Butter was a Food Group!? How People Ate During WWII


Here is a challenge for all of you home chefs. How many of you can recite this motto truthfully:

“I worked for freedom today.

I served at least one food from each of the basic seven food groups.

I prepared the food I served with care.

I wasted no food today.”

Whoa, you might be thinking, food does not have to be that serious! Well, it was that serious for American families during WWII. This Saturday, participants in the At the Kids’ Table family cooking class will be exploring how New York families ate during WWII when many food items were scarce.  To get ready for this fun afternoon, we thought we would give you a “taste” of how different food was just a few decades ago.

Allow us to present you with some pages from a 1943 Betty Crocker cookbook called “Your Share: How to prepare appetizing, healthful meals with foods available today. Check out this letter to “home-makers” from its pages.

Crocker, Betty. Your Share: How to Prepare Appetizing, Healthful Meals with Foods Available Today. Minneapolis, General Mills, 1943.

During the war, mom had to become a soldier in the kitchen!  As the letter states, “Every American home-maker who selects food wisely, prepares it carefully and conserves it diligently is an important link in our national war effort.” Here was another aspect of her crusade: “It is important that eating be made pleasurable since flavor and attractiveness in food are important for good nutrition.” Our government no longer tells us that good-looking food is more nutritious.  And what exactly was considered nutritious during WWII? What were those basic seven food groups? Well, check out the nutrition guidelines from the back cover of the cookbook.

Crocker, Betty. Your Share: How to Prepare Appetizing, Healthful Meals with Foods Available Today. Minneapolis, General Mills, 1943.

When we compare the basic food groups during WWII with those of today’s myplate.gov initiative, there are some notable differences!  Today, the five basic food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. In 1943, three out of the seven food groups were different combinations of fruits and vegetables.  Group II included “oranges, tomatoes, grapefruit, raw cabbage and salad greens.”  And then there was Group VII: butter!  Today, butter is considered an “empty calorie” source to be avoided.

So how did wartime women and children prepare meals? What ingredients did they use? What recipes did they follow? To answer these questions, you’ll have to come to Saturday’s class! There is still some space so email familyprograms@nyhistory.org if you are looking for fun from 2-4 pm on March 2. In the meantime, keep calm and cook something!


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