13 Great Depression Foods That Were Frugal, Filling & Tasty

Today we’re going to talk about Great Depression foods. I was raised by Depression-era parents. So many things that I grew up eating were the Depression-era foods that people knew how to make and get buy on.

People didn’t really learn how to make new things. They just repeated the recipes they knew were frugal and filling.

1. Grape nut chili

The first frugal recipe from the Great Depression I found interesting was this chili recipe from my mother. It actually calls for grape nuts to go in the chili, with everything else. This was probably to make it stretch because you know how grape nuts will expand. 

2. Party Sloppy Joes

This one is called party Sloppy Joes. It reminds me of the garbage plates from the Depression era which originated in New York. This is something I would not make. Half a pound of ground beef, half a pound of hot dogs slice up, ¾ cup of barbeque sauce, onions, pickle relish, and Velveeta. You mix this all together and put it on a bun. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

3. Jiffy super skillet

There was also this Depression-era food called a Jiffy super skillet that called for one tablespoon of Oleo, which is what we called margarine back in the day, onions, a sour cream sauce mix packet (which I’ve never heard of), milk, potatoes, a can of potted meat, and a cup of cheese. That was mixed together. 

Some of these things, as I’m thinking about them now, kind of sound like slop. We wouldn’t want to eat them because we’re not used to them. 

We’re used to so many things that are nicer and more appetizing. We have so many choices. Back then, they looked at what they could afford and made from the ingredients they had.

Baked apples

My dad was born in ‘29 and my mom was born in ‘31. That was before food stamps (1939), chocolate chips (1930), Spam (1937), Betty Crocker (1936), Ritz crackers (1934), and Fritos (1932). So many of these things originated around the time they were born.

There would have been newer things that my grandparents wouldn’t have had, so my parents wouldn’t have learned about and we wouldn’t have had either.

4. Baked apples

Many of the things we ate were things like baked apples. That was very popular back then and I can’t say I”m a fan of that now. No crust. No topping. Just baked apples with sugar and cinnamon.

5. Pies and puddings

My favorite at Christmas time was minced meat pie. You don’t hear about that anymore. My dad’s favorite was raisin pie. You don’t hear about that anymore either. Mom would also make cornstarch pudding and tapioca quite a bit. I was not a fan. 

Saving grease

We saved our grease, of course, and cooked with that. We always had a can of grease on the stove that we reused. I still do that today.

Dad’s favorite growing up was cornmeal mush for breakfast, which was fried. We grew up with gravy on toast and hamburger gravy on biscuits or mashed potatoes. That was a normal, common Depression-era food.

Sloppy Joe sandwich

6. Open-faced sandwiches

Open-faced sandwiches were also very popular, with bread, meat, and gravy. I was never a fan of that. I didn’t like my bread soggy. That never seemed to bother my dad, because he would take yolky eggs, mix up his toast in there, and eat it in a big mixed-up blob on his plate.

7. Milk and crackers

He also liked eating milk over crackers. My oldest brother loved milk over Saltines. That was never something I liked, but they both thought it was a treat and would eat it before they went to bed, like someone would eat a bowl of cereal. 

8. Depression-era desserts

We ate banana slices in milk, cornbread with syrup, and rice with milk, sugar, and cinnamon.

9. Simple sandwiches

Fried bologna sandwiches were a hit. Also, mayonnaise and cheese sandwiches. 

10. Depression-era staples

Then, we had a lot of jello. Jello was cheap and my mom made it. Powdered milk was a staple. Cornmeal was a staple. Some of these things we don’t keep around much anymore, but were used a lot in Depression-era foods. 

Spaghetti with sauce

11. Spaghetti with sauce

When we had spaghetti, the sauce was mixed in the noodles. Now, we pile the sauce on top. When you mixed it in the noodles it went further, and you didn’t need as much sauce. It wasn’t as flavorful, but that’s how we grew up. 

We had homemade noodles, which were flour, eggs, and milk — things you had on a farm. It was frugal to make and was a holiday staple over mashed potatoes, instead of gravy.

12. Bread pudding

Bread pudding was one of my dad’s favorites. You used up your old, dried bread, and put it in a custard mixture, with eggs and milk from the farm.

13. Hunted meat

We grew up with rabbit, pheasant, deer, and fish, whatever dad could catch. 

Great Depression foods

Many things we grew up eating don’t sound too appetizing now. I want to encourage you that if they could get through this and be creative with food, we can too.

Sometimes, we get a mental block, thinking we aren’t creative with food or haven’t cooked a lot. Let your brain go. Put ingredients and spices together as you like, and more times than not, it will turn out just fine.

Maybe it will even be something you want to write down and make again for your family. Share your most unique family recipes and flavors in the comments.

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2 of 10 comments
  • Shannon Shannon on Apr 14, 2023

    Reminds me of my grandparents, and it was delicious and I was never hungry. My mom cooked more but we also got to enjoy more because her parents would forbid sodas and such except for certain nights of the week. All three of us kids are healthy adults. My grandma had to cook special for my diabetic grandpa as well, but I grew up happy with Mrs. Dash!

  • We never had soda growing up. I remember thinking it was so weird when I tried it! Most things were grown and produced on the farm so very nutritious!