How to Cook a Typical Meal From the 1940s

Updated on December 7, 2019
kittythedreamer profile image

Kitty is a self-proclaimed home and hearth goddess. One of her favorite things is creatively cooking and baking for her family.


What Did People Eat in the 1940s?

In the 1940s, food was something of a phenomenon. The Second World War affected the way people cooked and ate all across the United States. A main concern of cooking was to make do with as few ingredients as you had, to portion food appropriately, and to redesign grandma's old recipes from the 1920s and 30s.

Because of WWII, food rationing was a normal part of life. You couldn't just go to the grocery store and purchase whatever you wanted, even if you had the money. Items such as meats, sugars, and cheese were in rationed supply. This was so that the government could ensure that everyone was getting an equal amount of these items and that things were fair.

In spite of not having fresh ingredients all the time, the women came up with unique and quirky menus that we simply don't see today. Just take a look at the picture of that Jell-O salad. This is a recipe for barbecue cottage cheese salad—unique indeed! It is my goal to bring back food in the 1940s to the new millennium's menus.

So what did people eat? Let's have a look down memory lane.


Deviled chicken will delight your most particular friends.

— 250 Ways to Prepare Poultry and Game Birds

1940s Dinner Recipes

Pea Croquettes Recipe


  • 4 cups cooked peas
  • 2 tbsp minced onion
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper


  1. Force peas through a sieve and add remaining ingredients.
  2. Form into balls and fry in hot deep fat (380°F) for about 3 minutes.

(Serves 6 to 8.)

Deviled Chicken Recipe (From 250 Ways to Prepare Poultry and Game Birds)


  • 1 broiling or frying chicken
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup fat, melted
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup hot water or soup stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp tomato ketchup
  • Paprika


  1. Allow 3/4 lb. chicken per person. Cut chicken into serving portions, season with salt and pepper, and brown in melted fat; remove from pan.
  2. Stir flour into fat; cook until mixture browns and thickens, stirring constantly.
  3. Add hot water or soup stock and the next four ingredients to cooked sauce.
  4. Place chicken in sauce, cover pan, and simmer until tender, about an hour.

In the 1940s, side dishes were everything from dinner rolls or biscuits to vegetables of many different kinds (a lot of canned vegetables—remember, it was during the war). For the deviled chicken, we are going to go with two different sides: sweet-sour carrots and pea croquettes.

Sweet-Sour Carrots


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 cups cooked carrots


  1. Brown butter, blend in flour, and continue browning, stirring constantly.
  2. Add seasonings.
  3. Combine sugar, vinegar, and water and add gradually; cook slowly until thickened, stirring constantly.
  4. Pour over hot carrots.

(Serves 6 to 8.)


1940s Dessert Recipes

Did you leave room on your adventurous 1940s menu for dessert? I hope you did! I'll share two of my favorites with you here.

Because the women worked very hard, it was sometimes okay to cut corners. What's better than a delicious dessert that takes half the time it normally would? That's why I chose this first recipe from the 250 Luscious Refrigerator Desserts cookbook.

Cola Marsh Ice


  • 24 marshmallows
  • 2 cups cola beverage
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice


  1. Place marshmallows and 2 tbsp cola in saucepan.
  2. Heat slowly, folding over and over until marshmallows are about half melted.
  3. Remove from heat and continue folding until mixture is smooth and fluffy.
  4. Cool slightly, then add remaining cola, salt, and lemon juice.
  5. Blend thoroughly.
  6. Pour into ice tray and freeze until firm, stirring 2 or 3 times while freezing.

(Serves 4 or 5.)

Gold Nugget Cake (From 250 Classic Cake Recipes)


  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (2 or 3)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 bananas, sliced


  1. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, and soda together.
  2. Add milk to mashed bananas.
  3. Cream shortening with sugar until fluffy.
  4. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Mix sifted dry ingredients and milk mixture alternately in small amounts, beating well after each addition.
  6. Stir in flavoring.
  7. Pour into two greased cake pans and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes.
  8. Cool. Put layers together with banana frosting and sliced bananas.
  9. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake and garnish with sliced bananas.

(Makes two 8-inch layers.)

Gold nugget cake is a 'find' for any clever hostess.

— 250 Classic Cake Recipes
Click thumbnail to view full-size

© 2012 Kitty Fields


Submit a Comment
  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    5 years ago from Summerland

    Nakalekshmi - Unfortunately many of them weren't so healthy...high in fat and sugars...but they were interesting! Thanks for reading.

  • Nagalekshmi profile image


    5 years ago from nagercoil

    Retro recipes are always healthy, but are mostly forgotten.Thanks for sharing.....

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    5 years ago from Summerland

    vicki - So interesting! I didn't know that. Thank you for sharing!

  • vickiholder profile image

    Vicki Holder 

    5 years ago from The beautiful Ouachita Mtns. in Arkansas

    I have always admired how people adapted to the hardships brought on by the war and rationing. I visited a war museum while in London and they had a cardboard wedding cake from WWII on display. Brides would rent the cake so they could have their wedding picture taken with a beautiful cake since a real one was out of the question due to rationing. It even had a little drawer for a small piece of fruit cake which could be made with ingredients that were easier to get.

  • MargaritaEden profile image


    8 years ago from Oregon

    Wow, so interesting, thank you for such well researched hub!

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    8 years ago from Summerland

    Thanks, Jennzie! I agree, it's very intriguing to know what people liked to eat and do in the past. :)

  • jennzie profile image


    8 years ago from Pennsylvania

    The Cola Marsh Ice and sweet-sour carrots sound particularly interesting. I like seeing how people lived in the past.

    Great hub!

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    8 years ago from Summerland

    Thanks, Sajida!

  • Sanjida Alam profile image

    Sanjida Alam 

    8 years ago from Bangladesh

    Great hub! :-)

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    8 years ago from Summerland

    robie- Awesome, I'm so glad I could put a smile on your face today. :)

  • robie2 profile image

    Roberta Kyle 

    8 years ago from Central New Jersey

    I grew up with food like this --oooooo tomato aspic and the Betty Crocker cookbook and Bisquick and all that-- what a great trip down memory lane and back to childhoon. Thank for a great read. This gets a big thumbs up from me.

  • kittythedreamer profile imageAUTHOR

    Kitty Fields 

    8 years ago from Summerland

    ytsenoh - I agree. Thanks!

    moonlake - Yes, I love Betty Croker's Cooky Book! Awesome 40s cookbook. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  • moonlake profile image


    8 years ago from America

    Betty Crocker's Cooky Book is the book I used for making cookies when our kids were growing up. I bought them each one of the first editions. After I bought old ones they came out with a new edition. Enjoyed your hub.

  • ytsenoh profile image


    8 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    It's really interesting how even recipes were very basic back then, but having said that, they were probably just as special to those using them as we use ours today. The ads you have are remarkable. Good hub. Thanks.


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