History of Eating Habits

History of Eating Habits

I figured with the holidays approaching, we could take a quick glance back at some of common eating habits and nutritional traditions in history. To start off, Americans only ate two big meals as the “dinner meal” was optional. Farmers worked until mid-day and came in for “supper”, or what today is referred to as lunch. Lunch was their biggest meal of the day, with only a small snack later in the night. However, as the times have changed, American eating habits have evolved. Not only do Americans eat their largest meal later in the day as dinner, but it is common to skip breakfast, eat a small snack for lunch and then over indulge at night. This makes me believe that maybe our ancestors had it right!

Before the Civil War, there were four major food traditions in the United States: New England, Southern, Mid-Atlantic and Back Country. The New England tradition was bland and very religious. Fancy or overly seasoned foods were regarded as a form of  “sensual indulgence.”1The diet that New Englanders adopted stressed boiling vegetables and baking meats, pies and pastries. Similar to the New England traditions, the Mid-Atlantic area’s cooking was influenced by the Quakers and tended to be simple. On the other hand, the Southern style of cooking was quite different. “Sensual indulgence” was what the Southern style was all about. Southern cooking used bags of seasoning and had an emphasis on frying and simmering. This type of diet stemmed from a mixture of cultures including: African, English, French, Spanish and Indian.1 Finally, the Back Country diet was quite different than the rest and included many ingredients, even foods they fed to the cattle. This diet consisted of mainly corn and potatoes with a focus on grits and pork. Despite the Civil War being in the 19th century, these food traditions can still be found in certain areas, with a more modern outlook on nutrition.

During the early years, Americans were nomads, hunter-gatherers, Quakers, bland eaters and eventually it was the immigrants who encouraged experimentation with other flavors in new types of foods. The first changes were noticed when immigrants came to America bringing their food traditions and sharing their knowledge. One of the first major forces for dietary change came when the German immigrants arrived. The Germans emphasized beer, marinated meats, sour flavor and pastries,1 which are mainstream food staples in the American diet today. Along with donuts, hot dogs and brats, the Germans associated food with certain celebrations and encouraged Americans to partake in their customs. Today, Americans spend days and weeks preparing for holiday meals and festivities. The second major change came with the wave of industrialization. During industrialization, factories sprang up and mass produced production of food came by preserving, packaging and canning.Shortly after this, freezing became one of the main preservation methods allowing for mass production, which we still use.

Today, Americans are found to eat fairly bland, seasoned and/or spicy food, just as the earlier traditions did. The most common cooking methods to this day are still to fry, simmer, bake and boil. Not only have Americans kept true to some of the basic food traditions that existed before the Civil War, but they have grown to enjoy other food traditions and even make some their own.

To follow along with my reoccurring reminder to eat healthy and focus on the natural ways to curb a poor diet, here are some different ways to make the anticipated Thanksgiving turkey a little healthier!

Instead of frying your turkey, try grilling or roasting. Use olive oil as a healthy replacement for butter in as many ways you can; i.e. baking pies or basting your turkey.

Olive oil contains only “30% saturated fat compared to 66% in butter” and also has no cholesterol! Even more important, olive oil has the highest amount of monounsaturated fats that fight LDLs (bad cholesterol).2



article written by: Kyle Stover, Clinical Nutritionist 

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