While it may not feel like it, it’s been 50 years since the tumultuous year of 1969. In 1969, the Vietnam war raged, man landed on the moon, Woodstock united the hippies, the Manson murders shook Los Angeles, and millions of Americans sat down to dinner every night with their families to discuss the events of the day and enjoy a home-cooked meal. But what, exactly, was on the table? What food products were new and exciting? What were the top conversation topics? And what was on TV?
The simple act of sitting down for a family dinner hasn’t changed too much over the years, even though fewer and fewer families are regularly dining together (a recent study found that 48 percent of people don't eat dinner at an actual table). Many dishes and dining options that we take for granted today simply didn’t exist in the late ‘60s (good luck tracking down authentic Chinese food in the suburbs in 1969), but home cooking was, and is, by and large still dependent on simple, easy-to-prepare, inexpensive dishes, made a little more convenient with the help of some packaged foods.
In many ways, sitting down to enjoy a meal with your family has never been about the food that’s on the table; it’s about taking the time to connect and break bread together. The dishes and conversation topics (not to mention the hairdos) have certainly changed over the years, but ultimately what we remember is the time spent together.
According to a 1966 Los Angeles Times reader survey, the 10 tools most likely to be found in a kitchen of the time were a toaster, a coffee maker, a skillet, a waffle iron, a can opener, a hand mixer, a blender, a counter-top mixer, a knife sharpener and a carving knife. Even though countertop microwaves were introduced in 1967, only 1 percent of households owned one by 1971. Ranges, both electric and gas, didn’t look drastically different from how they do now, but the ovens tended to be smaller.
If a first course was served before dinner, it was most likely going to be a relatively simple salad, most likely made with iceberg lettuce (romaine didn’t really catch on until the late ‘70s), sliced tomatoes and maybe another vegetable or two. French, Russian, blue cheese and Italian dressings were the most popular dressings of the day; Kraft and Wish-Bone were the most popular brands.
If a pre-meal cocktail was in order, it would most likely have been a Gibson, a dry martini, a Manhattan, a Rob Roy, a daiquiri, a sidecar or a Champagne cocktail. Coke and Pepsi were already overwhelmingly popular, but diet colas were also becoming common; Diet Rite, the first diet cola, was introduced in 1963 and TaB was introduced by Coca-Cola in 1967. After dinner, some freeze-dried instant coffee from Maxim, Taster’s Choice or Sanka might have ended the meal.
Popular products in 1969 included Green Giant frozen peas, frozen bread dough, frozen pie crusts, Chiffon margarine, Seven Seas salad dressing and Spaghetti-O’s and Shake n’ Bake (both introduced in 1965). Capri Sun, Charms Blow Pops, Manwich, Funyuns, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Nutter Butter, Orville Redenbacher's popcorn and Tic Tacs first hit shelves in 1969.
Pot roast, meatloaf, mac and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, chicken or turkey Tetrazzini (a creamy casserole of poultry, noodles, and mushrooms), Salisbury steak, pan-fried pork chops with applesauce, beef Stroganoff, shepherd’s pie, burgers and hot dogs were among the most common home-cooked dinners of the day (possibly served with some defrosted rolls on the side). Corning Ware (with its “cornflower” pattern) and Pyrex were popular vessels for both cooking and serving. Leftovers could be stored in Ziploc bags, brand-new in 1969.
If a from-scratch dinner wasn’t in order, quick options included Kraft’s Egg Noodle with Chicken Dinner, Macaroni and Cheese and Spaghetti Dinner; Chef Boy-Ar-Dee (either canned pasta or a pizza kit); and, of course, Swanson’s frozen dinners, in varieties ranging from the common (fried chicken, meatloaf, Salisbury steak, spaghetti and meatballs) to the less common (beans and franks, corned beef hash, sweet and sour “Polynesian-style” chicken and pork in orange sauce).
If you didn’t want to cook at all, your best options were probably dropping by a fast-food joint and picking up dinner. Leading fast-food chains of the time included McDonald’s (which rolled out the Big Mac nationwide in 1968, for 49 cents), Domino’s (which began franchising in 1967), KFC, Burger King and the now-defunct Burger Chef. The first Wendy's opened in 1969 as well. Today, fast food joints sell salads, vegan patties and seriously over-the-top menu items. Adding more than burgers and fries is just one of the many ways fast food has changed since you were a kid.
Grilling was all the rage in late-’60s suburbia, and, as today, the most popular foods for grilling included steaks, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken (shish kebabs were also much more popular for grilling back then than now). Foil meals (in which all the ingredients would be wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked on the grill) were also very popular, thanks to marketing efforts by Reynolds.
NASA / Handout
What were people chatting about in 1969? The moon landing and Woodstock are perhaps the best-remembered events of the year, but the final year of the 60s was chock-full of historial events. Both the Concorde and the 747 were rolled out, Charles Manson's cult murders shocked the country, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge and killed a campaign strategist on Chappaquiddick Island, The Beatles released Abbey Road, the Stonewall riots launched the Gay Rights Movement, Nixon was elected President by the "silent majority," rising inflation was a worldwide problem and Sesame Street made its debut.
NBC Televison/Wikimedia Commons
NBC, ABC, and CBS were basically the only options in 1969 for those who preferred to watch TV during dinner; the most popular primetime shows of the year were (in descending order) Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Mayberry R.F.D., Family Affair, Here’s Lucy, The Red Skelton Hour, Marcus Welby, M.D., and Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.
The most popular homemade desserts of 1969 included the Tunnel of Fudge Cake (which become incredibly popular after winning the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off), Jell-O Whip n’ Chill, pineapple upside-down cake, Junket custard, ambrosia and grasshopper pie. Boxed cake mixes (especially from Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, Royal, and Pillsbury) were also super-popular, as were Jell-O molds, one of the most peculiar cooking trends of all time.
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