cheese and fresh milk were in short supply, and when it could be purchased, it was expensive.The salesman in Saint Louis started to sell tandoori macaroni noodles with packets of Kraft cheese. This ever-popular prepackaged meal is being sold wholesale in the majority of stores.

Of course, you can make your own macaroni and cheese, with some of the most popular recipes being available on The Food Network website. Irrespective of how you eat it, you should always think of that gentleman from Saint Louis who came up with this as a base meal idea. 


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Meatloaf was an incredibly popular meal during the Great Depression, as it allowed those who made it to substitute one type of protein for another.The upside being that you could have a less expensive protein source mixed into your food. Meatloaf, as it is known in 2024, was actually relatively rare during the 1930s, as many people used filler ingredients such as liver, peanuts,  lima beans, as well as oats and cereal to bulk out the loaf.

Dandelion Salads

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Many people are surprised to learn that the average dandelion is rich in iron, potassium, minerals, zinc and vitamins AB&D. So it should come as no surprise that during the Great Depression, one of the staple meals for many homes was what is known as a dandelion salad.

The reason this became popular in the 1930s was simple. Dandelions grow everywhere and are readily available, free and, according to WebMD, they are a great source of vitamin C, which was in short supply in this period, due to a lack of fruit and veg.

SOS Or Creamed Chipped Beef

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A military meal became a staple in many homes in the 1930s, which combined corned or chipped beef, vinegar, peas and gelatin.

Known as SOS, this mix was simple to eat with crackers or bread and allowed people to have some protein in their diet, without spending a fortune on prime cuts of beef. It was also pretty tasty as well and cheap to make.

Red Velvet Cake

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Historical food websites like Southern Living believe that the ever-popular red velvet cake was a replacement for chocolate cake during the Great Depression. As said before, butter was incredibly expensive and rare in the 1930s, and chocolate was practically unheard of. So, many cooks replaced both of these with vegetable oil and cocoa powder, which were more affordable.

Considering that red velvet cake is seen as an almost luxury today, it has some very humble origins!

Mock Apple Pie

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During the Great Depression, apples were scarce and so, people wanted something that could mimic the famous taste of apples, without having to pay a fortune for the ingredients. 

The solution was a mock apple pie, which was when consumers would spread butter covered with sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice over a Ritz cracker. No idea if this tasted like apple pie, but it was very popular!

Hoover Stew

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Interestingly, during the Great Depression, hot dogs were one of the only meat-based products that could be purchased in the US. 

Rather than just eating hot dogs on their own, many families mixed hot dogs with mac and cheese, as well as stewed tomatoes, corn as well as peas. The end result was a stew, which was named after President Hubert Hoover, who was the US president when the Great Depression started. Not sure how he felt about that!


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As mentioned in the intro, during this era, even those who were working didn’t have much spare money. So, there was a push to create cheap meals, with one group trying to get food costs low enough to feed a family of five for $5 a week. 

This led to the creation in 1933 of Milkorno, a mix of cornmeal, salt and powdered milk. This was eaten as a breakfast and, to many, was a cheap substitute for porridge.

Prune Pudding

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Even the White House underwent cuts during the Depression and Eleanor Roosevelt opted to save money by serving prune pudding. This was because preserved or tinned prunes were readily available, and could be mixed with flour to thicken the desert base.

So, if foreign ambassadors visited the first lady, they would often get a tasty and cheap pudding!


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Who doesn’t love Jell-O? During the Great Depression, it is theorized that many people in the US began to eat Jell-O, as gelatin was available and easily mixed into sweet and savory dishes. Another thing to note about gelatin is that it is also a preserving agent, so many people mixed herbs and fruits in with it to preserve them. 

Vinegar Cobbler

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As before, there was very little fruit available in the US and as a result, deserts were the first treats to suffer. However, vinegar cobbler mixed sugar, butter, vanilla and water together, to make a cobbler that was sweet and cheap.

It sounds gross to many modern palettes, but this cobbler is still popular today.

Boiled Carrots Spaghetti

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In the Great Depression, spaghetti and meatballs were replaced by carrots and spaghetti. This was more of a casserole than the Italian dish, and it was mixed together in a sauce that was made of flour, water and salt.

Best of all, this could be made with tinned carrots, thereby saving money.

Peanut Butter – Stuffed Onions

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It seems that not all foods from the Great Depression hit the mark.

The idea of stuffing peanut butter into baked onions was cooked up by the Bureau of Home Economics to keep people fed during those hard times. However, this idea doesn’t sound overly appealing, but it was really pushed as a meal time option.

Mulligan’s Stew

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This option doesn’t sound too different from most casseroles that you will find today. 

It used a mixture of onions, potatoes, beans and corn, as well as meat scraps. In short, it was a stew for whatever people had available. It was tasty and allowed protein to be eaten with ease, rather than thrown away, which reduced food waste.

Poor Man’s Meal

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Most people have heard of this and it is something that is still eaten today, despite its name. It was made up of hot dogs that were boiled and potato slices. It was one of the most popular meals during the depression, solely because it was filling and cheap.

Italian Ice

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This is often known as shaved ice today and was created as a replacement for ice cream during the Great Depression, as it was incredibly cheap and refreshing. It was a mixture of ice, juice or fruit concentrate which you can still find today. It was also considered to be one of the main foods that Americans embraced from Italian immigrants. 

Potato Pancakes

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Potatoes were one of the most widely available and inexpensive foods during the Great Depression, so it stands to reason that.They would have been extended into the realm of pancakes.Potato pancakes were eaten for breakfast or as a side dish for lunch or dinner and were incredibly filling.When sprinkled with salt or pepper. 

Hobo Dinners

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During the Great Depression, a fair number of people experienced homelessness. As they didn’t have access to a grill or a stove, they cooked their meals on an open fire.

A hobo dinner would usually consist of putting meat, potatoes and other ingredients inside tin foil and putting this over a fire. In the modern times, this is not as common in traditional kitchens, but is an option that is used whilst camping. 

Great Depression Casserole

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This casserole would not look out of place in many homes in 2024. It combines the mixture of onions, carrots, and beans with potatoes and salt pork or other cheap meats. The best part was that it could feed a larger family, for less money, whilst also avoiding wasting food.

Cheap Meat Cuts

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As mentioned before, cuts of meat were very expensive during the Great Depression and people learned to appreciate cheaper cuts such as tails, Shank, liver and even tongue. Sounds gross, but these can actually be fairly tasty when they are prepared correctly. 

Bacon and Cabbage

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Potatoes and cabbage were cheap and plentiful and could even be grown in the majority of backyards or gardens during the Great Depression. Add these two filling vegetables to a salty piece of bacon, and you have yourself a tasty dish! To this day they are often paired as part of a Christmas or Thanksgiving meal.

Cream of Potato Soup

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If you had used potatoes over several meals, you could use the remnants.To make. Cream of potato soup.This soup simply consisted of mashing potatoes into water and adding a bit of salt and pepper. If you had the money, you would have been able to add bacon, greens and milk. 

Applesauce Cake

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To make applesauce cake, all you needed to have to hand was sugar, flour, oil and a little bit of milk.There was a catch, however, which meant this cake would need baking, which made it one of the more luxurious items on this list. Still, it was very popular!

Sweetened Rice

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Ever had Muller rice? Rice was inexpensive during the Depression era, Which meant it was easy to turn into a dessert. All you needed to have on hand was some dry fruit. Even today, this is a food that is still beloved by adults and children.So if you are a fan of biting into sweetened rice, you can thank the Great Depression. As odd as that sounds! 

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15 Nostalgic Dinners from the Past That Are Rarely Seen Today

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Read: 18 Foods You Should Eat Every Day

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