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What has Britain been having for dinner through the decades?

Ahead of BBC2's Back in Time for Dinner, we consult the National Food Survey to find out how the country has munched its way through the years... logo
Published: Tuesday, 17th March 2015 at 3:42 pm

Food critic Giles Coren's new BBC2 series Back in Time for Dinner, sees a modern, middle-class family forget about 2015 and eat their way through 50 years of British food history to find out how things have changed. Every meal is based on findings from the National Food Survey, which ran from 1940 to 1999, meticulously recording what families across the country were serving up for breakfast, lunch and dinner...


So here's what you'd be eating for dinner if it wasn't 2015...


With strict rationing until 1954, food supplies were limited. It would be suet puddings, liver and potatoes for the main midday meal, with wholemeal bread and dripping, pilchards and tomatoes in the evening. Meals were accompanied by tea with milk and sugar. The end of rationing saw bacon, white bread and fresh eggs as exciting treats. 


Britain embraced convenience food such as tinned beef, pasta and rice pudding. In 1962, a third of all homes had a fridge, which saw the rise of frozen peas, chips and fishfingers. Cereal was also introduced – and became a popular evening meal. People spent 28% of their income on food, as opposed to as little as 12% today. 


Dinner could be gammon, eggs, chips and beans, with beetroot and tomatoes on the side, plus tinned peaches, biscuits and cake for dessert. With more women at work, the emphasis was on speedy, easy meals. Beer was more popular than ever, with 90% of it consumed in pubs compared with just 50% today. 


Moving away from the meat and two veg, we started experimenting with new foods and new gadgets. The microwave saw the rise in supermarket ready meals like chicken kiev, moussaka and cauliflower cheese. Tea, coffee and sugar were still popular but now it might be orange juice with dinner instead. 


It was all about convenient midweek meals, with sushi and pizza popular. On Sundays workers would take time to cook roast dinners of chicken, potatoes, cauliflower, peas and gravy. As people ate more fast food in the week, they cooked for pleasure at the weekends, inspired by a new fun generation of chefs like Nigella and Jamie. 

So what are you waiting for? Get that dripping and pilchards on the table...


Back in Time For Dinner begins on Tuesday 17th March at 8:00pm BBC2


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