100-Year-Old Church Supper Menu and Costs

Source: American Cookery (June/July, 1916)
Source: American Cookery (June/July, 1916)

Did you ever plan the menu for a meal with 200 people? . . . and ended up getting sticker shock at how much it would cost? According to a hundred-year-old magazine, a church supper for 200 people in 1916 would cost only $74.58. To keep the costs down, the menu did have a few limitations. For example, canned peas were listed as the main vegetable. But, on the other hand,Ā  the person planning the menu did budget $3.50 for “help”.

We really should factor in inflation when looking at this old menu. According to an online inflation calculator, a dollar in 1916 is worth $22.22 today. So in today’s dollars, the total meal cost $1,657.17 or $8.29 per person – which, at least in my book, is still a very reasonably priced meal.

45 thoughts on “100-Year-Old Church Supper Menu and Costs

  1. That was fun — both to see what they served and the comparison of cost then and now. I served 30 once a year, but gosh! I couldn’t want to contemplate preparing a meal for 200, even with help!

    1. There’s been so much inflation over the past hundred years that I find it really difficult to get my head around the relationship between wages and costs back then.

  2. My church (Funny I should say that since I don’t attend anymore), but my church sells their dinner tickets for about $8.00 for an adult right now. But they find the Soup and Bread suppers where the church ladies donate crock pots of soup to be more profitable, it’s all on donations and they bring in more money, and it’s less work.

    1. It’s interesting how the church does a mixture of dinners and Soup and Bread suppers. It wonderful that the church members are willing to make soups to donate.

      1. Yes, and it always floors me that they make so much more money that way. I think people are donating $10.00 and $20.00 bills sometimes for one soup meal.

        1. Homemade soup that church members donate for the meal gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. People probably appreciate how tasty the soup is, and it may put them in a mood where they also want to contribute to the church’s work.

  3. This brought back memories of the days when pastors, doctors, and teachers truly were paid with chickens and pies. A chicken pie supper’s a great way to combine the two. One of our traditional church supper menus in 1950s Iowa involved chicken and noodles served over mashed potatoes. It really was quite wonderful, and it certainly was easier to prepare than pies. Of course, no one worried about carbs back then. The farmers and hard-working mothers needed the energy, as did hard-playing kids. And of course, our servings were smaller. I ordered a pasta dish recently that was quite wonderful, but it also provided me with four meals!

    1. I’m intrigued by the way the chicken and noodles were served over mashed potatoes. I tend to think of noodles and potatoes as being semi-substitutes for each other–and would have guessed that the the chicken would be served over one or the other rather than both.

  4. This reminds me of planning the wedding meal for my daughter last year. We had only 100 people, but spent much more than $8.29 per person. šŸ™‚

    1. šŸ™‚ Based on what I’ve heard from brides and their parents, I don’t think that very many wedding dinners are “reasonably” priced.

  5. This is great!! Our family has done fund raisers, and the count is about 8.50 a plate. What catch my eye was chicken pies! That might be interesting to try sometime. We usually do grilled chicken ,potato salad, string beans,roll and a sweet…like a brownie or cookie.. for fund raisers. Chicken pies would be great for a church dinner.

    1. I’m curious about the recipe that was used to make the chicken pies. The old magazine contained the menu and costs, but didn’t include recipes for the items. I’ve eaten chicken pot pies, but never just chicken pie. I wonder whether the author of the menu really was referring to pot pies.

  6. This is very interesting. I have often wondered about the cost of food one hundred years ago. This gives me some examples. Thanks.

    1. I’ve glad you enjoyed this post. Seeing the food costs in the old magazine somehow made it easier for me to grasp how much prices have increased across the years.

    1. I’m guessing that ice cream was considered more of a “gourmet” item back then. Many people won’t have had electricity (or freezers) – so during warm weather months the ice cream probably was purchased at an ice cream store and then packed in ice until it was served. (I’m thinking that dry ice may have been used, but I’m not sure).

      I actually posted a recipe for Beet Relish last winter. I didn’t particularly care for it (it had too much horse radish), but it was an interesting old-time recipe.

  7. Fascinating to see – and the comparison costs between today’s prices and those of yesteryear. When I used to help with the church we made everything ourselves – pies, quiches, cakes etc – to keep costs down, so I’m intrigued to see that they bought the pies ready made.

    1. That surprised me, too – though I remember a church near where I used to live that had wonderful potato-and-cheese pierogis dinners during Lent. I think that they may have purchased the pierogis.

  8. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into food prices 100 years ago! I think it was not very cheap considering it was a ‘bulk buy’, but still quite reasonable.

    1. I think that you’re right. This meal probably was considered a “nice” meal that would encourage church members to attend the event rather than a budget meal.

    1. Church and community dinners are so much fun -and the foods are generally really good. People often make some of their favorite recipes to take to pot luck dinners.

  9. This is a wonderful find. To realize how well they managed to have a meal to feed so many for really not much is quite a compliment to their resourcefulness back then.

  10. That is reasonably priced! Nowadays, sadly, at work anyway, no one is allowed per policy to do potluck because God forbid someone gets food poisoning, it’s sue city!

    1. It frustrates me that official policies seem to consider commercially-prepared foods that may have lots of chemicals and preservatives in them as safer than home-cooked foods.

  11. Fascinating!
    The $3.50 for “help”, and the canned peas (saved on “help” time). Thanks for calculating the costs with inflation

    1. Thanks for the information. Like you, I have a sense that dry ice may have been used back then, but I don’t know much about how it actually worked.

  12. I like this site. Having planned a few large meals, those numbers definitely seem reasonable. It’s funny though that the ice cream would translate to about $308.00 at current prices. I think I could find it cheaper than that.

    1. It’s interesting how expensive ice cream was back then. I wonder if it is somehow related to the available technology. It might have been relatively costly to make ice cream. Also, the ice cream probably needed to packed in dry ice (which would have added to the costs) since the church probably did not have a freezer to keep it frozen until it was served.

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