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

Turns out, I'm more like a 1940s mom than I thought!

In the first couple 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, making many of the traditional recipes was out of the question, so quick and easy dishes became the new norm.

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!

Using Meat Loaf to Stretch Ingredients

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 a quick and easy 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.

Bringing Back the “Oslo Meal”

In the 1940s, people were concerned that children might lack nourishment due to the scarcity of fresh foods available. The Oslo meal was an experimental meals meant to ensure kids got enough nutrients, and it consisted of lettuce, cheese, cucumber, carrots and bread (served separately). It was served as a school lunch. 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!

Using Up Leftovers in a Farmhouse Scramble

I’ll be honest, I waste leftovers and sometimes toss out food that goes bad. But as my grandmother said, a 1940s homemaker would never let anything go to waste. 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 using up everything in the refrigerator.

Making 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. Using ground beef, chicken broth, tomatoes and veggies, I tossed these items together, and the result was really yummy and, again, healthy!

This experiment lead me to realize that I’m not all 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.

Find More Vintage Recipes You'll Love Today
1 / 50

Popular Videos

Julia K. Porter
Dr. Julia Porter began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY and has taught college courses since 2008. Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures. She lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter and a rambunctious Australian Shepherd.