Balanced Meals a Hundred Years Ago

Text showing meals that are considered balanced, as well as meals that are not balanced.
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

A balanced diet helps maintain health – though I’m never exactly sure how to determine whether a particular meal is balanced. There are the five food groups, and once upon a time the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid was used to help balance meals, but that has been relegated to the nutritional dust bin and now USDA’s MyPlate can be used to balance meals. Is meat good or bad? – Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as we follow the current mantra and eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

A hundred years ago cooks also tried to prepare balanced meals. According to a 1919 home economics textbook:

A “balanced” meal is one in which the various food principles are combined in a proper proportion. The “balanced” meal must contain some protein, some carbohydrate, some fat, some mineral salts, some water, and some bulk. This combination or “balance” should be present in all meals both for the needs of the body and for good digestion. In other words, it will not do to eat nearly all starch at one meal, and nearly all protein at the next.

Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)


26 thoughts on “Balanced Meals a Hundred Years Ago

  1. Meals planned, with desserts [!], to sustain the body and provide for good digestion. Kind of a different pov than how a balanced diet is presented to us today. Fascinating.

  2. A hundred years ago a dessert course was always part of a planned meal. In our house that only happens on special occasions. How lovely it would be to live in a time when chocolate layer cake was considered part of a balanced meal.

    1. I grew up on a farm, and I can remember that we always had dessert with dinner and supper. (My family didn’t use the term lunch) – but that was years ago. I wish that I could still eat dessert without gaining weight. šŸ™‚

  3. The ‘peanut sandwich’ intrigued me. I wonder if it was peanut butter? I still follow this sort of regimen, and it’s served me well over the years: protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fats, in proper proportions. I think the biggest difference is today’s general agreement that as long as all nutrients are included during the day, they don’t need to be present at every meal.

    1. I’m guessing that peanut meant peanut butter, but am not sure. I have a vague memory of seeing a hundred-year-old recipe for a sandwich spread that included chopped walnuts – so it might possibly mean chopped peanuts placed on top of thickly buttered bread or maybe embedded in a cheese sauce.

  4. It seems a bit ironic that the Vegetable Soup entire with potato salad, peanut (butter?), and chocolate cake does not qualify as too starchy. Of all the choices, Iā€™d be going for the unbalanced entry with the lemon meringue pie.

    I guess the real difference between unhealthy food choices then and now is that then they were a lot more active physically than we are today so had a better chance of burning off all those calories.

    1. I agree- a major difference between 1919 and 2019 is that people were much more physically active back then. These menus almost make me wish that I did lots of physical labor so that I could eat lots of wonderful desserts without gaining weight. šŸ™‚

    1. I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it, but you are absolutely right. It does seems like there should be some green vegetables on these menus. I wonder why they are missing.

  5. Does anyone ever talk about balanced meals these days? I think John and I eat healthy foods, but we might not fare well being judged by people of a hundred years ago.

    1. It’s a plus any time when we take the time to think thoughtfully about what we eat. It’s so easy just to grab packaged foods with little nutritional value.

  6. I think the home economics teacher had the right idea and even with all our “modern” nutrition knowledge it still holds true. Common sense prevails! I did think it an odd combination of vegetable soup, potato salad and a peanut (butter?) sandwich to be an odd combination. Still fun to see these combinations from the past!

  7. Some interesting combinations…Always a pud. My mum always made a pudding and still has to have one…A dessert for us is a treat , Hubby would say a rare treat…haha

    1. I think that my husband would agree with your husband that desserts are a rare treat. The main time that he gets one is when I make a hundred-year-old dessert recipe to post of this blog. šŸ™‚

  8. Awesome post. I agree with eating a “balanced” diet so your body is getting something of everything nutrient wise. I’m always concerned when I hear of someone going on a “diet” where they deprive their body of certain items they deem fattening, especially veggies or fruits.

  9. It’s interesting how the idea of a balanced diet is always with us, but that what makes up a balanced diet keeps changing. Still, I think that most of the “fad” diets out there don’t come close to anyone’s idea of a balanced diet!

    1. I also find it fascinating how our idea of what makes up a balanced diet has changed across the years. You’d think that there would be a “right answer” when it comes to diet, but I guess that it’s more complicated than that.

  10. Such and interesting subject. I do try to have a protein and a green vegetable with each evening meal but only wish I could add a dessert on a regular basis. On the other hand, if I worked as hard physically as people a hundred years ago did then I’m sure I could “have the cake and eat it too”.

    1. The amount of physical labor people do really impacts their caloric needs, and unfortunately I am not nearly physically actively enough to eat desserts every day. šŸ™‚

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