I think I’ve mentioned before that I live on a very rural ranch. Sometimes when it rains, we get stranded at our house until the roads dry out enough to drive on. That’s my situation right now, and since I can’t go to town for groceries, I’m going to use the upcoming week to write about boxed lunches. I’ll split the topic into three parts. Today I’m writing about what foods a home front housewife should choose to pack. Next, I’ll tell you how she would have packed them. Finally, I’ll give you some menus and recipes for different lunch packing scenarios. Some tips and tricks will be thrown in, too.
Since I know you might be wondering, we have supplies for cooking for ourselves, but not the ingredients necessary for the lunch box recipes. We live in a place where this kind of rain doesn’t happen often. This has been an unusually wet year. The inconvenience of being stranded occasionally is offset by many perks of living where we do, and thanks to modern meteorology we can prepare ahead of time for situations like these.
On to the lunch boxes!
I have a large collection of cook books and pamphlets from the war years. Many of them have entire sections on lunch box packing. In fact, more than one cookbook said that lunch boxes were part of the war program. Since more and more people were working outside the home, well packed lunch boxes were an important part of the day’s nutrition.
I’ve mentioned before that the American government was pushing healthy eating as a way for home front fighters to help win the war. Healthy citizens made for stronger populations, and healthy boys grew up to be strong soldiers. Wartime publications stressed the importance of eating a good lunch during the workday to keep fueled and healthy.
So what would the home front housewife be shopping for?
Most of the cookbooks I have suggest the same types of foods in a lunch box food guide that closely follows government food guidelines. Here’s a typical guide.
- meat, eggs, poultry, cheese, fish: These can be combined in a main dish, salad, or sandwich.
- vegetables: At least one serving in sandwich fillings, salads, main dishes, or in relishes.
- fruit: At least one should be included, but it can be in any form.
- bread: numerous sources stressed that the breads included should change frequently to provide variety.
- milk: The lunch box seems to have been a way to help get your daily milk quota in. This was a pint for adults and a quart for children. The milk could be a drink, in a main dish, in a soup, or in a dessert.
Tips for the Home Front Housewife
- Your Gas Range Cookbook, published by the Wyandotte County Gas Company in 1940, suggested that children’s lunches for school should include a hot dish, milk, fruit, and a surprise for children to look forward to discovering. Their suggested menus include surprises like cookies and hot chocolate.
- Your Victory Lunch Box, 1943, stressed the importance of variety. Creating variety in textures, color, and flavor helped make lunch box lunches more appealing and less monotonous. Adding color and variety in packing materials was also suggested for an appealing looking lunch.
- Plan today’s meals with tomorrow’s lunch in mind. This was good advice for both packing a lunch and eating at home, but nearly everything I read about lunches included this as a way to make preparing lunches easier and more economical.
- Keep in mind how long lunchtime is. Someone with a short lunch period needed foods with little or no prep time. A long lunch period allowed for more complicated meals.
- Working butter or margarine into a creamy spread with a fork made it easier to handle at lunch time.
- Include small containers of salt, pepper, and sugar.
- Keep in mind that some things work better in different forms. For example, a whole tomato packed with some salt often worked better than slices on a sandwich.
- Fill sandwiches, but avoid overfilling so they are not messy.
- Canned meats are excellent for lunch box meals.
- Again, look for variety when shopping. Ease of eating was important, but variety was just as important. For example, breads could be varied. Raisin bread, rye bread, muffins, rolls, cakes–these all counted.
- Raw vegetables are both refreshing, and provide variety in texture, flavor, and color. You could put them on sandwiches or eat alone.
- Grinding meats with relish or salad dressing keeps the sandwich moist. Mixing condiments with butter and spreading over bread also helps keep a sandwich from being too dry.
- Besides milk, other suggested drinks included lemonade, iced tea, fruit juices, and vegetable juice.
- Don’t forget dessert! Having a sweet treat is a nice way to finish the meal. Muffins, cookies, fruits, carefully packed cakes, and even custards and puddings were good suggestions.
- Creative packing methods make it possible to take most kinds of foods with you in your lunch box. Don’t feel like sandwiches, while a very handy option, are the only thing you can pack. Hearty soups, meatloaves, salads, and pasta dishes are all possibilities.
That looks like a good place to stop for today. Next we’ll look at supplies for packing lunch boxes, tips for hard to pack items, and why having a dedicated lunch box packing station was a good idea.
The images today are from the back of a pamphlet titled “War-time Lunches” from the Philadelphia Electric Company. They show a list of suggestions for thermos dishes, sandwich fillings, and breads to add to your lunch box shopping list.
More posts in this series: