Diet for the Expectant Mother

Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1917)
Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1917)

A hundred year ago, just like now, expectant mothers worried about their diet. Here is some hundred-old-advice:

Diet for the Expectant Mother

The ever-great importance of diet is multiplied many times during pregnancy. If children are to be born healthy, mothers can not be starved. If we accept this fundamental, the rest of our course is easy. The mother needs not only the amount of food necessary for her own sustenance and to keep up her own bodily functions, but also a very large increased amount for the growing child.

The food of the expectant mother must be real food. There is no place during the period of pregnancy for the ornaments and finishings of the menu. Every mouthful that she eats should be adapted to the purpose of real nutrition and not merely serve to tickle the palate, or to comply with the follies of fashion. To this end the diet should exclude practically all desserts. These are not so harmful in themselves as they are in taking the place of the necessary things. Cakes, ices, sweets, pudding, and other such accessories are to banished entirely from the table.

It is desirable to omit from the diet during pregnancy tea, coffee, and chocolate. If the craving of the mother is great for these stimulants, then the least harmful of them should be chosen, namely cocoa or chocolate. The more milk the preparation contains, the better for the mother.

The breakfast should always have a fruit; the particular kind is not so important. It is well to interchange them, having a citrus fruit one day and a malic fruit the second day. Apples, pears, and peaches are examples of fruits in which malic acid is predominant; oranges and grapefruit are examples of fruits in which citric acid is predominant. After the fruit a bowl of cereal ground from whole wheat or whole Indian corn or whole oats is to follow. The bread for breakfast should be baked from whole-wheat flour or whole Indian corn meal.

For luncheon, the bread used should be of the same kind as that for breakfast. In addition to this a fresh egg, best coddled or soft boiled, or a lamb chop with a steamed or baked potato carefully cleaned before cooking and eaten with the skins with milk for a beverage is advised.

For dinner the bread and milk are the same character as for breakfast and luncheon. A small piece of roast, preferably of beef or leg of mutton or lamb, with potato and one other vegetable, will be added. Vegetables have little value as food, but great value as regulators and they contain an abundance of minerals and vitamins. A salad, best of lettuce or fruit, will make up the dinner.

I am wholly opposed to alcoholic stimulants, once commonly recommended during pregnancy and motherhood. I suppose it can not be denied that these stimulants do add to the appetite, but a healthy woman does not need any stimulus for her appetite while her child is growing.

As to the quantity of the diet, it has already been intimated that it must be greater than that for normal conditions. The average woman of 130 pounds engaged in the ordinary duties of the household and taking the proper amount of outdoor exercise, requires food to furnish about 2250 calories a day. In the beginning of pregnancy an amount of food should be taken to increase this number by at least fifty a day at first, and soon by 100, 150, 200, 250, and finally 300 or 350.

For about a month or three weeks previous to the birth of the child – as the attending physician will indicate – the mother’s diet should be diminished. The child is then fully formed. This will be no further great drain upon the mother and the burden of nutrition is lessened. It would be well if immediately prior to the birth of the child the mother’s diet should be reduced almost to the normal for her ordinary state of health. This precaution will aid the mother to bear the pain and burden of childbirth better than if she were fully fed up to the very moment.

Good Housekeeping (April, 1917)

Woman’s Wit Pitted Against High Food Prices

Source: Ladies Home Journal (April, 1917)
Source: Ladies Home Journal (April, 1917)

1917 was a rough year for families. World War I was raging in Europe, and inflation was rampant. Food prices increased that year at the fastest rate they have ever increased in U.S. history. According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report titled Consumers and Food Price Inflation, “Food inflation hit its all-time high of 28.7% in 1917.”

There are lots of articles in 1917 magazines about the high cost of food. Here’s some excerpts from a hundred-year-old article about how to beat the high cost of food.

Woman’s Wit Pitted Against High Food Prices

We’re racing this year against an ever-soaring opponent, an opponent who has no thought of fairness or humanity, no thought of anything but his own variable wish. You all know whom I mean – Mr. High Cost of Food.

He is a strong opponent. We’re finding him pretty hard to beat. When he rises as he as risen in just the last year, we’re apt to forget about beating him, and give up in despair, for most of our incomes have remained stationary, while the cost of food has grown to monster size, and the elephantine cost of food, we shudder with a “What’s the use?”

To win in any race one must know one’s ground. And the ground in my case was food values–what foods give the most nourishment for the money expended, what foods can take the place of others; it was knowing how to market in order to find out what was there, and to get the best of what I wanted; it was saving of food through proper cooking; it was making use of every ounce I had of brains, perseverance and skills.

It isn’t easy to win the race against food prices- I  haven’t won yet, but I’m constantly finding new ways of economy, from studying and discovering food facts. But I know I am going to win, for practical knowledge is the best sort of whip. And when I have the whip hand, why fear even Mr. High Cost of Food?

Ladies Home Journal (April, 1917)

Hundred-Year-Old Coffee FAQs


I’m never quite sure whether coffee is good for me, so I was thrilled that the December, 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal answered a lot of my questions. Here’s an abridged version of the questions and answers:

Does coffee really keep people awake?

It certainly does! The drinking of coffee sometimes serves a useful purpose in emergencies, such as in the case of a train dispatcher who must be possessed of a clear, active brain in order that human lives may be properly safeguarded. Or, to the nurse on night duty it is often found a very welcome beverage. But, in all such cases, the purpose for which coffee is taken is to insure wakefulness; the very condition that the average man or woman seek to avoid.

How does morning coffee with sugar and cream affect the stomach? With sugar or cream alone? What about black coffee?

When you take your cup of coffee at breakfast one thing occurs in the stomach no matter whether the coffee is taken “straight,” or with either cream or sugar, or both. The thing which universally occurs is a stimulation of the glands or workshops in the lining of the stomach, causing the glands to form more gastric fluid. In other words coffee, from this standpoint, acts very much the same as water.

What is the effect of coffee on the nervous system?

After the coffee leaves the stomach it passes into the bowel, from which it is taken and carried by the blood to all parts of the body. The effect on the nervous system is soon seen. The pulse quickens and the hand of the coffee drinker is no longer steady.

Does cold coffee produce the same stimulating effect as hot coffee up entering the stomach?

Yes! So far as the stimulating effect of the coffee in the stomach or the subsequent effect of the coffee upon the nervous system is concerned, it is immaterial whether one takes the coffee hot or cold. In other words, no matter what the temperature of the coffee may be, the stomach sees to it that the temperature is raised or lowered as the case may require, and that in a very few minutes a temperature approximating that of the body is established.

Preface in Hundred-Year-Old Church Cookbook

Source: Tried and True Cook Book, published by The Willing Workers, Minneapolis Incarnation Parish (1910)
Source: Tried and True Cook Book, published by The Willing Workers, Minneapolis Incarnation Parish (1910)

People compile church and community cookbooks for many reasons: to preserve favorite recipes, for fund-raising purposes, to help community members get to know each other better, etc.  But I must admit that I was surprised when the preface in a hundred-year-old church cookbook promised to make readers’ husbands “contented” men.

Hundred-Year-Old Advice Recommends Washing Fruits and Vegetables


Sometimes, I am slightly taken aback by advice in hundred-year-old magazines. The October, 1916 issue of American Cookery gave an explanation of why fruits and vegetables should be washed. The advice was good, but I was amazed that it was considered somewhat controversial to wash fruits and vegetables:

Wash Your Food

The Pennsylvania Health Commissioner, Doctor Samuel L. Dixon, warns against eating raw food unless it is thoroughly washed.

“Care should be exercised in the preparation and serving of green foods, as they are subject to much handling between the garden and the table. Unless the hands through which they pass are absolutely clean they are more or less contaminated. Food exposed for sale in markets is also often subject to indiscriminate handling by prospective purchasers, and is seldom properly protected from dust and dirt.

As a protection, berries and foodstuffs eaten raw should be washed before being served. It is far better to risk a slight impairment of the flavor than to chance eating unclean foods”

WWI Troop Rations Included Honey


Ever wonder what the soldiers ate during World War I? . . . Well, according to a hundred-year-old magazine, one thing they ate was honey.

Honey in the Trenches in Europe

Honey is being used in the European trenches along with sugar. Both of these articles are energy-producers, and in many cases honey is cheaper than sugar.

When the war broke out in 1914 the prices on medium grades of honey began to sag until there was no demand. In the meantime sugar began to climb. The war lords of Europe, when it came to the matter of rations, soon discovered that honey, an energy-producer, was much cheaper than sugar (also an energy-producer), and consequently honey has been going into the trenches, and is going there still.

Apparently, only the medium grades are being used, because they furnish as much energy per pound as the finer and better-flavored table honeys that cost as much or more than sugar. 

The American Food Journal (November, 1916)

How Many Calories Does a Boy Need to Eat Each Day?

Photo source: Ladies Home Journal (May, 1916)
Photo source: Ladies Home Journal (May, 1916)

I’ve often heard parents say that their teen-aged sons “eat them out of house and home.”  That’s apparently been an issue for a long time. Here are some excerpts from a hundred-year-old Chicago Evening Post article as reprinted in the December, 1916 issue of American Cookery:

The Russell Sage Institute has just completed a scientific inquiry into the eating capacity of 300 boys at a big boarding school. The whole thing is summarized in one convincing sentence, “The 5,000 calories thus contained in the daily diet of active American boys of school age are half again as much as a farmer at work is believed to require.”

It is well to keep this scientifically ascertained fact in mind if you have boys of your own; it is their perfect justification for trying to eat you out of house and home.

The fixing of the fact by research has its sociological value, too. There are multitudes of boys who do not get their 5,000 calories daily. “Lack of appreciation of this factor,” says the investigator’s report, “and lack of provision for it, are the probable causes of much of the under-nutrition seen in children of school age.”