Cooking in the 1950s: From Betty Crocker to Frozen Foods


In the Fifties, the domestic ideal was the “June Cleaver type,” a stay-at-home mom who was busily cooking and cleaning away, in her high heels and pearls.

This was the decade of Tupperware parties, Jell-O molds, and aluminum glasses, which are delightfully retro today.

In the postwar years, cooking took on a new importance. Making food was no longer simply about keeping your family fed — it was now about expressing your love for them. Making delicious meals became synonymous with being a good wife and mother.

1950s Cookbooks

Many cookbooks of the era focused on the proper way to cook meat, a staple of the “meat and potatoes” kind of dinners women wanted to make for their families.

As one issue of Seventeen magazine told its young readers, there was “one way to a man’s heart — steak.” New high school courses in home economics sought to prepare young ladies to perform their domestic duties efficiently.

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book

In 1950, Betty Crocker introduced a cookbook that made cooking easy, appealing, and fun.

The popularity of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book has stood the test of time — it is still available today in a new reprinted edition. It covers all the 1950s basics, from “Pigs in a Blanket” to “Tomato Aspic.” It has unique features too, such as twelve months of birthday cake ideas.

Fully illustrated with photos and drawings, the cookbook contains many hints, tips, and tricks to make the housewife’s life a little bit easier.

History of Frozen Foods

In the 1950s, demand increased for “pre-packaged” foods, such as condensed soup, cake mixes, and frozen foods. Swanson’s famous “TV Dinner” hit the market in 1953. The original box was actually modeled after a television, which people were beginning to watch as they ate their meals. Now an entire meal could be conveniently popped into the oven. What is considered a last minute, quick-fix for a meal today was a real treat in the 1950s.

The idea for the frozen dinner came from a “few” leftovers. Swanson greatly overestimated how many Thanksgiving turkeys they would sell. With 520,000 pounds of leftover turkey, the Swanson brothers came up with the idea of packaging the turkey with side dishes as a complete frozen dinner. With its specially designed compartmentalized tray, and unique name “TV Dinner,” the new frozen meals were a smashing success!

But even as women purchased these frozen and pre-packaged goods, they were not encouraged to serve up a steady diet of them. Fresh ingredients and complicated, time-consuming recipes were still found on the household menu.