Julia Mullaney | 

9 Depression-Era Foods That Will Fit Today's Grocery Budget

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If you’re part of the more than 80% of Americans who grocery shop at least once per week, your eyes probably bulge a bit more each time you make a return trip to the store. With the rise of inflation plus food shortages, prices are higher than ever (have you seen the insane egg prices)? It made us think about Depression-era foods and recipes.

Those before us have been through it before: The Great Depression, the huge economic downturn that lasted from 1929 – 1941, saw millions of people fall into financial turmoil. During that time, they used whatever means necessary to put a filling meal on the table. Today many of those recipes are still readily accessible. And you can even find some of the ingredients on store shelves today, since many of them are a result of that era.

Below, learn about Depression-era foods that helped many get through rough times, including foods you can still find in stores and try in 2023.

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Depression-Era Foods You Can Still Eat (And Save Money With) Today

1. Creamed Chipped Beef

Creamed chipped beef, a dish of dried beef in cream sauce served over toast, was a Great Depression staple for its low cost and well-rounded nutritional profile (fat, protein, and carbs). Premade frozen creamed chipped beef can be purchased from your local grocery store for less than $3.50 today, or you can make the dish at home using five basic, affordable ingredients: butter, flour, milk, dried beef, and bread. Dried beef costs $6 for 2.5 ounces, so your grocery list should only total around $15, depending on where you shop.


2. Baked Beans

Baked beans are a low-calorie meal with a good amount of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Plus, they’re incredibly cheap, which made them popular during the Depression. Though you can make a homemade version with only a few inexpensive ingredients, store-bought varieties are likely the better move here when considering the cost. A name brand such as Bush’s costs $2.14 for 16 ounces, but a bargain brand like Great Value will only run you $1.12 for 15 ounces. There are 3.5 servings per container, so to comfortably feed a family of four, you’ll likely want to purchase two cans for just under $2.24.


3. Potato Soup

potato soup on table with spoon and napkin

Many Great Depression recipes, like potato soup, turn one ingredient into a meal by combining it with basic pantry staples. One homemade recipe via DIY Joy calls for nothing more than medium potatoes, onions, butter, and milk, plus water and seasonings. Potatoes are historically inexpensive, costing only about $0.95 per pound in 2022 (which equals roughly two potatoes). Though butter can be a bit pricey at about $4 or $5, an onion generally costs less than $1 depending on its size. Then a half-gallon of whole milk is only $2.19, bringing this recipe to about $7.



4. Potato pancakes

If there’s a deal on potatoes, it doesn’t hurt to stock up. Another inexpensive idea is to turn them into potato pancakes. A simple recipe only requires potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, and a bit of oil for frying. Though eggs are at an all-time high, applesauce is a great substitute and only costs around $2 for four ounces. To save money on cooking oil, buy cooking oil spray instead, which retails for $2.28. Cooktoria says you’ll need about four large potatoes, so expect to spend $2 for those and around $9 total for the recipe.

Related: We’re Facing a Huge Lettuce Shortage Right Now — Here’s Why


5. Macaroni & Cheese

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was first introduced in 1937 as Americans were struggling to find easy, affordable meals. Today, boxed mac and cheese remains one of the least expensive meals on store shelves. A box of Great Value costs just $0.50, or around $0.17 per serving, while name-brand Kraft offers a 5-pack for $4.88, or about $0.33 per serving. Alternatively, you can make your own using just pasta, whole milk, and cheddar cheese.

Pair macaroni and cheese with a vegetable, such as broccoli or spinach, for added nutrients. If you’re looking for the most inexpensive produce, consider shopping on a Wednesday, when prices tend to be marked down.


6. Ritz Cracker Chicken

chicken strips breaded with ritz crackers on pan

Ritz Crackers are another brand-name food that debuted in response to the Depression. They originally cost only $0.19 per box, and today, a 14-ounce package goes for just under $3. Though we mostly consume them as a snack food these days, they’re the perfect way to jazz up a cheap meal. For example, use them to coat chicken tenderloins, then bake them for salty, buttery-flavored chicken tenders that cost just $8 to make — no expensive seasonings necessary.

Related: Cheap Meals That Go a Long Way: Budget Dinners for Families


7. Meatloaf

Meatloaf was the perfect meal to feed a family in the 1930s because it turned a small amount of meat into a big, hearty meal. A pound of ground beef costs under $6, and if you have some of those Ritz Crackers leftover, you can even substitute them in place of bread crumbs so you’re not adding to your grocery costs. The remaining ingredients are mostly to taste, such as minced onion, salt, and pepper. Plus, you don’t even need to spend money on eggs. If you’re baking the meatloaf in a loaf pan, it will hold together perfectly fine. Save your money and skip the eggs.


8. Chili

If your grocery store is having a sale on ground beef, stock up. It freezes well and can be used to make other recipes, such as chili. Chili is known as an inexpensive, hearty dish. While it’s mostly ground beef, you can save even more by substituting half of the ground beef for canned beans. One pound of beans costs $0.78. Spend $7 by substituting one pound of beans rather than $12 by going all beef. Add jarred tomato sauce and chili seasoning for an extra $2 and you have an affordable, 4-ingredient dish for under $10.


9. Peanut Butter & Jelly

This iconic sandwich is loved by kids and adults alike, but besides being tasty and easy to make, peanut butter is a good source of protein. Plus, it’s a 3-ingredient meal that, when buying a traditional loaf of bread, makes about 10 sandwiches. A package of white bread, plus bargain-brand peanut butter and jelly, can total around $5, depending on where you shop. It breaks down to around $0.50 per sandwich and can feed a family of four for two meals (with leftovers).

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