1940s Eating Wasn't Just Meat and Potatoes (2024)

1940s Eating Wasn't Just Meat and Potatoes (1)

No other factor is so conducive to good health as wise eating. If you prefer to gratify your lower appetite, that is unfortunate; but if you think that health and its consequent success are more worth having, you can very easily arrange your life so as to have them ~ Grenville Kleiser

Dear Friends,

Whenever someone finds out my love for vintage cookbooks and cooking, they invariably make a comment related to Jello or mayonnaise. They want to know about the grossest Jello and mayo concoction I’ve ever eaten (I tend to shy away from such food combinations, much to their disappointment).

I’ll readily admit that there was an abundance of meat, potatoes, Jello, and mayo found on mid-century tables but my vintage cookbooks tell me that those weren’t the only things being eaten. In fact, homemakers who followed dietary recommendations were feeding their families very healthy meals.

It Wasn’t All Meat, Potatoes, Jello, and Mayonnaise

Did you know people were healthier during World War II because of rationing? I call it the Victory Garden Diet ™. Because meat, fats, dairy, and sugars were in limited supply, 1940s eating included a lot more fruits and vegetables than we eat in modern times. Families were encouraged to plant “Victory Gardens” so that more food could be used to feed soldiers.

In the United States three of the Basic Seven food recommendations were for a variety of raw and cooked green and yellow vegetables, citrus fruit, and other fruits and vegetables. I remember hearing somewhere that a dinner should have a starchy vegetable, a green salad, a cooked green vegetable, and some fruit. I don’t know about you, but eating all of those vegetables and the fruit wouldn’t leave me with much of an appetite for anything else!

We’ve Lost Variety

One of the things I always notice when I reread the lists of recommended fruits and vegetables is the wide variety from which to choose. It also saddens me a wee bit because most of the fruits and vegetables are no longer available at the grocery stores I frequent. The wide variety of plant foods has been replaced by aisles of boxed or frozen frankenfoods with little to no nutritional value.

We’ve Lost Control of Portion Sizes

If you ever have the opportunity, look at one of the early editions of The Joy of Cooking and a modern edition. I was very surprised when I noticed that recipes in my earlier edition would serve six while the same recipe in my later edition –with the exact same ingredient measurements–only served four. The recipe for Toll House chocolate chip cookies changed the serving size from one teaspoon to one tablespoon.

I have a hamburger maker that was my grandmother’s. I think it is called a “burger press.” Anyway, I take my ground beef, fill up the press, and turn the gizmo that releases the burger from the press. Here is the kicker: Each burger is about 4 ounces, before cooking. Compared to the ones I can buy from the butcher, these burgers seem tiny. We don’t even use buns anymore because seeing the seemingly small patties in the bun reminds us too much of the old “Where’s the beef!” commercial.

But, you know what? That four-ounce hamburger is double the size of a “regular” hamburger or cheeseburger at McDonald’s. I remember when the introduction of the Quarter Pounder hamburger in the early 1970s was such a big deal because it was so big. Now, of course, fast food outlets sell half-pound or more burgers.

1940s Eating In A Modern World

The lesson we can learn from the vintage cookbooks and Basic 7 nutritional advice is that we have to rethink our eating habits. We need to cut our portion sizes way down. We need to eat a lot less meat and sugar. And we need to eat a lot more fruit and vegetables.

And, if we want to be a bit smug, we can point out that our mid-century mentors were encouraging us to eat the way the modern nutritional experts are telling us to do.

Sure there was meat, potatoes, Jello, mayonnaise, and desserts, but, in practice, if we are to believe our mentors, wise 1940s eating included a whole lot of fruits and vegetables, too.

How do you make sure you eat your “Five a Day” of fruits and vegetables? Share your strategies in the comment section.

To your fabulous Technicolor health,

Dr. Julie-Ann

Image credit: Victory Garden poster, 1943, courtesy of James Vaughan on Flickr.com

1940s Eating Wasn't Just Meat and Potatoes (2024)


1940s Eating Wasn't Just Meat and Potatoes? ›

It Wasn't All Meat, Potatoes, Jello, and Mayonnaise

What were the eating habits in the 1940s? ›

The 1940s: The Era of Rationing

People's diets were restricted but relatively balanced, emphasizing available root vegetables and bread due to the scarcity of meat, cheese, and sugar.

What was the diet in the 1940s to lose weight? ›

The rice diet is a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet to lose weight. The diet features calorie deficit, reduced sodium, and mindfulness and may help some people lose weight and achieve better health. A research scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina created the rice diet in the 1940s.

What did poor people eat in the 1940s? ›

On the home front

Rationing was introduced in 1940 and lasted 14 years. For most of that time, meat, cheese, butter, cooking fats and sugar were heavily restricted, but potatoes, other root vegetables and bread were freely available. People ate a diet much higher in carbohydrates and lower in fats.

What did people eat for breakfast in 1940? ›

1940s: Mint, orange juice, and apple butter

A sample brunch menu includes: orange juice topped with mint, creamed ham and mushrooms, waffles de luxe, maple syrup, apple butter, coffee, and milk. Notable breakthroughs: General Mills rolls out CheeriOats in 1941; the name is changed to Cheerios in 1945.

What was a typical breakfast in the 40s? ›

1940s: Austere Times

Rationing, introduced with the war to deal with extreme shortages, affected most foodstuffs, including the basics for the British breakfast table - bacon, butter, cheese, sugar, jam, breakfast cereals, eggs, milk, canned and dried fruit and tea.

What was the average diet in 1940? ›

1940s. In the 1940s, the Second World War was ongoing and food rationing was introduced. Meat, cheese, butter, cooking fats and sugar were heavily restricted, but potatoes, other root vegetables and bread were freely available. People ate a diet much higher in carbohydrates and lower in fats than we do today.

What did dogs eat in the 1940s? ›

The Rise of Commercial Pet Food

During World War II, metal rationing halted all production of canned pet foods, and manufacturers began focusing on dry foods, selling them to customers by promoting the convenience factor. By the mid-1940s, there were two types of dry food: biscuits and kibble; and pellets.

Did people snack in the 1940s? ›

Voila, eat it up. There will be no snacking later. A '40s breakfast was offered in the early morning, lunch rang in at noon, and after school your time was used for chores, not chips. Most people didn't eat before or after a meal, with perhaps one exception: going to the movies.

Were people healthier in the 1940s? ›

The wartime food shortages forced people to adopt new eating patterns. Most people ate less meat, fat, eggs and sugar than they had eaten before. But people who had a poor diet before, were able to increase their intake of protein and vitamins because they received the same ration as everybody else.

What was the rice diet in the 1940s? ›

In 1940, a young German refugee physician scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina began to treat patients with accelerated or "malignant" hypertension with a radical diet consisting of only white rice and fruit, with strikingly favorable results.

What did they eat for breakfast in WWII? ›

An English Breakfast during WWII. Breakfast tended to be porridge with milk if available but some families would use melted lard! OMG. A special treat was toast or bread and jam (we always had jam apparently – my grandmother would make it, but so little sugar, she relied on the fruit.

What food was invented in the 1940s? ›

Snacks that emerged during the '40s include Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Chiquita Bananas, Junior Mints, Almond Joy, V8, and Cheetos.

What were the 7 food groups in the 1940s? ›

In the 1940s, the number of food groups expanded to 7 through “The Basic 7” (green and yellow vegetables; oranges, tomatoes, and grapefruit; potatoes and other vegetables and fruit; milk and milk products; meat, poultry, fish, or eggs; bread, flour, and cereals; and butter and fortified margarine) (10).

What was a typical breakfast in the 1950s? ›

Breakfast was viewed as the meal to set you up for the day so was, at the very least, porridge, followed by bacon, eggs and fried bread, then toast and home-made marmalade, and lots of milky tea. As children it was also when we had our vitamin tablets - Haliborange and Adexolin capsules.

What did people eat during WWII? ›

At first, the meals were stews, and more varieties were added as the war went on, including meat and spaghetti in tomato sauce, chopped ham, eggs and potatoes, meat and noodles, pork and beans; ham and lima beans, and chicken and vegetables.

How did WWII have an impact on eating habits? ›

During the 1930s and throughout World War II, Cook says the United States relied on uncomplicated foods like sandwiches and canned vegetables to make it through shortages and rations. He says the limited diversity of food and bland choices created a yearning for different options.

What was a ration in the 1940s? ›

The government issued a number of “points” to each person, even babies, which had to be turned in along with money to purchase goods made with restricted items. In 1943 for example, a pound of bacon cost about 30 cents, but a shopper would also have to turn in seven ration points to buy the meat.


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