What Did the Colonists Eat?

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The diets of the colonists varied greatly depending on where settlers came from. The average New Englander ate bread, cheese, milk, cornmeal mush and small amounts of fruits and vegetables. Those that could afford it ate meat and shellfish.

Colonial meals were different from modern ones. Breakfast was eaten early in the day, except for the wealthy who dined later. Lunch was called “dinner” and was generally the largest meal of the day, with pudding, cheese, beer, bread, root vegetables and meats being served. The evening meal was known as “supper” and was much lighter than the midday dinner. Similar to breakfast, supper often consisted of leftovers or of gruel and was served late in the evening.

The size of breakfasts increased in direct proportion to wealth. Colonists in the Northeast added fruit pies and pastries along with cold cuts, whereas those in the Middle Colonies served scrapple and Dutch sweetcakes. In the South, breakfasts were seen as a leisurely meal served later in the morning.

Bread and flour were extremely important staples of the colonists’ diets. Tarts, meat pies, toast, muffins and more all made appearances at various meals, and the leftovers or stale items were fed to animals or the very poor.