I enjoy looking at lunch box menus from the early 1940s. They were economical and creative, helping provide a variety of nutritious options to homemakers whose families craved food that was both tasty and less monotonous than the meals many families were eating during rationing. Women were having to find new ways to use old foods and were trying to use new, often less desirable foods to appeal to their families tastes. It was easy to get in a rut when things were so difficult and new. Using magazines and cookbooks to find new ideas was the home front housewife’s version of Pinterest and internet searches.
Here are several sets of menus to show you a wide variety of what lunch boxes might contain during WWII. It’s difficult to get some of these pages to line up straight in photographs, but I want to include them anyway. Note how the lists are broken into categories. School children were expected to eat different things than a “hard worker” was, and even women were divided up into working women and housewives. The creators of these menus were trying to make the menus filling and nutritious while still allowing for things like using rationing points and the availability of food items. Many menus I have seen use dinner leftovers from the night before, another way to avoid food waste in a time where people were trying to use up every last bit of food they had.
Enjoy these menus and let me know if you try any of them.
War–time Lunches, Philadelphia Electric Company, 1940s.
This is an example of a set of menus that includes a dinner menu for the night before. I like to compare the menu contents to see what part of the dinner is used for the lunch box, and also to compare the food in the workman, child, and homemaker lists. The homemaker often gets much less food.
Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 1944 edition.
American Woman’s Cook Book, 1940 edition.
This is from just before the United States joined the war, but it still is a nice example of what school children were carrying in their lunch boxes.