These days, processed foods have become a part of most people’s diets. We don’t even notice just how prevalent they are because of how normalized these food items have become. But have you ever wondered just how they came to be? While they may be convenient and even good to have often, we cannot deny the degree of health risks involved in regularly consuming processed foods. Let’s take a look back at the first time we all got introduced to these high-fat meals.

1910 – The Introduction of Trans Fats

Despite the fact that trans fats were created back in the 1890s, these didn’t become part of society’s regular food supply until the 1910s came. The earliest processed foods that were introduced during this time include:

  • Oreo Cookies
  • Nathan’s Hot Dogs
  • Crisco
  • Aunt Jemima Syrup
  • Marshmallow Fluff
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise

All of these are a staple for many people in the United States, where they are a regular part of money management when it comes to groceries.

1920 – Food Processing and Ready-to-Cook Foods

By the 1920s more and more homemakers preferred convenience when it came to food preparation. Doing things from scratch simply took too much time, so the introduction of ready-to-cook meals were certainly received well. This included the likes of various processed foods, particularly canned and frozen dinners. The arrival of immigrants also introduced an entirely new world of flavor to the American palate. With stoves and refrigerators becoming more common in the household, more families had more options when it came to food they purchase and store. After all, with gas stoves, they could easily cook anything.

Processed food from this decade includes:

  • Velveeta Cheese
  • Baby Ruth Candy Bar
  • Popsicles
  • Yoo-Hoo Beverage
  • Kool-Aid
  • Wonder Bread
  • Peter Pan Peanut Butter
  • Welch’s Grape Jelly
  • Wheaties
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • VanCamp’s Canned Pork and Beans

1930 – The Beginning of the Great Depression

With the Great Depression making its presence felt, many families had to adjust and get by with less than what they are used to. For this, affordable yet satisfying meals were music. In some cases, this means reducing the amount of protein and replacing it with more beans and vegetables. To his credit, this was also the same period Colonel Harland Sanders created his secret formula for what would later become KFC or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Popular processed foods from this period include:

  • 3 Musketeers
  • Snickers Bar
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
  • Spam

1940 – Introduction of Convenience Food

Following the end of World War II, there were many new convenience foods that were introduced to the masses. This includes cake mixes, instant coffees, dehydrated juices, and so on.  These were the fruit of military research used in making food rations for soldiers fighting in the frontlines. As online classes were not available, learning more about health and good food wasn’t as accessible as it is today. It was also during this period when fast food restaurants such as Dairy Queen and McDonalds opened their doors. James Beard also published his book during this decade. People used high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starches, and other highly processed ingredients in convenience food that was made available for families.

Popular food during this period includes:

  • Cheetos
  • M&M’s
  • Pillsbury Dough Mix

1950 – The Proliferation of Unhealthy Food Products

Many would say that this was a low point for the American diet as a whole. Processed foods and fast food restaurants were everywhere, thoroughly replacing traditional meals. Television became a big investment for households, too, and with the introduction of the microwave, people became even lazier when it came to food preparation.

Popular processed foods during this decade include:

  • Tang
  • Cheez Whiz
  • Swanson TV  Dinners
  • Diet Rite
  • Sweet ‘n Low

Fortunately, the movement towards maintaining a healthier lifestyle and eating  fresh food instead of processed ones is slowly gaining momentum. More and more people are realizing the value of their health and the joy of eating good food.