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World War Two: Off-ration meals and treats


School dinners in Britain during World War Two

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School dinners, like all the food bought in restaurants, pubs and tea shops were not rationed during the Second World War and its aftermath even though it was a time of severe rationing and shortages. School dinners were nutritious but in part often almost inedible. This page elaborates.


By the webmaster based on her early recollections and discussions with older people

School dinners - like eating out in British Restaurants, canteens and other restaurants - were off-ration in the rationing period in and after World War Two.

School dinners were served in the late 1940s at my primary school, but no-one who lived nearby stayed for them. I'm not sure why, since food at home was rationed and school meals were not.

I clearly remember seeing those school dinners arrive by lorry in large aluminium drums, having been cooked centrally somewhere. Judging by the smell, they were little more than tepid cabbage in flavoured water, probably followed by runny custard.

Costs of school dinners in the Second World War

School dinners during the war years were four and a half old pennies per day. On Monday morning we handed our money for the week to our teacher. Then, at dinner time, we children setup tables and chairs in the school hall. Most children had school dinners as they did not use up rations.

Peter Johnson

School dinner food in the Second World War

A meal served two or three times a week (at least!) at my primary school was the notorious but apparently nutritious 'rissole and mash'! A 'rissole', or rather 'the rissole' - as there was only one each - was a sausage-like concoction consisting mainly of oatmeal and dried egg powder and water, with miniscule scraps of any available minced meat. It was impossible to identify the origin, whether pork, chicken or beef. It all tasted the same. The resulting concoction was coated in breadcrumb and fried in lard. With it was served a dollop of mashed potatoes and cabbage with a thin watery 'gravy'.

Semolina or tapioca - generally known as 'frog's spawn' - was to follow, with runny custard. Occasionally, if we were really lucky, there would be a sponge pudding with runny jam! That was a real treat!

The only other school dinner I remember was a kind of dumpling stew, almost entirely vegetable in content, it bobbed about in a broth of some sort, possibly chicken, but you couldn't be sure. I hated it, but ate it anyway. There was nothing else.

Michael Sullivan

My first experience of actually having to eat school dinners was at my grammar school which I started in 1950. Those school dinners were nutritious but pretty awful as the country was experiencing even worse austerity after the end of the war. What it was like to be forced to eat them - yes, forced! - is described more fully on their own page.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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