Mum Claud Fullwood, 39, who lives with her husband Ben, her 10-year-old stepdaughter and her three-year-old son, challenged herself to live off World War II rations for Lent. In her own words she tells us how she managed to do it…
I was working on a hunger campaign for CAFOD, a religious charity, and I wanted to do something to help.
I’d also been watching a wartime farm TV programme and, mindful that there were so many food shortages around the world, the idea came to me to live off Second World War rations for Lent, rather than simply giving up chocolate, as I do every year.
The war rations were basic – British seasonal vegetables, fruit, potatoes and bread (if you could find it), as well as fish (but that depended on if you lived near the sea or not).
A set number of rationed items – like 450g of meat per week – were also included. And people were given 16 points a month on top of that to buy other items, including tinned tomatoes.
I knew it was going to be tough, but I was determined to complete it. I decided the first thing I would do was start up a blog and invite everyone to share their ideas.
I also reached out to family members who had lived through the war to hear their stories and the importance of stretching everything out. Like most of us in the modern day, I’d grown very used to the fact food was available 24/7.
I was on a good salary in London and I tended to pick up a bacon sandwich at the station for breakfast, and I’d either have a meal with work colleagues or grab a baguette for lunch. If ever I ran out of anything at home, I knew I could pop out to get the ingredients.
Potatoes were plentiful in the wartime rations and I knew I would have to incorporate them a lot in my own food plan.
And so for breakfast I’d either have fadge (a potato cake) or porridge mixed with water. Lunch was homemade vegetable soup – obviously including potatoes – or a small amount of cheese, which I’d grate onto soda bread I’d make using a recipe given to me by my lovely gran.
For dinner, I’d have a stew, pasty or shepherd’s pie packed with vegetables, a tiny bit of meat and more potatoes. In February/March, there are a lot of root vegetables around, but not many juicy fruits like oranges, so I just used to eat apples as a snack or dessert.
It was also important that I stuck to the strict rules of only eating British seasonal fruit, given that is what would have been available in the war.
Claud’s weekly meal plan
Irish potato cake or porridge
Soda bread with a bit of cheese or homemade vegetable soup
Meat and vegetable stew, homity pie or shepherd’s pie
Ration tips to make your meals go further
– Grate cheese onto a sandwich rather than cutting it
– Use a non-stick pan to avoid using lots of oil
– Don’t use meat and cheese in the same dish
– Make stock from your chicken carcass
– Make potato rosti from uneaten roast potatoes
– Never throw any leftover food away. You can always add a fresh ingredient the next day
Week two also went OK, but by the halfway point everything was starting to get boring and repetitive. The war rations were nutritional, but very samey and I got sick of the sight of potatoes – something I never thought would happen.
And I wish I’d known more about seasonal eating. There’s actually a lot of food available, even in the winter, which I just wasn’t aware of.
One of my lowest points was when I just couldn’t face dinner one evening. I’d spent my points on a tin of Spam, which was 12 points. The whole point of the challenge was to not waste food, but I simply couldn’t face eating it!
Thankfully, I had just enough points left to get some raisins instead, but I felt very flat. There were other times when I couldn’t face eating the same meal – and that was a challenge, along with issues like not planning properly and running out of things.
(Image: Eric Harlow/Keystone/Getty Images)
I also found socialising and eating out limiting. I only went out twice over the whole period and I had fish and chips on each occasion, as it was the only meal I could think of that guaranteed I wasn’t cheating!
But that said, people were very kind and they would meet me for a cup of tea instead of a drink after work, or we would take our lunch and eat it outside, or they’d come to my house.
People did still drink in the war, so I was sensible and had one each time I went out to eat. A gin and tonic. The foods I missed most were eggs and oranges. I avoided making desserts, as I didn’t know what to make without eggs.
I also found myself longing for something juicy, so I really found it difficult not being able to have any citrus fruit. Bizarrely, despite being bored I felt healthy. It was all aimed to be nutritional.
The wartime rations plan
For an average, non-pregnant adult, the weekly rationed foods in 1945 were:
3 pints of milk
450g meat, 75-100g cheese (vegetarians have an extra 75g of cheese)
100g cooking fat
Plus 1 egg per month
Vegetables, bread, oats, pearl barley, wheat, rye, fish
Points system food
Other food was rationed on a points system, subject to availability. Adults received 16 points a month for these foods (usually tinned):
– British tinned fruit 24 points per 450g
– Cereals 4 points per lb
– Crackers 2 points per lb
– Dried fruit 8 points per lb
– Rice/pasta 8 points per lb
– Tinned tomatoes 6 points per lb
Weirdly, I found the food I had the most of at the end of each week was sugar. I didn’t bake, and I only used a bit on porridge.
As the challenge drew to an end, although I was very bored of eating the same food over and over, it felt amazing to know I’d managed to stick to the challenge for 40 days. I’d also lost about half a stone in the process.
To celebrate on Easter Sunday, the first thing I did was tuck into eggs and oranges! I wasn’t interested in chocolate at all.
The experience was an inspiring one. Not only did it open up so many new connections with amazing people who offered tips along the way, but I also learnt so much.
It taught me how wasteful I’d been, and I became a lot more conscious of what I was throwing away and putting in the shopping trolley. It taught me how to rotate my fridge to make sure I used the food that was going out of date first, and to not always go by the sell-by date.
You can’t mess around with chicken or prawns, but you can look at your potatoes or carrots to see if they have gone off, rather than going by labels.
The lasting effect of the challenge has been that we now live off a third of what we used to and we’ve continued to use many of the tricks I learnt.
We have potluck dinners at the end of the week where we eat whatever is in the fridge, and we’ll adapt a recipe if we don’t have everything we need in the cupboard.
Not surprisingly, these tricks have proved very useful over the last few weeks during the lockdown. And just like the rations, it is about being adaptable.
Last weekend, for instance, there was no meat on the shelves, except for a large chicken. We roasted it on Sunday, cooked curry on Monday and had a chicken hotpot on Tuesday.
I then made some stock to use for soups. I’ve also been growing my own veg – it’s phenomenal to eat something you have grown yourself.
I am so glad I did it. I’ve since turned my blog into a book about the experience, and my advice to everyone in this current climate is you don’t need to panic buy.
You don’t need to worry if there are only things on the shelves left you would not normally eat, neither should you worry if you don’t have every ingredient. Be creative and give it a go!
– The Rations Challenge: Forty Days of Feasting In A Wartime Kitchen by Claud Fullwood is available at Amazon.co.uk for £12.99