Thursday, 20 March 2014

Liz Roper and Will Hadfield took the ration book challenge to raise awareness of Nutrition and Hydration week

This week (17-23 March) is Nutrition and Hydration Week 2014. We wanted to raise awareness of the importance of nutrition and hydration, so last week we decided to take the ration book challenge.

The ration book challenge involves living on post-war rations for a week. Our diet consisted of rationed meat (1s 2d or £2.67 worth), fish (one tin), eggs (one per week, or two if pregnant), milk (3 pints per week) and sweets (3oz 75g). Offal was allowed freely (strange – no one took this offer up!) Anything else had to be taken from our imaginary allotments - meaning if it can be grown, we could have it.

There are two ways of tackling a challenge. Firstly, half-heartedly and eventually giving up. Secondly, with full vigour and gritted teeth. We decided to take the second approach and really give it our all. A couple of days in, we were definitely reconsidering.

Potatoes made up a large part of the diet, featuring frequently in one form or another. Keeping up protein intake through beans and pulses was a challenge, not to mention a test on our relationships. The thought of miraculously getting pregnant overnight just to have that extra egg did cross my mind.

After researching how people ate during rationing it became clear that you had to be very inventive, but also that it was very time consuming. In this busy life we lead now, it would need a lot of planning.

National surveys report that as a nation, we are appalling at reaching our recommended 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables. One positive of the challenge was that the amount of fruit vegetables we ate rocketed. It really is amazing how inventive you can be with all that veg! As the week went on we became very bored of potatoes, even though we were managing to be quite inventive, and bananas seemed an item of luxury.

This was the real-world application of our challenge, but it’s important to remember what nutrition and hydration week is all about – focusing on nutrition and hydration as an important part of quality care, experience and safety improvement in health and social care settings. With that in mind, here’s what we learnt:

  • Relying on quick and easy food has become an integral part of our lives. We need to make more time for our food and actually stop and think about what it is we put in our mouth. No doubt this will save me money as well, as all too often we think of food as a throw away commodity.
  • We have it all too easy these days. With technology and gadgets making everything that bit quicker, we can hardly imagine life in a post-war Britain. If people could make it through life back then (and stay healthy!) then we can do the same today. It’s an attitude adjustment – no more excuses when we reach for that ready meal.
  • We are going to start appreciating food and drink more, including where it’s from and how it got to us. The fact that we are not restricted on a daily basis shouldn’t mean that we take it for granted. Food is an important part of life, and this is what nutrition and hydration week is all about.

We were very grateful when the week was coming to a close, but we did manage it. Some dishes were so tasty that we plan to publish them later in the year and hope to discuss our efforts with anyone that is willing to listen, especially patients and members of the public that actually lived on rations.


This challenge meant we went into Nutrition and Hydration week with a very positive approach. We hope everyone will take notice that when it comes to patient care, food and hydration are as important as medication.

Liz Roper, Chief Technician and Will Hadfield, Diabetes Specialist Dietician, are part of the department of Dietetics and Nutrition at Nottingham University Hospitals.

You can follow Nutrition and Hydration week on Twitter at @NHWeek, or get involved with #NHW2014. 

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