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History of WWII Food Rationing



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History of Wartime Food Rationing

Food rationing was introduced by the British government during the Second World War (1939-1945)  in an attempt to ensure food prices remained reasonable so that everyone got a fair share, particularly poorer families who would in all likelihood not be able to afford increased prices due to people hoarding food or paying over-the-odds. Thus rationing started in 1940. At the beginning, only a few foods were rationed, but as the war went on, more foods were included.

How Food Rationing worked

Firstly, every householder was required to fill in a form giving details of the people who lived in their house. This took place on  29 September 1939 (National Registration Day). Each family or individual also had to register with one butcher and grocer from whom they would get their food rations. The information was used by the government to issue every one with an identity card and ration book containing coupons and in which the details on the form were stamped.


These shopkeepers were then provided with sufficient stocks for their registered customers so when people wanted to buy food, the items they purchased were then crossed off in their ration book by the designated shopkeepers. Once all an individual's rations for the week had been crossed off, they couldn’t get any more of that particular food. So no matter how much money anyone had, they could only buy a certain amount of rationed food….legally.


In addition, a points system was introduced for tinned and dried foods. Individual items were allocated a number of points and individuals were allowed 16 points per month to spend on whichever of these goods they preferred.

Foods Rationed during World War II

Although the amount of rations varied from month to month depending on the season and which foods were more readily available, in general some of the rations from 1940 per adult were as follow:-

Meat - 1s 2d worth - approximately 525g/1lb 3oz per week
Offal and sausages were rationed from 1942-1944
Bacon or Ham – 100g/4 oz per week
Milk – 1.7L/3 pints or 1 packet of milk powder per month
Butter - 50g/2oz per week
Margarine – 50g/2oz per week
Fat/Lard – 50g/2oz per week
Eggs - 1 egg per week or 1 packet (makes 12 “eggs”) egg powder per month. Vegetarians were allowed two eggs per week
Jam – 50g/2oz per week
Sugar – 75g/3oz per week
Cheese - 25g/1oz per week. Vegetarians were allowed 75g/3oz of extra cheese ration, as they gave up their meat ration

Interestingly, one of the few foods not rationed was fish including fish and chips, nor were meals eaten away from the home e.g. in restaurants for those who could afford it, or canteens. Other foods not rationed included  fruit, vegetables and potatoes although these could often be scarce depending on where one lived. Bread was also not rationed for most of the war years although the 'National Loaf' was introduced which was made with more of the grain resulting in a brown loaf. White bread was no longer readily available.

Rationing forced people to adopt new eating habits. Many people were actually better fed especially poorer families, as they were able to increase their intake of protein and vitamins because they received the same ration as everybody else.


More and more people started keeping livestock such as chickens in town and suburb gardens in an effort to supplement their diets and The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged people to grow fruit and vegetables on any available land including gardens, parks, allotments when they started their ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign right at the beginning of the war.

Even  the roofs of Andersen shelters were used to grow food  and were perfect for trailing crops such as pumpkins

Food rationing didn’t end until 1954 – 9 years after the end of World War II.

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