Happy New Year! For this month’s posting, we thought we’d feature children’s recipes and menus on the railroads, as children perfectly exemplify a fresh start. The recipe that we’ll be sharing is Western Pacific’s cinnamon toast recipe.

Figure 1 Western Pacific route map

Before we talk about children riding the rails, let’s discuss the history of this simple, yet iconic, recipe. Cinnamon toast originated in Europe in the 1400s as a simplified version of French toast and the ingredients—butter, sugar, and cinnamon—haven’t changed since. The recipe is popular in America—especially for children—due to its simplicity, and is a staple of many an American’s childhood (including a few of us here at the Museum). In fact, the popular Cinnamon Toast Crunch, produced by General Mills in 1984, is a cereal form of cinnamon toast itself.

Children have been riding trains for as long as trains have existed, but the advent of dining and sleeping cars in the late 1800s made the railroad a popular way for families to travel long distance. Many railroads took great care to ensure that children were well cared for on their routes. Children were seen as the next generation of riders and the railroads wanted them to come back! In his book Dining by Rail, James Porterfield notes that the experience for children was carefully curated, from the steward who seated the children—handing them candy such as peppermint sticks, down to the food that was available.

Figure 2 Photo of a child asleep on Great Northern’s Empire Builder

Some food options included reduced versions of what was on the adult menu for reduced pricing. For example, it was common for children’s menus to offer “Half Portions” at “Half Prices” from the standard menu for children up to age 12. Many menus noted that “Parents may share their portions with Children without extra charge,” such as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) menu in figure 3, below.

Figure 3 AT&SF menu circa 1930s. See the note on the bottom regarding sharing food with children.

However, many railroads had menus specific to children’s dining experience. In the Museum’s collection we have menus from many railroads including the AT&SF, Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), and Union Pacific to list just a few. Our largest collection of children’s menus comes from the Union Pacific. Its menus were vibrant and colorful to appeal to younger passengers. They often included educational tidbits, and portrayed a sense of adventure in the imagery used. One menu in our collection is a Union Pacific menu from 1964 picturing a Wild West scene with a child as a cowboy (figure 4). Another (figure 5) from 1961 has a cute scene showing deer in a forest. The Union Pacific was not the only railroad with children’s menus however. One California Zephyr menu from 1962 used building blocks and animals to appeal to young passengers, and the image on the front of the menu conveyed the sense of adventure children could expect from riding the Zephyr (see figure 6).

Figure 4 Union Pacific children’s menu, 1964.

Some of the most prolific food items listed on these children’s menus included various forms of toast. French toast and buttered toast were popular options on many railroads including the Union Pacific. The history of toast itself is varied—one source suggests that toasting bread over a fire happened during the Battle of Hastings in 1066–yet most accounts agree that it is a tradition that has been around for a long time. For more information on French toast, take a look at our previous Dining on the Rails by clicking here!

Figure 5 Interior of a Union Pacific menu from 1961. Note the French toast option.

Figure 6 California Zephyr menu, 1962.

We hope you enjoyed our feature on children’s menus and children riding the railroads. If you do try the recipe, please let us know in the comments below or on any of our social media accounts! Have a wonderful New Year.

Western Pacific’s Cinnamon Toast

2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
½ Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 slices toasting bread
1 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, use a fork to blend sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter together well. Blend in the cinnamon. Toast bread and spread lightly and equally with 1 tablespoon of butter. Spread 1 tablespoon of mixture evenly on each piece of toast and place in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

Recipe from Dining by Rail by James D. Porterfield.


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Past Dining on the Rails Posts:
Dining on the Rails December 2022: Harvey Girl Special Little Thin Orange Pancakes
Dining on the Rails November 2022: Old Fashioned Navy Bean Soup
Dining on the Rails October 2022: Apple Cider
Dining on the Rails September 2022: Peach Cobbler
Dining on the Rails August 2022: Barbeque
Dining on the Rails July 2022: Mountain Trout
Dining on the Rails June 2022: Eat like a Hobo!
Dining on the Rails: May 2022 – Mother’s Day Shirred Eggs
Dining on the Rails: April 2022 – How about a nice Old Fashioned?
Dining on the Rails: March 2022 – French Toast, Anyone?
Dining on the Rails: February 2022 – A Chocolatey Valentine’s Treat!
Dining on the Rails: January 2022 – Western Pacific Pork Tenderloin
Dining on the Rails: December 2021 – Cranberry Sauce
Dining on the Rails: November 2021 – Oyster Stuffing!
Dining on the Rails: October 2021 – Chicken Pot Pie
Dining on the Rails: September 2021 – Chili
Dining on the Rails: August 2021 – Pullman “Tom Collins” Cocktail
Dining on the Rails: June – How about a salad?
Dining on the Rails – Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ham!
Dining on the Rails: CRI&P’s New England Boiled Dinner
Dining on the Rails: A Sweet Treat for your Valentine!
Dining on the Rails: Black Eyed Peas!
Dining on the Rails: Eggnog
Dining on the Rails: Happy Thanksgiving!
Dining on the Rails: Union Pacific Apple Pie
Dining on the Rails, August 2020
Dining on the Rails, July 2020
Dining on the Rails, June 14, 2020
Dining on the Rails, June 7, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 31, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 24, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 17, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 10, 2020
Dining on the Rails, May 3, 2020
Dining on the Rails, April 26, 2020
Dining on the Rails, April 19, 2020
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