Food & Nutrition

I Tried Cooking Like a 1940s Housewife. Here’s What Happened.

Turns out I’m more like a 1940s housewife than I thought!

In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, many women worked primarily in the home, taking care of children and making meals that took a lot of time to prepare. But when World War II hit, many women took on new positions once reserved for men, and therefore, cooking changed—permanently. With less time to cook and more rationed foods, many of the traditional recipes were out of the question, so quick and easy dishes became the new norm (and given the appeal of these 15 vintage food ads, we can’t blame them).

As a kid, I heard my grandmother talk about the interesting “new” recipes of the ’40s—and I started chatting with a lady at the nail salon about these dishes just last week. I decided to give some of them a try. This is what I made.

Meat Loaf

Though I’m not a fan of anything with the word “loaf” in it, my husband loved the traditional meat loaf I made. With simple ingredients including ground beef, bread crumbs, onions, and ketchup, this is an easy and quick meal to cook. Many of the 1940s meat loaf recipes I found included the option to use onion soup if onions weren’t readily available, meaning you could easily have all of the ingredients on hand for a flavorful, protein-packed meal for your family. Find out which other iconic American meals defined each decade.

Oslo Meal

In the 1940s, people were concerned that children might lack nourishment because of the scarcity of fresh foods available. A lot of folks had their own gardens to ensure that they would have fresh produce. Consisting of lettuce, cheese, cucumber, carrots, and bread (served separately), these experimental meals meant to ensure kids got enough nutrients were served as school lunches. And it worked! Parents, I’ll be frank: This is basically what toddlers eat. Mine refused the cucumber and tomato, but it was still a super quick and easy meal because no preparation was necessary!

Farmhouse Scramble

I’ll be honest, I waste leftovers and sometimes toss out food that goes bad. As my grandmother said, a 1940s homemaker would never let anything go to waste (just check out this long-lost spice bar recipe found in a great-grandmother’s cookbook)! Her farmhouse scramble is super healthy, as you scramble eggs and then toss in leftover veggies (and cheese if you have it). Quick, easy, delicious, and perfect for those of us watching our weight. If this recipes fries your egg, go even further back in time with these recipes from the ’20s.

Waste Not Soup

Speaking of wasting food, I talked to a few people raised in the ’40s, and they remembered their moms just tossing food scraps in a pot and making soup out of it. The woman at the salon lovingly referred to it as “waste not soup.” I tried this with some ingredients I had that would have also been available to women in the 1940s. I tossed together ground beef, chicken broth, tomatoes, and veggies, and the result was really yummy and, again, healthy!

This experiment lead me to realize that I’m not that different from women of the 1940s. I’m a working mom with a hectic schedule, but I’m still eager to get dinner on the table for my family. Overall, I learned that cooking a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming to be delicious. Because the thing we’re really after is more time with the ones we love. Next, check out these 18 rare, candid photos of what life was like in the 1950s.

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