Cooking Stories

The Sunny Side of the Street


Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so we are told. What food items come to your mind when you think of breakfast? Eggs, sunny side up? Bacon? Crepes? Cereal? Bagels? Spam?

We know that lunch and dinner dishes have changed throughout the decades in America, but how much has breakfast changed?

For much of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, for city folks in less than comfortable financial circumstances, sweet rolls or a slice of bread with milk or coffee were pretty much breakfast staples.

The middle and upper classes were eating pretty much the same staples as the middle and upper class Edwardians, such as eggs, fish, meats, breads, and hot cereals. Their breakfast was much like what we do for brunch today. Cold breakfast cereals were established in the 1920’s, such as the popular Rice Krispies, which came along in 1929.

In the 1930’s & 40’s, much was the same. Larger breakfasts were more common for farmers and country folk, as they would oftentimes not stop working for lunch and just have a small snack, instead.

A very important invention occurred in the late 1930’s. No, it wasn’t the kitchen microwave or the breakfast fairy. It was the donut machine. Oh, yes! And then by the 1940’s and 50’s, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts had been introduced, so coffee and donuts had officially secured itself as a popular pairing in American history.


“Drop” donuts had become very popular in the 1950’s, thanks to Betty Crocker. Since no rolling or cutting were required, this quick and yummy food caught on quickly.

In the 1950’s, the farm industries really started heavy marketing and lobbying. A well balanced wholesome breakfast was now a requirement for every American Housewife to prepare for her families. The model was basically the works: eggs, a breakfast meat, cereal, toast, pancakes, baked apples, or a fruit item.

However, in the 1950’s, the age of experimentation on behalf of food brands did not leave out breakfast meals.

Here are a few, well… interesting, suggestions:

Banana Coconut Rolls, Bacon Strip Pancakes, Breakfast In A Glass:


For the most part, not much has changed in typical American breakfasts since the 1950’s.

I think what we can say has changed are the regional differences, or, the introduction of regional, ethnic food items. For example, in New York City, you may grab a bagel & cream cheese on your way to the subway. In San Diego, perhaps you will have a plate of Huevos Rancheros or a breakfast burrito. In Boston, you will definitely have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and you may choose whatever breakfast food you like. But, don’t even think about Starbucks.

In the southern states, you may have a big plate of biscuits and gravy. New Orleans, well, come on, everyone know this one. Of course you will have 1 or 10 beignets. In San Francisco, you might order a breakfast crepe, and if you happen to wake up in Seattle, well, you will have some very, very strong, dark coffee.

Now, in looking through many of my cookbooks and researching commercials and ads, another question has popped up. Do we even have the time to offer big, complete, homemade breakfast meals today? My grandmother said that in the 1950’s and 60’s, she would get up at 5am, get herself dressed, do her hair and makeup, etc, then prepare breakfast and even lunches for everyone. The family sat at the table and ate together. I don’t know how many American families still do this on work/school days. These days, everyone works, schools are much further from home, and time just seems short.


I know that I don’t have time in the morning to lay out a huge spread, but I do have fantasies of sitting in a sunny breakfast room with a spread laid out in front of Mark and myself, pouring coffee or tea from a fancy pot, reading the paper, and discussing the Opera or something.

Unless I win the lottery (that I don’t play) tomorrow, this vision of breakfast will not be coming to my house anytime soon. I suppose I will just have to stick with: open eyes (check weather channel, check news), brush teeth and hair, put on makeup (check email), get dressed (check email, send some tweets), feed dogs (check Facebook), pack lunch, make tea (check email, check Instagram), cook egg whites, put gluten-free bread in the toaster, pet dogs and promise to come back (check email), feel guilty about sad dog faces, grab coat, grab gloves, turn on NPR for the dogs so they won’t be lonesome, drive away.

Are these big family breakfasts something that Americans still desire? I suppose I see it as a choice: get an extra hour of sleep, or make time for a sit-down breakfast. I think I will take the sleep and let Mark fend for himself.


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