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
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 The wide variety of plant foods has been replaced by aisles of boxed or frozen frankenfoods with little to no nutritional value.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,
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