In the 1950s, it would have been extremely unusual to find avocado on the menu at a restaurant. These days, it’s everywhere! Many cocktail parties in the 1970s included fondue and Swedish meatballs. Today, fondue is typically relegated to specialty restaurants and Swedish meatballs are often associated with IKEA. Just as fashions change and evolve, our food consumption has shifted drastically over the years. If you don’t believe me, check out our list of food trends through the decades below. It’s sure to stir up some tasty memories!
Food Trends Through the Decades
Jell-O salads and aspic salads were a natural result of two technological advancements: refrigerators (which became more common and affordable in the 1930s) and gelatin (which was gaining popularity in food applications at the time). While some Jell-O salads were sweet and fruity, others included tinned tuna, canned chicken, or shredded vegetables. Yuck! I think most of us are glad this trend has fallen out of favor.
Another unfortunate trend of years past? SPAM, a canned meat product that became a staple of soldiers’ diets in WWII. It soon caught on amongst civilians, becoming a pantry staple due to its indefinite shelf life. Today, SPAM is still quite popular in Hawaii.
Orange juice is a more pleasant food trend of the 1940s. The U.S. Army quartermaster offered a lucrative contract to whoever could produce a decent-tasting frozen orange juice to send to the troops fighting in WWII. Before this, frozen orange juice had tasted quite strange due the degradation of the essential oils within it. But by the end of the 1940s, popularized by a Bing Crosby jingle, Minute Maid orange juice was a part of many American breakfasts (source).
As TVs began sweeping across the nation, TV dinners followed in their wake. Pre-made and frozen, TV dinners were exceptionally convenient for busy families. Another convenient meal that reached its peak of popularity in the 1950s is the casserole. With their simple instructions and affordable ingredients (often canned foods), casseroles were incredibly easy to throw together. While some American households still regularly make green bean casserole, many other forms of casserole have fallen by the wayside.
The 1960s ushered in many innovative new foods, including many NASA-inspired instant foods that instructed home cooks to “just add water.” These included instant mashed potatoes, freeze-dried coffee, powdered cheese mix, and scientifically engineered Tang. Some other new foods of the era included imitation foods and highly processed foods like Bac-Os bacon bits and Easy Cheese. In addition, hippie culture popularized granola, which has been a popular snack and breakfast item ever since.
Whether you prefer cheese fondue or chocolate fondue, you can’t deny how fashionable this gooey, melty, shareable Swiss treat was in the 1970s. It first caused a stir at the 1964 World’s Fair, but it became more popular and common in the 70s. Some other trendy foods at the time were quiche, Swedish meatballs, and cheese logs and cheese balls (must-have party treats).
Junk food exploded in popularity in the 1980s, with everything from Cool Ranch Doritos and Capri Sun to fruit snacks, TaB soda, and Jawbreakers. One of the healthier in-demand foods was pesto, a sauce made of basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil. Today you find pesto on everything from sandwiches and pasta to pizza and salad. Finally, the 1980s popularized many Asian foods that we now know and love, including sushi, chow mein, and General Tso chicken.
If you were a parent or a kid in the 1990s, you know how big pre-made lunch box items and after-school snacks were. We’re talking about Lunchables, Doritos, Fruit by the Foot, Gushers, Kid Cuisine, Bagel Bites, and Totino’s Pizza Rolls.
But we’re all familiar with pasta salad, which reached its heyday in the 1990s. While it’s debatable if it’s truly a salad or not, pasta salad is a versatile dish that’s still perfect for potlucks and summer barbecues. Some even include sun-dried tomatoes (another food trend of the 90s).
The Atkins diet swept the nation in the 2000s, so many Americans were banishing bread from their plates and turning instead to meat, eggs, and cheese. Although this low-carb lifestyle eventually fell out of favor, it was the most popular diet in 2004.
Other culinary trends of the time included cupcakes (sometimes with unique flavors), bacon on just about everything (including cupcakes!), and “superfoods” like blueberries and kale.
We’ve explored food trends through the decades, but what are the culinary trends of the moment? In the past nine years, we’ve seen quite a few foods spike in popularity.
The first is fro-yo, which was first produced in the 1970s but rose to popularity in the 2010s with self-serve fro-yo shops like TCBY popping up across the country. While the fad has died down a bit, you likely still have a favorite fro-yo shop in town.
The second food trend is avocado, which is no longer reserved for Mexican food. We love avocado on sandwiches, in salads, on toast, and (of course) in guacamole.
Finally, the third huge food trend of the 2010s is an annual flavor that’s ready to hit the shelves again soon: pumpkin spice. In the past, you might have reserved the pumpkin spice in your cabinet for making pumpkin pies on Thanksgiving. Now, we have pumpkin pie-flavored everything: coffee drinks, cereal, baked goods, candy, beer, tea, etc. There are even pumpkin spice cough drops, pumpkin spice sausages, pumpkin spice pasta sauces, and pumpkin spice chips. Who knows when this crazy fad will end?
What do you think of our list of food trends through the decades? Did we forget to mention your favorite?
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