This is indeed an interesting time we’re living in. Toilet paper shortages, shipping delays, certain food items that are nearly impossible to find and the rationing of others. People learning to bake bread and plant vegetable gardens. New ways of shopping and lots of cooking at home. Who could have anticipated such widespread changes?
Over the past several weeks I have sought information and encouragement from the homemakers of the past, especially those who kept house during WWII and had to cope with rationing. I have found lots of helpful ideas but perhaps more importantly I have found perspective. I don’t want to discount the struggles many are facing right now but in so many ways it isn’t as difficult as what the average British housewife faced in the 1940s.
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Lessons We Can Use Now
Note: This was originally written early in the pandemic but these lessons can still be useful.
1. Plan ahead
Many are used to popping into a grocery store every couple of days as they think of something they need. However, we are being encouraged to limit our exposure by less frequent shopping trips. For those who are opting for delivery, the fees can really add up so it’s important to shop less often. This means planning ahead for a week, 10 days or whatever length of time works for your family. Consider each item you use regularly and figure out how much you’ll need in the week (or more) ahead. Plan meals and make sure you have all necessary ingredients on hand or on your shopping list. Don’t forget toiletries, hygiene products, pet food, medications and anything else your family requires.
I suspect many homemakers are learning that there are big advantages in shopping for a week or more at a time. Not only does it save time but it may also save money as you face impulse purchase temptation less often.
2. Be creative
One night recently, I had hot dogs on the grill. I went to toast the buns only to discover they were starting to mold. The date was still good but the person doing the shopping for my Instacart order didn’t happen to notice the mold. I did, however, have three hamburger buns left. No problem. I simply cut the hot dogs in half and split them to fit the hamburger buns.
Learn to substitute items. No butter? Use oil in the waffle batter. Running low on milk? Canned evaporated milk works just fine in most recipes. Replace part of the flour in muffins with oat flour made by whirring some oatmeal in the blender.
The Internet is a huge help that women in previous generations didn’t have. It’s easy to search for substitutes or other helpful ideas.
3. Learn to adapt
We are all creatures of habit. We get used to buying certain brands or having certain items on hand all the time. There is nothing wrong with this but when things are in short supply or totally unavailable it is good to be adaptable.
I prefer organics as much as possible. I normally buy a lot of organic greens for salads each week. There are particular brands I lean toward. However, this is not the time to be picky. The important thing is to feed our families as well as we can. When I read the list of rationed items in wartime Britain I’m filled with admiration for the homemakers of that time. What a challenge they faced!
4. Utilize portion control
Rationing the food in my kitchen is something I never really worried about before. I wouldn’t think twice about using a whole chopped onion in a soup when half was fine. I used generous amounts of butter and cheese.
Now I consider these things carefully. I want to make sure I’ll have enough of an ingredient or food item at the end of the week. Bonus: Despite making Fresh Banana Cake fairly often, I haven’t gained weight during this time.
5. Avoid waste
I thought I was pretty good about food waste but I am discovering that I wasn’t. I’m now doing a much better job making sure we use up everything. One way I’m doing this is by making homemade soup or a casserole each week, using up little bits of leftovers from the previous several days. We’ve actually had some truly delicious soups!
Careful storage of perishables is even more important when shopping trips are further apart. There are several ways to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer so you don’t end up throwing away wilted or moldy produce.
6. Learn new skills
This is a great time to learn how to make your own pizza dough, yogurt, tortillas, etc. If you’ve never baked bread before, look for an easy recipe and give it a try! Look for scratch recipes for boxed meals or copycat recipes for your favorite take-out. You just may discover a new talent. It’s likely to be healthier and will probably taste better, too.
7. Be grateful
This is perhaps the most important lesson. When things are in short supply or difficult to obtain for whatever reason, you naturally begin to appreciate them even more. Who gave much thought to toilet paper a few months ago? I know I didn’t consider what a blessing it was to just assume whatever is on your grocery list would be on the store shelves.
These days, when 4 out of 5 meat items I order are available, I am truly excited. When Amazon finally gets my usual brand of toilet paper in stock and it arrives on my front porch, I’m giddy.
As I am writing this, things are beginning to open up and previously unavailable items are coming back in stock. At the same time, meat packing plants are being hit hard and we may see some different shortages. The situation is definitely fluid and there is a good chance we will get another round of this in the fall and winter.
Use this time to plan ahead. Make lists of items that were difficult to find and if they are non-perishable or can be frozen, consider adding one or two to your regular shopping trips each week. Research substitutes for items you had trouble obtaining. Learn how to make a few things from scratch.
I also recommend watching a video or two about rationing during WWII, especially in Great Britain where they had it much harder than we did here in America. Not only will you possibly pick up a tip or two but it’s always good to be reminded that those before us endured very difficult times and became stronger for it. I find that very encouraging.
Here is a favorite of mine:
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