Suggested Food Dollar Distribution,1920

Pie chart showing distribution of food dollars
Source: School and Home Cooking (Carlotta C. Greer, 1920)

Today when people talk about how each dollar that is spent on food is distributed across categories, they are often referring to how much farmers get compared to processors, retailers, and others. For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2017 farm producers got 7.8 cents of each dollar spent on food, while the retail trade received 12.6 cents, and 36.7 cents went to food services (restaurants).

A hundred-years-ago, the division of each dollar spent for food often referred to how the cost of foods purchased by consumers should be distributed across food categories.  A 1920 home economics textbook said:

How Much to Spend for Food

Anyone, no matter how ignorant or thoughtless, can get rid of money. But it takes a wise person, one who understands values and quality to get value received for money spent. Whether one is purchasing for all the meals of a family or is only selecting a luncheon or one meal, it is desirable to spend money wisely.

The five food groups may serve as a basis for the purchase of foods. It has been suggested that each dollar used in buying foods be divided into 5 parts of 20 cents each.

Out of every dollar spent use:

20 cents, more or less, for vegetables and fruits

20 cents, or more, for milk and cheese

20 cents, or less, for meat, fish, eggs, etc.

20 cents, or more, for bread and cereals

20 cents, or less, for sugar, fat, tea, coffee, chocolate, flavoring

School and Home Cooking (Carlotta C. Greer, 1920)

24 thoughts on “Suggested Food Dollar Distribution,1920

  1. Fascinating. I wonder how closely we come to spending our food dollars in the % suggested above. Clearly the dollar amounts would be more now, but the concept might still apply. 🤔

    1. I agree – I bet that we spend a higher percentage on sugar, fats, beverages, etc. today than what was spent on them years ago. It sure seems like a large proportion of grocery store space is devoted to snacks, beverages, and other non-nutritious items.

    1. I’m not sure whether a larger proportion of my family’s food budget goes for protein, or for fruits and vegetables. I wish that I could find a similar study for today. I did a quick online search, but didn’t come up with anything.

    1. I thought that it was a very blunt statement to put in a home economics textbook, but maybe they didn’t worry about things like that a hundred years ago.

  2. That first sentence cracked me up. We could use a little more of that straightforwardness today — and there’s no question it’s a true statement. I thought at first that the amount designated for fats and sugar was a little out of kilter, but then I remembered that, in those days, getting calories was important, and sugar and fat were two ways to do that. If we spent the same percentage on that category, we might be more healthy. I suspect the percentage for us is much higher. Sugar used in banana bread is one thing; sugar in a Starbuck’s vente concoction is something else.

    1. They definitely had a more straightforward way of writing. There was a focus back then on getting the most calories for your money -which is so different from today.

  3. All I do know is that when going to the grocery, if I’m not careful in my purchases ,I’m spending more than I want… and that’s not spending it on chips or sodas.

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