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Lessons from the wartime diet

Updated on February 25, 2016
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What can we learn from the wartime diet?

During the Second World War, all food in the UK was severely rationed by the government.

The result of this wasn't that the population became unhealthy - in fact, the opposite was true.

During and after rationing in the UK, the population was healthier than ever before. Why was this?

This was the result because meat, butter, sweets and other foods were almost unobtainable at some times during the war and when they were, it was in extremely limited quantities.

Instead, the population was urged to eat fresh vegetables, legumes, homemade soups ... There were no sweet, sugary sodas, no chocolate and there was a complete lack of many of the foods we use daily in this day and age. In other words, the diet was much better than it had been before the war.

People were encouraged to save electricity and make sure that every scrap of food was used. And everyone was urged to buy local produce to cut down on transportation costs and fuel consumption.How familiar that sounds to us all today.

My parents were both born in the 1920s so were young during wartime - they taught me a lot about diet and waste - and much of their advice is applicable today.

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Yes, we decided to give it a try

I bought a book of wartime recipes and decided that we'd give the diet a go.

The results were amazing. We only bought produce that was grown locally, we made the most of foods full of nutrients such as potatoes, oatmeal, grains and pulses.Yes, I admit that we cheated - we imagined that we kept bees so we did have honey.

We couldn't quite give up coffee, so that was another cheat and I have to admit that a few glasses of wine passed our lips, but overall we ate a similar diet to that people ate during World War Two.

Because we don't eat meat, we 'exchanged' our meat rations with an imaginary neighbor, so we had extra cheese but we bought the most basic types available - no brie or mozzarella.

Of course, it's not the sort of diet that can be voluntarily kept up forever - eventually a takeout pizza beckons - but during our 'wartime' we lost weight, felt wonderful and saved a lot of money.

Wartime soups

We found that soups were quick to make, nutritious and incredibly cheap. Here's an example - an authentic wartime recipe:

GOLDEN BARLEY SOUP

Grate 2lbs carrots, and add to 1 quart of water along with 1 small teacup barley.

Simmer for 2½ hours. Roll a piece of margarine, roughly the size of a walnut, with a tablespoon flour and stir into the soup. Cook for eight minutes, stirring. Garnish with fresh herbs from the garden. Serves 4 - 5.

This a great served with crusty bread from the local baker. I also regularly made croutons with oddments of leftover bread to go into soups. Or you could try this wartime recipe:

DUMPLINGS

Into 8oz plain flour, add 1 teaspoon baking power and a teaspoon of chopped herbs from the garden. Add cold water to make a firm dough. Roll into balls (about the size of a marble), drop them into the soup and cook for about seven minutes.

POTATO & WATERCRESS SOUP

Wash, peel and chop 1lb potatoes into small pieces and cook them in a pint of vegetable stock until soft. Mash against the side of the pan (I sieved ) and add 1 teaspoon margarine (yes, I used butter) a pint of milk, pepper and salt and reheat. Just before serving, add two bunches of watercress, chopped.

When I lived in Hampshire many years ago, we could pick fresh watercress right from the sparkling, beautifully clear river. Potato soup is actually quite tasty even if you don't have watercress - add plenty of black pepper.

Wartime diet vegetarian main meals

STUFFED TOMATOES

You'll need 8 small tomatoes or four large ones.

Cut a thin slice from the top of these and scoop out the pulp, leaving the skins intact. Make ¼ pint white sauce and add 2oz grated cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and the tomato pulp.

Mix and fill the tomatoes with the mixture. Cook in a moderate oven for ten minutes and serve with green vegetables or a large green salad.

FARMHOUSE SCRAMBLE

Mix together 2lbs cooked mixed vegetables, 4oz grated cheese, 3oz fresh breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, pepper & salt and add two lightly beaten eggs. Melt a little fat or oil in a frying pan and add the mixture so that it covers the bottom of the pan.

Cover and cook for about twenty minutes. Give it a shake from time to time. Serve with a green vegetable or salad.

FIVE DISHES FROM ONE RECIPE

The book I have suggests five ways of using a basic batter recipe.

YORKSHIRE PUDDING.Put a knob of fat into a baking tin and pour in the batter. Cook in a brisk oven for thirty minutes. Our favorite way to serve this was with baked beans. The book suggests:

TOAD IN THE HOLE, which is the same as above but with sausages or meat leftovers added. But it's great with mushrooms instead.

SWEET PANCAKES. Make pancakes (English style, skillet sizes) and roll up with a little fruit jam (jelly), honey or sliced apple.

SAVORY PANCAKES. As above but filled with cooked vegetables and cheese.

BATTER PUDDING. As Yorkshire pudding above but served with honey and fruit.

DESSERTS

Wartime cooks were incredibly inventive when it came to creating cakes, biscuits and treats. We preferred to have a piece of fruit or a quickly made fruit salad after our meal.

Tip!

Just as it is today, during wartime it was important to save fuel when cooking. The book suggests that neighbors should arrange to share ovens. If Jane is baking a cake she should contact Mary and tell her that she has space in her oven, if she'd like to add a dish. What a great idea!

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This might interest you too

Lessons from a wartime teenager.This shows some of the lessons I learned from my mum about living during the war and how to make the most of the foods available, how to save energy and generally live the green life.

Baking was an important skill for the wartime cook.Today, more and more people are realising benefits of making their own cakes,pastries and other baked goods.

It was the wartime cooks who were the true specialists - creating delicious foods cheaply in a planet-friendly fashion. We can learn from them.

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Thanks for dropping by - say hello!

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    • profile image

      SteveKaye 3 years ago

      Fascinating lens. Thank you for publishing this.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Interesting to read about and to try! Clever lens.

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      Very interesting! It's something I've never given much thought to, but it does sound like a beneficial diet.

    • profile image

      yourlocalpt 4 years ago

      interesting, good idea.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JohnTannahill: Oh John, that's so funny because my mum was just the same, always telling me how she didn't see a banana for years. Oranges too. But she never used to eat fruit at all!

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      When I was a kid my dad used to tell me (so many times it was annoying) how lucky I was to have bananas. The shops were full of them. We had bananas at school. Lucky? Yes, of course, there were no bananas when my my dad was a kid. They vanished during the war. But, I never saw him eating one. Now, my son won't eat them. He can't stand bananas. I like them but they give me wind. Such a fuss about bananas?

    • tedwritesstuff24 profile image

      TedWritesStuff 4 years ago

      Both my parents survived the war in London and their tales of food rationing were always rolled out to me if I decided not to eat all my dinner! Great share.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Rosetta Slone: Probably not because today people have microwaves and toaster ovens and halogen ovens but my daughter-in-law and I did it at Christmas!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Rosetta Slone: I'm trying to instigate it in our little condo complex. But not many people really cook these days! Thanks so much for your visit and comment!

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I love the idea of sharing oven space, although I wonder if anybody would do that today.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      My mom stretched food in very creative ways during those times. She also gardened a lot, which is hugely important in keeping a stable food supply. Great lens! Pinned to my board "This I want you to know," and blessed.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @webmavern: We certainly could. The wartime diet is so much healthier than today's and really much cheaper too. Thanks for visiting!

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      webmavern 4 years ago

      Thanks for some great tips and delicious sounding recipes. We could all do with being a bit healthier and saving money right now.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @daisychainsaw lm: Thank you so much!

    • daisychainsaw lm profile image

      daisychainsaw lm 4 years ago

      What a great idea! Healthy, and thrifty! Great lens!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Stuwaha: Let me know how it goes :)

    • Stuwaha profile image

      Stuwaha 4 years ago

      @BritFlorida: Purchased it too, looking forward to going through it with my husband! Thank you again!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Stuwaha: Brilliant! Well done!

    • Stuwaha profile image

      Stuwaha 4 years ago

      @BritFlorida: Thanks, found it for a penny :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Stuwaha: It's called We'll Eat Again. I've had it for years. It's only available on Amazon now as a (quite expensive) used book but you should be able to find it. Thanks!

    • Stuwaha profile image

      Stuwaha 4 years ago

      This is just wonderful :) which book did you use specifically?

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 4 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I remember quizzing my grandma about how they made do during those times. For instance, they would save the string from the tops of their feed sacks so they could divide and use the string to sew with. They also used the fabric from the feed sacks to make clothing and quilts from. Very thrifty living then. :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Tennyhawk: Thanks for reading. It must have been like another world in those days.

    • Tennyhawk profile image

      Tennyhawk 4 years ago

      I always find these bits of history very interesting. My grandparents were children during the last World War and talked about all the things they did when the usual groceries and supplies weren't available thanks to the war effort.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @cinefile: Thank you very much for visiting!

    • cinefile profile image

      cinefile 4 years ago

      Excellent topic. Ties into the Forks Over Knives documentary, The China Study, etc. very nicely. bravo.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Michael Oksa: Thank yo so much! I'm still enjoying your quizzes and trivia!

    • Michael Oksa profile image

      Michael Oksa 4 years ago

      Very interesting idea for a lens! I enjoyed it. :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @junecampbell: Thank you, I agree. I still use many of my mum's methods for making food go further. And I'd really recommend the wartime diet, if only for a week or so. We felt great!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: Rationing had ended by the time I was born but my mum still instilled the 'waste not, want not' philosophy into us.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @ManipledMutineer: It was fascinating. We actually seemed to eat more than usual but we both lost weight. Amazing really.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      What a fascinating experiment. I as born post-war, but my mother certainly talked about rationing and food shortages and making do with what was available. We could all benefit from remembering some of these practices.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Sometimes although this is after the war long after we went to bed many nights very hungry with maybe two pieces of bread with a fried egg if we were very lucky too. Can still remember those Food Ration coupons when I was very small you got in the Post Office.

    • ManipledMutineer profile image

      ManipledMutineer 4 years ago

      Intriguing to hear of your experiences with the wartime diet!