I Cooked Like a 1950s TV Mom for a Week. Here’s What Happened

TV moms like Donna Reed and June Cleaver always put delicious meals on the table. They inspired me to try my hand at 1950s cooking!

June Cleaver was happy to serve up a “hunka cake,” in The Beaver’s words, and Donna Reed’s character made doughnuts and casseroles, among other things. They inspired women to eagerly cook wholesome meals for the whole family! From canapes and pinwheels and Jell-O molds, casseroles and decadent desserts, my grandmother cooked many similar recipes for us.

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I have always been interested in this level of domesticity, but I can’t seem to balance it with work, my family and a happening social life. However, there’s something appealing about a lifestyle where everyone sits down to dinner without electronics. I decided to cook like a 1950s TV mom—and here’s what I learned.

1. Casseroles Can be Tricky

Today, casseroles are a quick way to bring ingredients together for a family-friendly meal. However, in the ’50s, they involved a lot of ingredients and more time in the oven than my family’s usual weeknight dinner. Though 30 minutes of prep felt daunting, this 1950s-inspired Tuna Casserole was delicious!

2. Entertaining is a Great Way to Connect

Now, usually when my husband and I want to hang out with people, we are quick to ask them out to do something rather than host a get-together in our home. Though the clean-up can be a downer at the end of an evening, having friends over is a great way to spend time together and explore new recipes. In the past, I only made deviled eggs around the holidays, but it turns out to be a great appetizer to serve while dinner is cooking. Through conversations, I heard from many people that Chicken a la King was a big deal in the 50s, particularly when entertaining. I was to scared to cook the original recipes I found, but this slow cooker Chicken a la King recipe was much more manageable and absolutely delicious!

3. Recipes from the ’50s Aren’t So Healthy

Everything I cooked was heavy with meat, cheese, etc. In fact, many of the original vegetable recipes I found were mixed with sugar, cream of mushroom soup or butter—and the salads all seemed to be heavy in Miracle Whip or mayo! I’ll be honest, my three-year-old was a fan of nothing from this week, so either 1950s kids had different palates or our kids have gotten spoiled with more choices for dinner.

4. I Like Having Fancy Cocktails at Dinner

When I talked to a local gentleman raised in the ’50s, he talked about Old Fashioned cocktails and gimlets. I have one word for you: Delicious! Drinking one while you’re cooking makes spending extra hours in the kitchen so worth it.

5. It’s a Lot of Work!

I made things like chicken pot pies and pineapple upside-down cake from scratch, not to mention the various side dishes. This is definitely not the easiest way for a working mom to get dinner on the table. Though I like the idea of cooking like this more often, I found that the 1950’s recipes might be better left to special occasions.

Honestly, it’s been fun for me to try out recipes that are different from what I traditionally make. It makes me appreciate my grandmothers who raised kids, held down jobs and made meals like this! I experienced so much nostalgia as my kitchen began to smell like my maternal grandmother’s, who cooked many of these recipes still later into her life. I recommend experimenting with some 1950s recipes—here’s where to start!

Vintage Recipes from the '50s
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Julia K. Porter
Dr. Julia Porter began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY and has taught college courses since 2008. Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures. She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter and a rambunctious Australian Shepherd.