One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

Tracy Nawara
By Tracy Nawara March 25, 2021 08:42

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

Most meals during the Great Depression came with what you already had or could barely afford to buy. Neighbors traded with neighbors, people grew and harvested their produce and meat, and canned foods were cherished.

Three meals a day for these families is ambitious, as food and money were so scarce for so many people.

It’s easy to get comfortable, but if we do not learn from our mistakes back then, we could very well head into a similar situation in the future.


Breakfast: Sugar Cookies and Coffee

The most integral part of breakfast during the Depression was coffee.

Liquid gold was consumed pretty much every single day for breakfast, as long as you could find the beans. It is safe to assume that coffee would be consumed with every breakfast in this meal plan.

Sugar or condensed milk were popular mix-ins for coffee, or else it was drunk black.

Sunday was a big day for families during the Great Depression. Sundays were a time to get the family ready for the upcoming week but were also a celebration of a successful previous week. Everyone had made it one more week, and people celebrated the little things.

As a marking for the end of the week, families might start with a simple Sugar Cookie recipe for breakfast. These cookies only contain 4 ingredients, all of which preppers today will have stored already.

Recipe: Depression Sugar Cookies

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • Pinch of salt

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

Mix to form a batter. Roll out and cut into similarly-sized shapes. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, 12-15 minutes.

Sunday’s special cookies and a cup of coffee for the adults were among the most popular weekend breakfasts.

Lunch: Bread with Butter

Most loaves of bread were homemade during the Great Depression. Some people grew their wheat while others scraped and saved their money to buy wheat flour.

Related: No-Knead Sourdough Bread

Similarly, butter was also homemade from fresh cream unless a family was lucky enough to afford a store-bought variety.

Dinner: Rabbit Stew

During the 1930s, many animals consumed were harvested by a family member.

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

Some animals were raised as food by the family, including rabbits, chickens, and ducks. Hunting wild game and fishing were also common in some areas.

The catch or harvest of the day would be made into a stew to maximize the animal.

Canned peas, potatoes, beans, and other veggies would be added for nutrition, and the whole meal was cooked in water or stock.


Breakfast: Rice Porridge

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great DepressionSimilar to today’s rice pudding, healthful rice porridge was a great meal to start the day during the Great Depression.

Rice was cooked down until very soft using either water or milk.

Sugar or dried/canned fruit can be added for flavor. Nuts can be added for texture.

In its simplest form, this “hot cereal” would consist of two ingredients; rice and liquid.

Related: 50 Low-priced Items That Will be Invaluable when SHTF

Lunch: Egg Drop Soup

Another cheap and protein-packed meal, egg drop soup was a common fast meal in the 1930s. Egg Drop Soup consisted of two core ingredients, broth and eggs.

That was a warm and comforting meal, especially during the wintertime.

Dinner: Pasta and Peas

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great DepressionA quick and simple meal that is cheap as can be is pasta. Dried pasta keeps for a very long time and is super filling.

A common meal was boiled pasta, butter, and peas (or any other canned vegetable).

With just three simple ingredients, this dinner was cheap and substantial.


Breakfast: Bread and Butter with Coffee

Coffee was a standalone meal on some hard days during the Depression. Some may have had this breakfast every single day for an unfathomable amount of time.

Being able to pair coffee with a slice of homemade bread and a smear of butter was all one could ask for.

Lunch: Potato Pancakes

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great DepressionPotatoes were easy to obtain because they could easily grow in different soil, came in canned form, and were cheap to buy.

By shredding potatoes, wringing them out, and allowing the potato starch to collect in the bottom of a bowl, you can create potato pancakes with only potatoes!

If you did not use potato starch, an egg could be added as a binder instead.

Dinner: Barley Potato Soup

If the potatoes were growing old and needed to be used before sprouting, they would all be peeled and thrown into a soup pot. Potatoes would be boiled down in stock until very soft.

If other root vegetables or some canned veggies were on-hand, they too would enter the soup.

Related: The Pioneer Dish That Never Ends: Perpetual Soup

*Bonus survival points went to the families who fried up their potato peels and made chips with the scraps! Waste not, want not.


Breakfast: Rice Porridge

Lunch: 3-Bean Salad

Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and this was not lost on families of the Great Depression.

Some canned beans that may have been used were green beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, or great northern beans.

Dinner: Poorman’s Stew

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great DepressionPoorman’s Stew was usually a hodgepodge leftover meal thrown into a large soup pot. It consisted of potatoes, hot dogs, bacon, leftover bits of meat, and any excess vegetables or greens.

If you had onion or cornstarch, the meal was much more pleasing to the eye and stomach.

More ingredients meant more flavor and nutrition, but there was not much around, to begin with.


Breakfast: Bread and Jam w/ Coffee

Lunch: Dandelion Salad

Mothers would often employ their children to forage in the yard to scrape up any edible and nutritious ingredients during the Depression.

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

Related: 15 Common Wild Plants You Never Thought Were Edible

One of the most commonly grown edible lawn decorations was the dandelion green.

The greens were washed thoroughly to remove any dirt or grit. Then, they were tossed with vinegar and oil and served.

Dinner: Creamed Chipped Beef

Although creamy beef jerky is not a delicacy today, Creamed Chipped Beef was very popular in the 1930s.

The meal consisted of dried beef, condensed milk, and herbs and spices.

If there was enough bread to go around, the creamy stew was served on top of a slice of toast.


Breakfast: Baked Apples

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great DepressionApples, sugar, and cinnamon were a welcome change in the Great Depression breakfast routine.

This was a more special breakfast as apples were not always easily sourced. If you were lucky enough to have an apple tree or a friend with one, you’d make these.

The fruits were washed and cored before stuffing with cinnamon and sugar and baked with some butter until the apples were soft.

Lunch: Country Green Beans with Bacon (or any other meat)

Canned green beans stewed with bacon or bits of leftover meat were common during this time.

Related: Strange and Effective Way to Store Bacon for 15+ Years

If there was a little chipped beef left from the day before, it might find its way into tomorrow’s green beans.

Dinner: Linguine and Tuna

One-Week Meal Plan From The Great Depression

A cheap staple like pasta or noodles was mixed with another cheap staple like canned tuna to make a nutrient-dense meal.

Condensed milk and peas, potatoes, or carrots can be added for bulk.

This is the old world’s tuna noodle casserole.


Breakfast: Bread and Butter w/ Coffee

Lunch: Dandelion Salad

Dinner: Depression Potato Soup

Again, potatoes were a huge source of sustenance during the Depression. All of the bits that were not consumed over the week would make their way into this soup.

That means onions, apples, green beans, meat, or dairy products.

Finishing off what they had and starting fresh next week led to the celebratory Sunday meals, beginning the following morning.

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Tracy Nawara
By Tracy Nawara March 25, 2021 08:42
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  1. Bernard straight March 25, 14:48

    You know it’s funny when I was young this is the stuff we ate not all but most my parents were not in the depression but there parents were so must be were they picked it up

    Reply to this comment
    • City Chick March 25, 23:54

      So many of these simple dishes are still family favorites tucked into the menu every now and then. Some so special, they are reserved for holidays and special occasions. Baked apples, rice pudding, sugar cookies all on the menu at my house around Christmastime. Potato pancakes are a must come Oktoberfest, along with a hearty hunters stew. There were no lean times if you were able to keep a freezer full of fresh caught fish.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Mic March 25, 15:07

    You made me hungry for some of that stuff. That was some pretty good food. Simple and easy to fix.
    There was not a lot of excess carbs, or sugar and preservatives as we get in our food today. The things that make so many of us sick and overweight.
    They knew how to make good food out of simple things and not be wasteful.
    Something that most of us need to relearn.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Eowyn March 25, 15:23

    “Similarly, butter was also homemade from fresh cream unless a family was lucky enough to afford a store-bought variety.” No, the lucky family was the one that had FRESH cream, not the store bought garbage.
    As far as other meals, one of our favorites today, and one that goes well at potlucks is the pasta with peas and butter.
    Of course, your creamed chipped beef on toast has a name that many know, s**t on a shingle or SOS.
    Truly, everyone today should start now with intermittent fasting so that our bodies and minds are prepared for lean times, not to mention that is healthy to fast.

    Reply to this comment
  4. MIKE March 25, 15:57

    I did not grown up in the depression, but we were very poor for a number of years in the 1950s and I remember several of these “delights.” Also, chicken once a month and lots of potatoes! We survived!
    My mom…who did grow up in the depression…made me sandwiches of home made bread and spread with Crisco Lard! Some kids in school would trade me their “normal” sandwiches for mine, once and a while.

    Reply to this comment
    • dweiss April 9, 03:11

      my mom introduced me to mustard toast and bacon grease sandwiches. i still eat the mustard toast and collect bacon grease–but i only butter the bread for grilled cheese sandwiches with it today.

      Reply to this comment
      • red April 9, 08:09

        dweiss: That used to be in every miner’s lunchbox. Is they could afford it, smoked fat fried crispy with homemade mustard. I still like it, and my LDL cholesterol is very low, the arteries clean. secret: No gluten. niio

        Reply to this comment
  5. Rev. March 25, 16:38

    During the Depression my grandmother lived on the edge of town in Ill, Her little house sat on a large lot with a garden, chicken coop, and apple trees in the back. Family members lived on a large farm outside of town, and they provided corn, wheat, barley, milk, and rabbit. Somehow my grandmother managed to prepare healthy meals and have enough left over for the poor men that rode the rails. There was a train stop close to her back lot. Everyday, she would place a covered wooden platter of food on a table outside her back yard with a note for the men. Always homemade jam and biscuits, cooked vegetables, and a few ounces of chicken or rabbit would be on the platter. She would often say that the Good Lord blessed her with space and good soil to grow food and it was her responsibility to feed her family and those in need.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Libby March 25, 16:54

    I’m pretty sure that creamed chipped beef was made with evaporated milk, not condensed milk. Condensed milk was super sweet and more expensive.

    Reply to this comment
    • Bill March 26, 14:41

      You are correct on the canned evaporated milk. We made ours with regular milk,flour and salt & pepper. If we could not afford chipped beef we substituted diced hard boiled eggs. Still make it on occasion. Does bring up a lot of memories although i’m not so sure if they are fond! We were very hungry at that time. God Bless and stay safe…

      Reply to this comment
  7. Keep Trying March 25, 17:36

    To this day I still make shit on the shingle when the kids were young I was severly struggling and it was made at least once a week with venison

    Reply to this comment
  8. Streetlevel March 25, 19:57

    Karo dark syrup on a piece a bread and a little milk

    Reply to this comment
  9. Stives March 25, 21:03

    My father grew up during the Depression. Us kids would laugh when he described the weekly menu as , -” Monday we would have onion soup with one potato in it and Tuesday would be potato soup with one onion in it.”

    Reply to this comment
  10. Farmer Brown March 25, 22:08

    I think you mean evaporated milk, rather than condensed milk, for most of these recipes.

    Reply to this comment
  11. clergylady March 26, 04:20

    My parents were both adults in the depression. Mom was supporting her widowed mother and a nephew. Dad was helping his dad and they were supporting a family of 2 teen younger brother and sister, and 3 adults. No one had it easy. We ate many of these foods. I raised my kids on some of those and I still eat some. My late husband was raised on cornbread, beans and potatoes. His parents lost their Okkahoma farm to the dustbowl. He grew up in California as farm labor families often did with their depression going on well into the 1950s. They lived in a barn, enclosed a chicken coop in a cousins yard and lived in boxcar in a farm labor camp.
    I ate whatever we had when I was growing up. I had strange sandwiches on wonderful homemade bread. Sometimes mom and I walked the neighborhood foraging wild greens. Sometimes dinner was thickened home canned fruit served over toast. My favorite sandwich was tomato and lettuce with a bit of mayonaise or Miracle Whip on homemade bread.
    My kids ate whatever was served. Macaroni, cheese, peas, and tuna was a favorite.

    Reply to this comment
    • Desertdove March 29, 12:26

      I admire you so much. Now I understand your survival mindset and why you know so much about many things necessary to thrive in a tough environment. Did I read correctly.? “late” husband? I’m guessing this means you are on your own now. My prayers are with you as you go through this next season. Grateful for all you are sharing with the rest of us.

      Reply to this comment
  12. My2coolmonte March 26, 05:06

    One we always ate as children was scrambled eggs and potato dumplings. Man that was good.

    Reply to this comment
  13. Sabel March 26, 05:28

    I believe your recipes for Creamed Chipped Beef and Linguine & Tuna should call for evaporated milk rather than condensed milk. Condensed milk is sweetened with sugar before being canned so it is thick (like the consistency of condensed “cream of whatever” soups before water is added) and gets used for baking, especially for cream pie fillings. It does not last indefinitely in the pantry, even though it is sold in metal cans. Evaporated milk, on the other hand, is thicker than regular milk or cream but it still pours out of the can. These days, it is even available in packaging similar to the UHT (ultra high temperature) milk, thereby not requiring a can opener. My mother never drank regular milk but would use evaporated milk (she referred to it as “canned cream”) on cereal and for “Rice Pudding” which was leftover white rice in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon and evaporated milk – something I never acquired a taste for.

    Reply to this comment
    • red March 26, 07:50

      Sabel: If you cook dried meat, rice, or pasta in milk, it thickens it. We make cowcamp spaghetti this way, just adding a pound of dried pasta to a half-gallon of simmering tomato juice. Yeah, that rice pudding is a definite acquired taste 🙂 niio

      Reply to this comment
  14. red March 26, 07:46

    All were favorites at our farm. My parents went thru FDR’s Depression on farms, but most of this was typical fare except for wheat. That was hard to raise till they came out with rust resistant breeds. Pickle juice was recycled for the salt and vinegar. It made salad dressings, pickled eggs, pickled more veggies for winter, and so on. When cash was in short supply, people made fast natural pickles without salt or vinegar. All veggies have natural sugars and in hot weather will ferment quickly, making lactic acid and Vitamin C. Just get them eaten fast or can them. niio

    Reply to this comment
    • Desertdove March 30, 13:44

      Growing up in the 50’s was a whole lot easier than in the depression. But being raised by parents who were, I was instilled with certain “kitchen” values that have served me well. I remember always having food to eat since we raised livestock and had a giant garden that served our family of 5, but there were times when our breakfast was torn pieces of bread with milk from our cows and sugar because that is what we had.. there were plenty of weeks where we ate potato so every day or chili or stew. And no one asked us kids if we liked it or whether we wanted it, if it was put in front of us, we ate it. And when the garden came in, my place was in the kitchen shucking corn or snapping beans at the ripe old age of 11. I suppose that made me the avid canner that I am today. We never foraged and I desire to learn more about that. Spring is here where I live and I’m hoping to discover all kinds of good stuff in the fields around me. I’m grateful to have been raised to have the mentality to be creative with the resources I have for I suspect there will be hard times again and I hope to navigate them well.

      Reply to this comment
  15. Pathfinder March 26, 15:13

    Both my parents grew up during the depression. Corn meal mush, hash and bread pudding were staples.

    Reply to this comment
  16. WoodStock March 26, 20:51

    My grandfather grew up poor. I think he was born in 1920, lived until 1995 or so. His mom sent him in to town to let his dad know they had no food. He sent them home saying he’d be back the next day with food, but died from a goiter problem that night.
    His mom, at one point, had to cook their seed beans & corn just to have something to eat. She passed when he was 13 or 14. He stayed with “family” after that and was worked like a borrowed mule.
    He had it rough. He could cook anything though. Any wild game, he’d make it taste good. He took me hunting and fishing. Both being stubborn, we butted heads quite a lot. I miss that old man.

    Reply to this comment
  17. Miss Kitty March 27, 13:18

    I wasn’t around for the depression, but my grandmother was, and we have had hard times off and on since. Meatloaf, made with a lot of bread, was a staple that was eaten for several meals. Beans and rice were a staple in a lot of families. Northern coastal people dug and ate clams or got mussels off the rocks. Fish of any sort, caught by a family member, were eaten frequently.
    Baked beans on toast were also a common meal. Split pea soup, made with a ham bone if you could get it, was another. White bean stew or cassoulet is another good cheap meal.
    Cooked poke greens are another foraged food. Be sure to use only young greens with no tinge of red and boil changing the water at least three times, as pokeweed is poisonous. Read up on it before you decide to try it.
    One food in the South was rabbit with “peckerwood” dressing. This was cornbread dressing “stretched” with “good, clean sawdust”. Here’s the recipe link, and my apologies to anyone offended by the term “peckerwood”.

    Reply to this comment
  18. Rusty Nail March 29, 00:21

    My mother grew up during the depression, then widowed with 8 of us children, little to nothing in the cupboard she always managed to feed us and make it taste good, many meals of cattle feed soybeans with home canned tomatoes,, ate foraged greens, pig weed, nettle soup, couldnt buy meat trapped muskrat, possum, racoon, she even made snapping turtle taste good

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  19. Dee March 30, 12:56

    My mother shared that my Grandmother fed the eight children during the Depression with canned stewed tomatoes mixed with potatoes a lot!

    Reply to this comment
  20. PreperPepper March 30, 14:04

    Mother did have it so lucky to have such a variety of foods through the week. Milk toast or oatmeal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and beans & rice on a tortilla or stew for dinner.

    Reply to this comment
  21. Joe S March 30, 17:25

    Didnt grow up in the depression era but my family definately carried over some key foods from then as we were not all that well off. One in particular i recall and loved was pasta in a stewed tomato broth. Was basically elbow macaroni in a chunky tomato stew with some garlic and herbs. super cheap but also healthy and filling.

    Reply to this comment
    • Pathfinder March 31, 10:18

      My mom used to make that, but without the herbs and garlic. Yea, it was filling, but I haven’t eaten it, along with spam and hash, since I let home over fifty years ago.

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