Changes in Eating Habits

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This section explores the changes that have taken place in eating habits over the past century, looking at old fashioned shops, re-use of leftovers and the effects of rationing during World War II. You will be able to listen to the extracts and access both a transcript and background information for each recording.

George Herbert

Here, George Herbert, born during World War I, describes food being cooked on the fire and the ritual of cooking the Christmas meal at the communal bakehouse. The interview is a reminder that it was only in the 1930s that people began to cook with electric and gas cookers - before this, food was cooked on fires, open ranges and in communal ovens.



Read more about traditional 'British' foods and the increasing cultural diversity of our diets.

Colin Lighten

Food choice and eating habits have changed dramatically in Britain over the last fifty years. Until quite recently, many households kept to a weekly rota of meals that varied very little from week to week. Here, Colin Lighten remembers a typical week of food at home during his childhood.



Read more about daily food habits and routines, in this country and around the world.

John Lowery

Food shortages during World War II had a huge impact on the diets of British people both during and after the war. Here, John Lowery describes the food his mother cooked and explains why he thinks people were healthier then than they are today.



Read more about government measures and rationing during World War II.

Norman Robson

Norman Robson learnt about the food retail trade from a young age, having helped out in his family's grocery shop as a boy in the 1930s. Norman went on to train as food technologist and to work for Marks and Spencer. Here, he remembers his family's grocery shop.



Read more about the history of retailing in the UK, from small specialist shops to large supermarkets.


Over the last century, eating habits in Britain have changed dramatically. Our diets have been influenced by all kinds of factors: by the technologies in our kitchens, by the modes of transport supplying our shops, by the media and the government and by trade and migration. The eating habits of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents would be completely unrecognisable to many of us today. Our experiences of shopping and cooking have been transformed as have our attitudes towards health, table manners, 'foreign' foods, waste and choice.

Repetitious flavours

The British have long been notorious for having 'boring' food and conservative tastes. For many British families up until the last few decades, household eating patterns varied little from week to week. A Sunday roast would be followed by a few days of recycled leftovers - cold meat would be crafted into shepherd's pie or rissoles. Fish was traditionally served on Friday, at the point that the leftover meat had run out. Today, many of us enjoy a greater range of foods than ever before. For many of our grandparents, the idea that by 2007, raw Japanese fish would be sold in British supermarkets and widely enjoyed by people around the country would have been laughable.

Globe snacking

Nowadays in the UK we are used to eating food from around the world. A lunchtime snack might include sandwiches, samosas, spring rolls or pizza. Supermarkets stock food from around the globe - think of tropical fruit like mangoes or passion fruit, sold side-by-side with British apples. Many of the foods we take for granted, such as curries or kebabs, have only been widely available for the last thirty years or so. Migrants to Britain have helped introduce new flavours and recipes and the rise of affordable air travel and people travelling further for holidays has helped create an appetite for foods from other countries.

Instant gratification

Today fast food chains are a global phenomenon - fried chicken, burgers and submarine sandwiches are available on the streets of New York, Edinburgh, Paris and Shanghai. While food shortages are still widespread in many parts of the world, for a lot of people in the West, the idea of eating only three meals a day is a thing of the past. We graze our way through the day, nibbling on crisps or chocolate to keep us going between meals. Obesity is on the rise in many developed and developing countries, including Britain. At the same time, the number of people who are vegetarians and the health and organic food markets are growing. Where once these eating trends were regarded as alternative, now they are mainstream. From cookery programmes on television to recipes in magazines and on websites, we're bombarded with advice on what and how to cook. But who are these programmes and publications aimed at? Do you think these are an indication that people spend more or less time cooking than in the past?