Food Rationing During WWII

Imagine walking into a grocery store and not being allowed to buy whatever you wanted. As hard as it may be to believe, at one time in our nation’s history it actually happened.

During WWII, the United States government rationed food. Our country was at war and we had a tremendous fighting force to feed. At the same time, our allies in Europe were unable to produce as much food. Their farmland had turned into battlefields. To cope with the inevitable food shortages at home, and to discourage hoarding, the government created a food rationing program to help insure that every American family would have enough to eat.

How Food Rationing Worked

Blue WWII Ration Stamps

A book of food ration stamps had to be obtained for each member of the household. Everyone from infants to grandparents had their own book. These books would then be taken to the grocery store with the appropriate amount of stamps redeemed at checkout. Typically, food ration stamps came in red and blue. The red stamps were for meats, cheeses and fats. The blue stamps were for canned, bottled, and dried foods. Coffee, milk, eggs, butter and sugar were also rationed. So was chocolate and condiments. Each ration stamp contained a letter and a number. The number represented the number of ration points each stamp was worth. The letter indicated the time period when the stamps could be used. The more scarce the item, the more ration points needed to purchase it.

Housewives had to carefully plan their menus, but it wasn’t always easy. Each week the average family of four needed about 64 ration points for meats and cheese, and approximately 48 points for processed foods. This came to a little over 100 ration points a week. And if they used up all their ration points before the end of the ration period they were out of luck. They would not be allowed to purchase any more food until the next ration period. Food was scarce. It simply could not go to waste.

Other Ways to Ease Food Shortages

To help ease the burden of food rationing many families planted Victory Gardens. They home canned their own fruits and vegetables. A new product, called margarine, or oleo, could be used in place of butter. Lower in ration point value, margarine was soft and white and it came in a clear cellophane bag. It was packaged in such as way as to not mislead consumers into thinking they were buying butter. Each bag contained a bead of yellow food coloring. Many little girls eagerly helped their mothers by breaking the bead and kneading the margarine inside the bag until it turned completely yellow.

Food companies partnered with the government and produced special ration recipe booklets to aid with meal planning. These recipes helped stretch ration points by using different combinations of ingredients or mixing techniques than those used in traditional recipes. Other recipes could be used to create tasty meals from leftovers.

In the early 1940s the emphasis was on planning wholesome, well-balanced meals. It was also a time when food didn’t go to waste. There was no preoccupation with counting calories, grams of fat, or carbohydrates. What mattered was good nutrition. Eating nourishing meals was your patriotic duty so you could stay strong and make your contribution to the war effort.

Food rationing wasn’t easy. However, our parents and grandparents rose to the occasion. Perhaps this is why the WWII generation is now called, The Greatest Generation.