Evolution of Frugal Food

To me the evolution of food is fascinating. How dinner plates get changed over the years, dependant on where you live and what is available. Asking my family recently about food they grew up with had me fascinated as there were details there that I hadn’t been told before and I hadn’t even considered.

My grandmother grew up during the depression, in rural Australia. Born in 1930, her childhood years saw the brunt of the depression years followed by World War II. With both these factors, frugal dining wasn’t a life style choice, it was way of life. It was the only way of life that she knew for those first formative years.

A dinner meal might have what ever vegetables were able to be grown in the back yard. Such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, (turnip tops were eaten as greens). Mutton was the meat of choice with all parts being eaten. Mock brains were a favourite. Which consisted of left over porridge, beaten egg, salt and pepper rolled in to a rissole and fried. Rabbit would quite often replace chicken as it was cheaper and more readily available.

There was a lot of rationing during the war time, so this meant that everyone stretched out there dinner plate. Waste was not an option and anything ‘leftover’ was turned into something else. Every gram of fat dripping was used, and any meat that wasn’t as fresh as it could be was cooked up as a curry. A lot of people had chooks in the backyard, so there was always eggs.

Whats for dinner in 1930-1940 at Grandma’s house?

A boiled leg of mutton, with some boiled potatoes, carrots and turnips on the side.

When it came time for my grandmother to feed her own children, waste was never an option again. Even though bringing up kids in the 50’s and 60’s was much more a time of plenty. For my grandparents there was a certain amount of comfort brought with a steady doctors income and no Depression or World War lurking. However, to be wasteful of food was not going to happen. Those frugal beginnings were now in built.

My father would often eat food such as lamb brains, …. Much to his now disgust, offal was often served to both him and his younger siblings. This was a generation that hadn’t seen hard times, but still my grandmother liked to put on the table all parts of the beast. Those meaty offcuts so relished by her family during her childhood days. Meat was served at every dinner, in the form of lamb shanks, liver and bacon, rissoles. Spaghetti bolognese emerged and desserts were simple, such as bread and butter pudding.

Whats for dinner in 1950-1960 for my dad?

Meat and 3 vegetables. Lamb cutlets with steamed carrots, potatoes, peas.

After my father left home and had met my mother it was a time of the 70’s. New tastes were on plates. Things were appearing that hadn’t been available before. Food stuffs that were foreign and exciting. With more immigrants coming to Australia, also brought different ideas. For two young hipsters, living out the back of a kombie however food remained frugal. My parents were inspired by the ‘hippie’ earth magazines of the time, bringing new often Indian inspired dishes to the table. Spices such as cumin, coriander, tumeric, that hadn’t been used by their own families growing up.

My childhood, also saw its fair share of frugal food dinners. The dollar being stretched to feed myself and my siblings. There always seemed an abundance of food available, but looking back I can see that my mum would work for many long hours in the kitchen to achieve those delicious tastes. Fruit was preserved, jams were jarred, fish was bought whole, vegetables were bought in bulk (if not grown), and bread was made third daily. Chooks were always in the back yard. This substantially decreased our weekly food bills.

A frugal dinner in my childhood was often a bowl of lentils, Indian style. This dinner, some 30 years later is still a favourite with my siblings. A source of comfort? A nurturing food memory perhaps? Not one for cereal, my sister would often be on the brink of tears, if there hadn’t been enough lentils left over from dinner for the following breakfast. Yoghurt was emerging, vegetables such as capsicums were becoming available and olive oil was rearing its head as a food item rather than a medicinal one.

Whats for dinner 1970-1980 on my childhood plate?

Indian style lentils, served with brown rice.

Cooking a frugal dinner now. Jeez, so many options! So much produce is grown in Australia now, so many wonderful things to make while still keeping within a budget. My monkeys are lucky I think, so many great things. I’m sure as they get older there taste buds will mature, and my cooking habits will evolve as well. A diet that surrounds so many dishes that my grandmother in her childhood would never have heard off. Pesto, dhal, zucchini, capsicums, houmus, pizza, cherry tomatoes, all regular stars of the weekly dinner plate now.

So what is for dinner in the 2000’s on The Monkey’s plates?

Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, diced capsicum, cherry tomatoes, and shaved parmesan.

So cheap, so easy, and utter silence at the table. Nothing but the sweet sounds of chewing and slurping. Just as it has been done for 3 generations before them.

13 thoughts on “Evolution of Frugal Food

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post – so reminiscent of my own family’s frugal diet here in the UK. I grew up on lentils too and my grandmother was an offel addict. However, turnip tops are delicious – hard to get hold of unless you grow them yourself. I don’t like turnips but the tops are great.


    • You know what, I have never tasted turnips, tops or bottoms. I think I will put them on my shopping list for next time. Good to hear from another person with lentil beginnings…. I would much rather that than the boiled mutton 🙂


  2. Great post. I can remember my mum dishing up liver dumplings in soup to my brothers and I (which we HAD to eat before we were allowed her delicous pancakes for dessert..the meany!). My dad always ate a lot of offal *gag*, brains, kidney…but not so much these days.

    It’s funny how times change. I like the idea of the whole animal not being wasted, but I don’t necessarily want to eat the whole animal. :-s

    A big batch of fried rice with bits and pieces from the garden is a good frugal meal for us, and I’m agreeing with you that a little bit on a pizza goes a long way, too.
    We are so lucky to have grown up without a Depression or World War hanging over our heads (& plates). Won’t it be interesting to see what our kids dish up for frugal meals! I want to be around for that!!


    • I am with you, I love the concept of the whole beast being used and eaten- just happy for someone else to eat ‘those’ bits.
      It is really interesting to see what our kids will be eating in times to come. I am hoping something wonderful.


  3. Fascinating read, thanks Brydie! Like many people, we’re turning back to a more frugal style of eating – not out of necessity, but rather out of a sense that it’s just better. It’s a way of sheltering ourselves and our children from the otherwise overwhelming influence of additives, preservatives and unknowns.


    • Thanks Celia. I really do hope that more and more people change their eating habits to ones that are ‘better’. Its funny to think that in the space of just a generation or two all these basic cooking practices have almost been lost. When if you know how to make bread, biscuits, yoghurt, kill a chook, preserving, or tend a vege garden you are almost seen as novelty.


  4. I loved the breakouts with the different meals that everyone grew up with. I’d love to do the same with my family and my friend’s families too. It would be fascinating to know how the different cultures compare too! 😀 Really enjoyable post!


  5. Thanks for this post! I do find it amazing how much ‘standard’ meals have changed over the years. The cultural changes in Australia have made it even more interesting – there are so many options now that weren’t around when my grandparents were cooking. I do feel fortunate to have the greater range of foods on hand today!


  6. Lovely post – I loved your comment about so many options today – things seemed so simple in the past and yet so limited compared to our wealth of choice. There was much sense in the food eaten then whereas trying to eat lots of cuisines as I do means a cupboard brimful with so many ingredients that just don’t get used often enough


  7. This is fascinating! I definitely come from a less frugal heritage (in terms of my parents’ generation). I think my family very happily bought into all the conveniences offered in the 80s and there was no growing of anything. We didn’t eat heaps of overly processed stuff but i know there was lots of waste. I’m still battling the same wastefulness and convenience mentality… I think I should do some family research myself and see what inspiration I can find!


  8. Fantastic post (came to it via mykitchensgarden) – what a great read. I live in rural Andalucia where there is still very much a culture of frugal food and I have found myself eating (and enjoying) dishes that I would never have dreamt of eating when I lived in London! We are very lucky indeed to have the choices that are available to us nowadays…


  9. I googled mock brains as that was a popular and cheap meal in our home when I was young (40s and 50s). This led me to your comments. No one I have spoken to has heard of mock brains. Rabbit was another common meal as they were cheap. We did not live on a farm but my father has an arrangement with a farmer and would kill a sheep every fortnight and all parts were eaten. Thank you for reminding me.


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