1920 Breakfast Menus

4 breakfast menus
Source: American Cookery (January, 1920)

Across the years (and across regions and countries), there has been wide variation in what people eat for breakfast. In the early 1900’s many people ate heavy breakfasts. By 1920 there was a focus on lighter breakfasts for those who did less strenuous labor. The January, 1920 issue of American Cookery magazine contained several breakfast menus. The menus ranged for very light breakfast options to calorie-laden options.

62 thoughts on “1920 Breakfast Menus

  1. I am hungry in the morning, but I don’t think I could handle that meat or fish. When I was student in England, the cafeteria served fish for breakfast. The Americans didn’t eat it…there was also spaghetti-o’s.

    1. Spaghetti-o’s for breakfast? – That’s a new one for me. I honestly don’t think that I could handle them first thing in the morning. That said, I think that I could barely eat Spaghetti-o’s for dinner, so maybe I’m just prejudiced against them.

    2. Yeah, American’s are weird that way. I’m Scandinavian, my husband is Dutch/Scottish. In those cultures, FISH for breakfast is as normal and desired as Bacon is in America.

      Before anyone laughs, haven’t any of you had Bagels and Lox for Breakfast? Well, THAT’S F.I.S.H.!!! 🙂

  2. So interesting the trends in diet and what is considered healthy. Breakfast is my favorite meal so the “light” versions would not work. On the other hand I would pass on the codfish balls.

  3. I’m an outdoor worker, and my first thought was that anyone who tried to serve me codfish balls would be told, “Let’s try that again.” On the other hand, it might not be all that odd. After all, one of my favorite brunch dishes at a Galveston café is a version of eggs Benedict that substitutes lump crabmeat for ham.

  4. One thing that relates to this and the item about diets just below that’s easy to miss is how many calories a person burned in a day a century ago.

    I skip breakfast and often skip lunch, and sometimes both, a fair amount. The only breakfast here that I’d probably eat, if offered to me, on a normal day, is Light Breakfast I. Maybe I’d get lucky and they’d have bagels rather than toast.

    1. The inclusion of business women surprised me, too. Of course, this was the era of suffragettes, so maybe women were actually beginning to become business women.

  5. How interesting! The first time I visited New England I was amazed at how different their breakfasts were from the traditional Southern breakfasts I was used to eating. It is interesting to see how our first meal of the day has changed over the years. I only eat something very light, preferring to eat breakfast foods later in the day. Pancakes and bacon on a cold winter night is the best! Thanks for sharing!

    1. And, I find it interesting that in the South, breakfasts often include sausage gravy with biscuits, grits, etc. 🙂 The regional variation in foods represents part of the wonderful cultural history of the U.S.

  6. Well ,no matter which breakfast you choose, you get coffee! 👏 I think though that corn mush with steam figs is a little hard for me to imagine as good…. I love both corn mush ( fried) and figs ….but together?

    1. Coffee obviously was popular a hundred years ago. I also can’t quite picture what corn mush and figs would taste like – though I’ve never eaten corn mush, so that’s part of the reason I can’t imagine what it would be like.

      1. I’m addicted to old movies on Turner Classic Movies. One thing is consistent: No matter WHICH decade, no matter WHAT socio-economic group you belonged to, Coffee was Catnip to our elders! There’s so many scenes in old movies that spend an obscene amount of screen time talking about coffee, pouring coffee, offering coffee, or preparing coffee. Only the British films serve tea! LOL

  7. I’m always amazed by people who can do well on a light breakfast with no protein in it. If I don’t get a morning dose of protein I feel terrible for the rest of the day. It’s fascinating what different things people need to get the day off to a good start. Having leftovers from dinner for breakfast works well for me.

  8. I am wondering who was cooking the potatoes to cream, making the muffins and broiling the chops. Perhaps a cook paid for with the earnings of that business man and business woman!

        1. I’m not sure how the wealth was distributed in 1920, but it almost seems like it may have been fairly inexpensive for people to have servants back then.

          1. I think it was Ancestry.com that had an article some years ago about the difference between the present and a century ago, and one of the things they listed was something like “they had help” which asserted that maids and house help was common. I’ve wondered how common it really was.

            I know that my mother’s family did have domestic help into the 1930s in Quebec, but they were doing well. I’m certain that my father’s family never had domestic help.

            Having said that, I also know that the burdens of domestic labor were gigantic. I’ve posted on it a couple of times with the primary post here; https://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2013/11/women-in-workplace-it-was-maytag-that.html?spref=bl and a more recent post here; https://lexanteinternet.blogspot.com/2019/12/the-long-slow-rise-was-lex-anteinternet.html From looking at it, I think something that’s really lost to us today is the enormous amount of work that just living involved up until the mid 20th Century. There was a reason that unmarried people continued to live with their parents, why young women looked forward to moving away from their parent’s (work intensive) homes into married life, and why young men who lived outside of their parent’s homes lived collectively, such as in boarding houses.

            1. Since many young women (and young men) did not go to high school a hundred years ago, I wonder if some of the young women worked as domestics for a very low wage for a few years prior to marriage.

  9. Fish for breakfast has never suited me, but a lot of Brits eat kippers for breakfast, so it’s kind of a ‘thing’ here. I’d eat fish balls for dinner but not breakfast, and probably not cod which is a pretty tasteless fish. Maybe salmon. The breakfast for a worker looks very filling so I wonder what sort of work that worker would have done.

    If shreddied wheat is the same as we have here, then my mother (long passed) loved it for breakfast, but always with cold milk.

    1. Several years ago I posted a 1913 advertisement for Shredded Wheat. The ad included the following serving suggestion:

      “Simply heat the biscuits in the oven a few moments to restore crispness, then pour hot milk over them adding a little cream and salt, or sweeten to suit the taste.”

      Apparently a hundred years ago, shredded wheat was often eaten as a hot cereal.

      1. It was eaten hot here, too, by some people. I liked it with hot milk occasionally but I prefer cereal of most kinds with cold milk. I’m not a fan of mushy cereal unless it’s porridge.

        1. I also prefer it with cold milk; though in the past some people apparently preferred the texture of cold cereals after it was changed into a mushy cereal that more closely mimicked the texture of hot cereals.

    1. Maybe it took more calories to pound on manual typewriters a hundred years ago, then it takes now to to use a laptop or other device. 🙂

    1. I can’t quite picture codfish balls for breakfast, but if someone offered my some, I’d definitely give them a try. This post has made me very curious about them.

  10. Does anyone remember the old Maytag commercials where the hound dog faced repairman was the “Loneliest Man in Town?” That’s how I feel most times when I read the comments HERE because so few people have had my life experiences.

    Let’s talk FISH for breakfast, since that’s the most popular topic! Up until 1920, America had been mostly rural, so anyone eating these listed breakfasts would have been born in the 1890’s or early 1900. 1920 marks the 1st time that America was 50% rural and 50% urban in that year. If your ancestry was British, Scottish, or Scandinavian, having FISH for breakfast was as normal as a Bacon/Egg McMuffin is today! Remember that old idiom: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. TEACH a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!

    FISH was the ONLY protein available, for cheap, to Urban and Rural folks. You couldn’t raise hogs, chickens, or cattle in NYC or Chicago, but YOU COULD FISH! And if you didn’t fish, every major city had mountains of fish for sale, again for cheap, because we had not over-fished our oceans! If you couldn’t store fresh, than their was pickled, salted and smoked fish to eat, daily. I have old cookbooks that are over 100+ years and they have recipes for Lobster Hash, Lobster Casserole, and Lobster and Shirred Eggs…because Lobster WAS that plentiful! Even if you were the poorest family in town, you could fish with only a pole, a line, and patience!

    Since so many American’s were either Immigrants or First Gen, they carried their food habits with them, and that meant FISH. All other meats were very dear and costly, reserved for very special occasions, but fish was cheap and plentiful.

    Both of my Grandparents were born in the closing of 1890, raised Scandinavian, and so was I. We had a Smoke house on the farm where we smoked all the fish we caught. I had salmon, trout, perch, sardines, and kippers for breakfast every single morning! Even now, 60 years later, I will prefer sardines, kippers, or salmon on an English Muffin with broiled tomatoes and mushrooms for Breakfast.

    So, I hope that this insight demystifies the WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? of having Codfish Balls for Breakfast. After all, NO ONE questions having a Bagel and Lox for breakfast, do they? 😉

    1. Thank you for taking the time to explain. Now that I’ve read what you’ve written about eating fish for breakfast, the inclusion of codfish balls in the menu makes sense. And, you’re right – eating codfish balls for breakfast is not really that different from having a bagel and lox (which I do sometimes). Your comment about lobster being inexpensive a hundred years ago reminds me of the many recipes that I see in old cookbooks for oysters, which I think were also very plentiful and cheap years ago.

    1. On the other hand, if you are bored with having the same breakfast every day, codfish balls might be a way to broaden your horizons. 🙂

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