Healthy diets, the 1910 way.

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As you have probably read on other pages of this blog, my starting point for investigations into housekeeping practices and their effect on family wellbeing started with a series of home management books produced for schools in 1910, written by Wilena Hitching (previously a headmistress and school inspector). These books were designed to give a thorough, almost scientific introduction to the study of housekeeping to girls between the ages of about 11-14, with a view to preparing them for lives as wives and mothers. While some of the advice she gave sounds dated today, most of it has surprisingly significant relevance for men and women a hundred years later, particularly in times of financial constraint. My focus today will be what Miss Hitching considered to be a healthy diet for families, viewed through a 21st century lens.

Breakfast options (served at 8am)


Bread crusts soaked in warm milk

Brown bread and butter and an egg


Smoked Finnan haddock

Hot milk for children

Cocoa for adults

Most of these are high in fibre and protein, with very little sugar evident and comparatively little fat (with the exception of the bacon). This is clearly an idealised diet – Miss Hitching does permit the drinking of tea and coffee, but regards it as somewhat stimulating and less preferable than cocoa.

Luncheon (which took place mid-morning, around 10.30 am, and was really for children)

Hot milk and a biscuit

Brown bread and butter and a banana

Dinner options (which took place in the middle of the day, around 1pm). A good housekeeper would prepare a two or three course meal, depending on the weather and the type of work family members were engaging in.

Pea soup

Lentil soup

Haricot soup

Roast meats, leftovers minced or served in shepherd’s pie (for example)

Chops or steaks


Poached fish



Savoury Yorkshire pudding (served alongside roast meats or before the meal with gravy as a kind of appetiser)

Savoury or sweet suet puddings, such as steak and kidney pudding or jam roly poly (but not both in the same meal!)

Macaroni or rice pudding

Stewed fruit and custard

These are high protein meals, comparatively high in saturated fat, but the amount of sugar used in the desserts is comparatively low – a teaspoon of sugar here, a little bit of jam there. There is ample use of fruit, vegetables and pulses, simply prepared, meaning the meals are comparatively high in fibre as well.

Tea (served mid-afternoon, around 4pm; again, mainly aimed at children)

Bread and butter

Watercress, lettuce or radishes

Stewed fruit (apples, rhubarb, prunes, etc)

Once again, this is a high fibre meal with more fruit and vegetables, designed to maximise satiety (feeling of fullness). Watercress is packed full of vitamins, iron and other minerals, representing a kind of Edwardian superfood.

Supper (served before bed, around 7pm) – one or more of the following might be served.

Bread and butter or bread and dripping

Hot milk


Boiled onions

Cream crackers, butter and cheese

Simple fare, and perhaps less extensive that in modern times for the time of day. This is presumably because the bulk of the calories needed was taken in during breakfast and lunch, and the family had had the opportunity to gather together for a hot meal during the middle of the day as well. The need to give the stomach a rest from meat overnight is emphasised in Miss Hitching’s book.

I look at all this food, and wonder whether personally I could plough my way through all of this every day, even taking out the ‘luncheon’ and ‘tea’ on the basis of not being a growing child. It is also intriguing to wonder what might happen to the body, were we to start eating like this regularly. Given that the calorific intake is probably higher than we are used to today, would we end up fatter? Or would the simple nature of the food allow our bodies to process the fats and sugars more effectively than we tend to now, leading to fewer metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity. I think I have an inkling as to the answer, when I think about rationing that was to come thirty years later during World War II, which involved a diet not too far removed from what we are seeing in this 1910 list, albeit with less meat. This led to an improvement in the nation’s health, so perhaps the answers to the obesity epidemic lie in what our grandmothers already knew about choosing food for the family?


How to reduce your food bill even more.

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Everyone knows that you can get end of the day bargains when shopping, but that takes luck, a fair bit of effort, and being in the right place at the right time. Here is a list of some of the cheapest healthy foods routinely available at supermarkets now, along with some meal suggestions that will ensure your family remains healthy but on the lowest possible budget, if you choose own brand value/essential versions of each product.

Fruit and Veg

Tinned kidney beans – Try using these to bulk out mince in cottage pie, or in a chilli con carne. They also can be used in vegetable soups and in Cowboy Bean Bake (fry onion and chopped bacon, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a tin of kidney beans, and let it simmer for 20 minutes).

Tinned tomatoes – The basis of many stews and sauces, they can also be cooked with onions and fresh basil from a window box to make a tomato soup. Serve whole plum tomatoes with mushrooms to bulk out a fried breakfast in a healthy way.

Baked beans – These usually appear on toast but also make a good addition to shepherd’s pie, cottage pie and Cowboy Bean Bake.

Potatoes – The most versatile food available, but leave the skins on when you can to ensure maximum vitamins.

Onions – Different kinds do different jobs, but try making onion soup with the cheapest ones, or red onion tart for a simple lunch.

Turnips – Can taste bitter, but good served with chicken and carrots in a stew. Also try mashing them and serving with mashed potato for the Scottish dish Neeps and Tatties.

Parsnips – These are lovely roasted and cheap fresh or frozen. You can also use them to make a terrific soup with apples and Bramley apples. Top with bacon bits and/or croutons for the ultimate in comfort food.

Swedes – Quite a sweet vegetable, they work well in stews but can also be roasted.

Butternut squash – Comparatively cheap for the amount you get. Like the other root vegetables, it makes a good soup, especially with a pinch of chilli powder in the mix, or it can be roasted.

Carrots – Remember they make a good soup with lentils, and they can also be used in fruit crumbles and cakes as they are so sweet.

Round lettuce – Just the thing for a Sunday evening high tea.

Apples – You may still have these stashed away if you have an apple tree in your garden. Try serving the puree alongside mashed potatoes and pork chops for the German dish ‘Himmel und Erde’ (Heaven and Earth).

Pears – Grated with mixed spice and a few cloves, these transform natural yoghurt. They are also good boiled with lemon juice, sugar and a little water.

Frozen berries – A vastly underrated resource, these can liven up a meal table no end in pies and crumbles.


Tinned tuna – You can add this to pasta sauce, put onto home made pizza or made into fish cakes with a few herbs, creamy mashed potato, and some lemon.

Quorn – Cheaper than mince, replaces most meat things.

Sausagemeat – Try making a family-sized sausage roll, a meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffing your Sunday chicken with it. Goes well with mushrooms and onions if you want to bulk it out.

Mince – Another super versatile food. This can make pasta sauces, meatloaf, meatballs, cottage pie. Bulk out with pulses.

Corned beef – The joys of corned beef hash in cold weather cannot be underestimated.

Liver and onions – If you are careful to avoid overcooking it, then it can actually taste pleasant.

Pork chops – These sometimes come in huge family packs and grilled with a bit of dried sage can be a lovely treat.

Cheap chicken – This is seen as evil, but for families really struggling, this is the perfect Sunday lunch, and you will probably have enough for a chicken soup or risotto afterwards if you buy the largest one you can find. Make stock from the bones, by boiling it up with a couple of carrots, an onion and a bit of celery, as well as a couple of bay leaves.

Crab sticks – Great to add to pasta or to chop up with mashed eggs for unusual sandwiches.

Frozen prawns – Cheaper than they reasonably should be at the moment. Defrost well before use. Mix with seafood sauce to top baked potatoes (to make cheapo seafood sauce, mix together mayonnaise or salad cream with a bit of ketchup), add to pasta sauce, or mix with defrosted frozen white fish fillets and white sauce to make the base for a fish pie. Prawn curry is another staple that austerity minded cooks ought to be aquainted with.

Baked Goods

Soda bread – This can be made at home from normal plain flour, which is cheaper than the strong flour normally used for bread that has to rise. It is a lot quicker to make as well. Alternatively you can make a kind of savoury scone in a frying pan that works well with soup, a staple of US pioneer cookery.

Sponge cake – Make one of these a week and nobody will be too miserable.

Frozen cookie dough – Make batches of this and freeze as long caterpillars with enough to make about a dozen cookies at a time. remove, slice and bake when the going gets tough.

Flapjacks – Cheap to make from value oats.

Fats and Dairy

Full fat milk – More vitamins and suitable fats for young children.

Natural yoghurt – Very cheap, and great with fruit or honey as a breakfast or dessert. Try it in milkshakes as well.

Cheddar – Price of this is going up, but you can use it for so many things that it makes sense to regard it as a staple. It freezes well, so you can buy big blocks to save money as well, dividing them up as necessary for the freezer.

Freebies (ask the butcher)

Marrow bones – Add to stew for extra nourishment

Ham bones – Make a stock with this, which is a great base for pea and ham soup, anything to do with lentils, or anything to do with pork and bacon.

Warmer house, lower fuel bills

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We’re lucky to have had a pretty mild winter so far. But things are on the turn. Fuel poverty is a nasty reality of the country’s economy for many families, and we’re expecting snow as well, just to make this worse. So this weekend might be a good time to carry out an audit of your home to make sure that you have done everything possible to make it snug and cosy as winter draws in. Avoid having to stoop to spending your days swathed in a Slanket.

1. Make sure every window has curtains, preferably with a fleecy interlining. Although floor length curtains look stylish, they often block heat from getting into the room from radiators, so choose curtains that finish above radiator level if fuel economy is an issue for you.

2. Use draft excluder on doors and windows – this is very cheap and can be bought in strips to be nailed on wherever there are drafts.

3. Use temporary double glazing on your windows – this is a type of cling film that is fixed with double-sided tape and then shrunk to fit with a hairdryer. It can be removed in the spring if necessary.

4. Make heat deflectors for behind your radiators by covering pieces of board with foil and sliding them down the back.

5. Fix shelves above your radiators to deflect the heat into the room rather than letting it travel up to the ceiling.

6. Cover your letterbox with a flap so you don’t heat the street.

7. Use door curtains to stop heat escaping to hallways.

8. Consider keeping one room super cosy and pleasant and gathering there when it’s really cold.

9. Use cheap £5/£10 duvets as mattress toppers.

10. Make sure the oven is full whenever you use it, so you are cooking 2-3 days’ worth of meals at once and then reheating them quickly and cheaply in the microwave when you need them.

Image: dan /

Frugality projects for October

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The run up to Christmas is starting, so it’s time to examine spending a little more than usual, with a view to squirrelling way some funds for presents, festivities and the like. Here are some frugality projects to think about for the month of October.

1. This is the time of year for mists and mellow fruitfulness, as they say. Forage for wild blackberries for crumbles, pies, jams and jellies. Pick sloes for sloe and crab apple jelly , which is perfect with cold roast meats. Puree windfall apples for use later in the autumn. Rosehips make a terrific syrup packed full of vitamin C, which can be drizzled on pancakes, poured over milk puddings and given to children on a spoon as a tasty placebo medicine when they have minor colds and sore throats.

2. Try traditional weekdays markets, farmers’ markets or a local Women’s Institute for your meat, fruit and vegetables this month. The food will be a lot fresher and cheaper, and you may well find unusual varieties packed full of flavour.

3. Use beans, rice, lentils, barley and soya to bulk out the meat you are using for bolognaise and casseroles.

4. Look out for cheaper cuts of meat and fish to stretch your grocery budget. For example shin of beef, chicken wings and pork belly make lovely autumn dishes, and good fish to choose include mackerel, sardines and squid.

5. Cheese fans can save quite a lot of money by choosing British cheeses rather than continental ones.

6. See if your energy supplier will give you a free electricity monitor.

7. Clean out your domestic appliances , descale everything, put a new bag in the hoover, clean out all the filters in your tumble drier, clean out the powder dispenser in your washing machine, and make them work to maximum effect. That will save you effort in the long term, as well as money. You may also prevent unnecessary repairs.

8. Look at your list of standing order and direct debits, and see how many unnecessary memberships and subscriptions you can get rid of.

9. Avoid using the car and public transport, and bike or walk whenever you can.  Travel as light as you can.

10. Put a weekend by to clear out everything in your house that you haven’t used for a while and don’t see yourself using again, and put the lot on Ebay for someone else to enjoy, as well as to raise funds.

Image: Tom Curtis /

What’s in season this autumn?

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Try looking for these seasonal foods if you want housekeeping bargains this month.

Meat and Poultry – Duck, game

Fish – White fish, herring, mackerel, mussels, mullet

Vegetables – Corn, marrow, peas, pumpkin, watercress

Fruit – Crab apples, apples, pears, plums, quinces, cobnuts

Is fat good for us? An historical view of Denmark’s new ‘fat tax’.

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I was interested to read recently that Denmark has introduced a ‘fat tax’ on food. The question is whether this is likely to achieve the desired outcome of reducing obesity? You can read a related report here:

This was of particular interest as I’ve been ploughing through cookbooks and home economics books from the early part of the 20th century over the last year for this blog, and working out the costs and calories involved in these diets, heavy as they were in saturated fat and meat. There are some striking points of comparison to be made.

Most of us simple could not afford to eat as much meat as the average working family put away a hundred years ago (you’d end up spending £70-£80 a week on meat and fish alone for a family of four), and we could not afford to home grow as much produce as many families did – we rely on mass produced fruit and vegetables which works out a lot cheaper, but which are probably lower in nutritional values. The calorific values of our great-grandparents’ diets were much greater than ours, as the meals had a heavy emphasis on animal fats like suet, lard, whole milk, and carbohydrates.

However despite all this eating, people’s average weights were lower, and the only reason for this as far as I can see is the amount of walking they did, and the absence of TV, which meant they engaged in a lot more low level exercise throughout the day instead of slumping on the sofa for hours on end like many of us do. There was less snacking and use of processed foods as well, which may have meant that individual blood sugar and leptin levels may have been controlled differently by people’s bodies. Added to this, previous generations were also shorter on average, and children matured later, probably because of illness in early childhood, and in some cases a poor quality diet deficient in calcium and other vital minerals in the case of deprived households.

Bearing all this in mind, taxing fat seems pointless – it would surely make more sense to focus on increasing engagement in low level exercise for the whole population. However taxing things actively raises money for governments, which makes me suspicious about the motives here, given there is no evidence that just avoiding fat makes you slim (which it doesn’t – if only it were that simple!) Another vested interest might be the food industry, which processes foods to make them low fat, but potentially at the cost of some nutritional values.

Do comment on this blog post if you have views on Denmark’s new policy.

Image: Grant Cochrane /