If there is one meal of the day that’s talked about more than any other, it’s breakfast. Given that it’s the first thing you eat in the morning, what you have on your plate can often determine how your day will go. Only have time for a cup of coffee? Prepare for a hectic day. Have the ability to enjoy two eggs, a pastry, and coffee, or to eat breakfast at a restaurant? You might as well be on vacation. But just like any other meal, breakfast has changed over the years as eating trends have transformed.
“Breakfast has always been important for different reasons,” food historian Amy Bentley told The Daily Meal. "In the late 19th century into the early 20th century we saw the rise of the dietary reformists like Kellogg’s and cereal becoming a popular breakfast item. “It doesn’t replace bacon and eggs. Bacon and eggs still go strong with cereal until the ‘60s or ‘70s with the idea that cholesterol in eggs is bad. Finally, in the modern era cereal becomes demonized as unhealthy. Now, we’re in a protein phase, so eggs are coming back in with a lot of energy.”
As you can imagine, with all of these changes regarding what defines breakfast, the price of the commodities that make up the morning spread have fluctuated too. Luckily, we’ve already done some digging on the retail price of a dozen large eggs over the decades and just had to track down the other elements of the traditional American breakfast: toast, bacon, potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. To do this, we relied on several sources including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which provided prices for bread, coffee, and potatoes, from 1937 to 1999 and the price of bacon from 1980 to 1999. To fill in the bacon gaps, we relied on money website Cheapism’s research.
This gave the best average price of breakfast, as it certainly changed depending on region and what popular food items were typically found on the plate. Since these are retail prices, the totals below reflect the cost of breakfast for a family of four (four slices of toast, four strips of bacon, two eggs, two servings of potatoes, and one cup of coffee for each person) cooking at home.
So read on to learn just how much folks would have paid for a homemade breakfast for the years between 1937 and 2000. And, as a bonus, we’ve included some trivia about what was happening in the country and culinary world for each year. Go on and grab your cup of coffee and check out this informative and scrumptious gallery.
Harris & Ewing/Wikimedia Commons
In 1937 bread for your toast (four slices each) would have cost 9 cents while four strips of bacon each would have set you back 41 cents; eight eggs (two each) would have cost 36 cents, two servings of potatoes for each family member 28 cents, and four cups of coffee 26 cents. Also, that same year, Three Musketeers and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese hit the shelves.
Nescafe instant coffee and Mott’s apple juice were invented.
Prices for the makings of breakfast took a dip in 1939. Bread cost 8 cents, bacon was 32 cents, eggs were 32 cents, potatoes were 25 cents, and coffee was 22 cents for four people. Meanwhile, Gone with the Wind won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Cheeri-Oats made its debut and would later be shortened to Cheerios in 1945.
The iconic film Casablanca premiered on November 26 in New York City.
Although production of pre-sliced bread was put on hold so the metal could go toward the war effort, toast climbed back up to its 1937 price of 9 cents. Bacon, eggs, potatoes, and coffee all saw jumps too, coming in at 43 cents, 57 cents, 46 cents, and 30 cents respectively.
During World War II, families were encouraged to grow their produce in their own “victory gardens.”
Orange juice topped with mint was a trendy breakfast beverage.
The Culinary Institute of America was founded and Tupperware was introduced this year.
Ballpark food is whole other topic, but this year marked the first televised World Series when the Yankees beat the Dodgers.
The first Polaroid camera went on sale at Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store for a pricey $89.75. But breakfast stayed reasonably priced with bread costing 14 cents (four slices per person), four slices of bacon per person priced at 77 cents, eight eggs at 72 cents, eight servings of potatoes coming in at 56 cents, and four cups of coffee costing 51 cents.
Kids were getting their sugar fix with Jolly Ranchers and instant pudding, which first hit shelves this year.
Another American favorite coffee shop came to life this year after a Massachusetts coffee shop named The Open Kettle was renamed Dunkin’ Donuts.
Casseroles with exotic ingredients like ham and pineapple become extremely popular. TV dinners were also all the rage.
Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes were first introduced, marking a massive shift in what Americans regularly ate for breakfast.
Fresh food was not the fad. This was the year of Kraft Cheez Whiz and frozen French fries.
It was the year of junk food. Burger King and peanut M&M’s were born. But when it came to breakfast, bread cost 17 cents, bacon was up to 82 cents, eggs were 59 cents, potatoes were 53 cents, and coffee was up to $1.11, making breakfast for a family of four cost $3.04.
Breakfast took a dip in price in 1955, the same year Rosa Parks made history by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Disneyland also opened.
Breakfast prices creeped back up this year, when the Bloody Mary cocktail was first named in Punch Magazine.
Favorite breakfast food items this year were pineapple juice, baked ham-and-egg sandwiches, quick-fried apple rings, and coffee.
Chocolate cereals were all the rage. Jif introduced its peanut butter, and Diet Rite (the first diet cola) came out.
Alaska and Hawaii became official states, while McDonald’s opened its 100th location.
Sugary cereals were the breakfast of choice for most American families, and fast food drive-thrus also started popping up. But a classic breakfast was still an affordable option for families, with bread costing 20 cents (for 16 pieces of toast), 16 slices of bacon priced at 66 cents, two eggs per person at 57 cents (eight eggs), eight servings of potatoes at 72 cents, and four cups of coffee at 75 cents.
Politically, this year marked the moment James H. Meredith became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. Of far less political importance, it was also when the pull tab on soda was born.
The growing focus on dieting led to Weight Watchers being founded in this year. TaB, Chips Ahoy!, and Fruit Loops were also introduced in this year.
United Press International, photographer unknown/Wikimedia Commons
The Beatles made their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, fully launching Beatlemania on this side of the Atlantic.
Two longstanding processed foods hit the shelves: Spaghetti-O’s and Cool Whip.
Up until now, consumers didn’t know what was in their packaged food. This year the first “truth in packaging” law was passed, requiring companies to list the ingredients on the label.
Press Department, Capitol Records/Wikimedia Commons
It was all about music moments this year. Elvis Presley married Priscilla, and Rolling Stone magazine made its debut.
This year we saw the first interracial kiss on television in Star Trek and “Hey Jude” was released.
Mark Goff/Wikimedia Commons
As the ‘60s came to an end, we saw breakfast prices jump to $3.31 and 450,000 people attend Woodstock. In terms of culinary moments, Pringles was invented this year too.
Farm-to-table is the norm now, but the concept emerged in the 1970s.
Starbucks is the coffee of choice for many people today, but it was born this year and cost 93 cents for a cup. Meanwhile, bread was 25 cents (16 pieces of toast total), bacon was 69 cents (16 strips total), eight eggs were 53 cents, and two servings of potatoes for each person were 98 cents.
Talk about making a mark on the breakfast scene — McDonald’s debuted the Egg McMuffin this year.
One of the easiest foods to make for dinner (or for lunch or a late-night snack) was introduced this year: Cup Noodles. While not everyone is a fan of ramen in Styrofoam, at least it’s a cheap option — whereas our classic breakfast for four leapt by over a dollar in price in this year.
The food editors at Family Circle Cookbook were among the voices setting the tone for home cuisine in the mid-1970s. Their “Party Brunch” menus included many treats that seem hopelessly out of fashion now — like pineapple-orange shrub, chicken livers, crab imperial Chesapeake, and stroganoff.
You might have had trouble sleeping this year, since Jaws was one of the biggest hits of the summer. Luckily, even if you couldn’t sleep, at least the whole family could wake up for a hearty breakfast for $5.51.
Jelly Belly jelly beans were first introduced to the world this year.
Forget breakfast; it was all about Star Wars. It premiered this year.
Both Ben & Jerry’s and Reese’s Pieces were born this year, changing the dessert world for the sweeter.
The Zagat Guide is now considered the bible for food recommendations, and it made its debut this year.
Jane Fonda entered the food world by building her empire around dieting.
MTV launched in this year, introducing a new era of music video stars. NASA’s space shuttle also took its first orbital flight, but the price of breakfast actually didn’t skyrocket, rising only 6 cents after significant increases during the five years prior.
The “light movement” was at its peak. This means consumers were all about Lean Cuisine, Diet Coke, and Bud Light.
Michael Jackson actually appeared in a cereal commercial in the ‘70s, but in 1983 the emerging megastar probably wasn’t too focused on selling breakfast; this year marked the first time he did the moonwalk.
When it came to food-related pop-culture phenomena, Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign reigned supreme. The cost of breakfast, on the other hand, jumped 9 cents from the year prior.
Pillsbury Toaster Strudel was one of the most popular grab-and-go breakfast items. What design did you make with your icing?
Pop Secret microwave popcorn made its debut this year.
Snapple was born this year, forever changing how we looked at the lids of beverages.
“Molecular gastronomy” became an official term, and Walmart opened its first Super Center.
Of course, you like your breakfast hot. But the hottest song of the year was the “Electric Slide.” Boogie oogie oogie!
TV show-inspired cereals hit the shelves, including a popular one based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
McDonald’s might be in nearly every country now, but on January 31, 1991, the first McDonald's opened in the Soviet Union.
Potatoes made the news when Vice President Dan Quayle corrected a child’s spelling of potato to “potatoe.” And enough servings of the tuber to feed our breakfast family cost $2.94, accounting for the biggest chunk of the total breakfast price.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Chipotle, but the first one opened in Denver this year.
Reese’s make their mark in the cereal world with their Peanut Butter Cups Puffs, making it OK to eat dessert for breakfast.
French Toast Crunch Cereal comes out, making this the decade of sugary cereals.
You could enjoy waking up to the good news that Bill Clinton had appointed Madeleine Albright as first female U.S. secretary of state over a breakfast that cost $11.51 for the whole family.
This was a big year in the entertainment industry — Titanic hit theaters across America, and the first Harry Potter book came out.
Google was founded, and the first Apple iMac was introduced. The world was introduced to Britney Spears when her hit single “…Baby One More Time” was released.
At the end of the century, The Blair Witch Project freaked people out with a faux documentary about creepy old-school occultism, while the Y2K scare freaked people out with alarmist news reports about the impending collapse of new-school technology.
The cost of breakfast saw a huge change, increasing by almost a dollar! Anthony Bourdain also released his book, Kitchen Confidential, which changed the way we look at the restaurant industry forever.
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