Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

Retro Diet Recipes

Diet advice from 1911.
Diet advice from 1911.

I am now in my third month of dieting (HD television can be so unforgiving!).  I was galvanised into taking action after realising that consuming large amounts of moulded retro deserts, including my beloved blancmange, has taken its toll on my waistline.

1950s advertisement for Ryvita.
1950s advertisement for Ryvita.

I am not following any of those ‘faddy’ liquid diets as I am a firm believer the best way to lose weight is by reducing your fat and calorie intake whilst increasing your levels of physical activity. A balanced diet packed with fruit, vegetables and protein and cutting down on processed foods is the healthiest option. Although my chosen method means that pounds take longer to disappear, my chances of keeping the weight-off long-term are greater. I am twenty pounds lighter than I was in June, only another thirty to go!

Advert for Nimble bread from 1961.
Advert for Nimble bread from 1961.

Obviously as a historian with a passion for retro cuisine it was inevitable that I would plunder my vintage cookery book collection for recipe inspiration. One of my favourites is Zita Alden’s Slimmers’ Cookbook from 1973.


Her book contains a large range of calorie-controlled recipes for all occasions (many of which feature some kind of fish or shellfish) including options for high teas, supper dishes and entertaining. There is also a full chapter dedicated to the ‘overweight male’:

Overweight men can be problematical, as they are not usually so figure conscious. They tend to scoff at the idea of dieting – usually referring to diets as ‘living off lettuce like a rabbit.’ Whether the man in your life’s problem is caused by hearty business lunches or whether he just has a sandwich and a beer at lunch-time, you will have the job of providing him with at least one of his main meals.

Zita also includes menu plans, exercises and even a section on ‘slimming fashions’:

Don’t pick anything too tight or too loose. You musn’t pick anything too drab in colour, nor a dress that’s too pale. Palest beige, for example, would put hips on a snake! Go for a simple, tailored style, and go gay on accessories. Chunky bracelets, elegant jewellery, bright hats, gay silk scarves, giant handbags – these are the kind of accessories that suit you. Avoid minute or overlarge floral prints, also geometric designs which are large – they’d be more suitable hung up as curtains in the spare bedroom! Do, please, invest in a good foundation garment while you’re on your diet. Plenty of time for carefree girdle-less days when you have reached to your ideal weight!

Pineapple ice-cream and Crepes aux peches from Slimmers' Cookbook by Zita Alden (1973).
Pineapple ice-cream and crepes aux peches from Slimmers’ Cookbook by Zita Alden (1973).

Pineapple Ice Cream (Slimmers’ Cookbook by Zita Alden, 1973)

  • 97 Calories per serving

Ingredients: 1 large pineapple (about 700g), 5 drops liquid artificial sweetener, 1  1/2 decilitres natural yoghurt. Method: Cut the top off the pineapple, leaving about 1 inch of the fruit attached to the leaves to form a lid. Scrape out the pulp from the body of the pineapple without damaging the case. Remove any core. Purée this pulp and mix it with the artificial sweetener and yoghurt. Pour into a freezing tray and put into the ice box of a refrigerator turned to the coolest setting. When the mixture is slushy, mash or whisk it to break down the large crystals. Return to the icebox until it is frozen. When ready to serve, quickly spoon it into the pineapple case.

Crêpes aux Pêche (Slimmers’ Cookbook by Zita Alden, 1973)

  • 150 calories per serving

Ingredients:  100g flour, 1 egg and 1 yolk, 225ml skimmed milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 4 drops liquid artificial sweetener, corn oil. Method: Make a batter with the flour, eggs and milk. (This will make twelve 7 inch pancakes). Add the salt and liquid artificial sweetener. For the filling, stone and peel the peaches. Chop roughly and purêe, using a liquidizer or sieve. Add the liquid artificial sweetener. To make the pancakes, heat the pan until smoking hot. Using a rubbing of corn oil for each pancake, pour in enough batter to coat the base of the pan, turn with a knife or spatula and cook quickly. Keep warm in a clean cloth. Divide the filling into fourteen. Spread each pancake to its edge and roll up. Dilute the remaining purêe with very little (2 or 3 teaspoons) water and serve as a sauce.

Ham in Aspic (Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards – Slimmers’ Cards, 1967)

  • Aspic jelly (0 calories), garnish 40 calories, cooked or canned lean ham 1,060 calories for 1lb meat, dried prunes 80 calories, a boiled egg 80 calories.

Ingredients: 1 pint aspic jelly, few stuffed olives, 2 ozs cooked peas, 1 hard-boiled egg white, 1 lb can Danish ham, 8 cooked prunes, 2 hard-boiled eggs, 1 hard-boiled yolk. Method: Pour in enough aspic jelly to give 1/4 inch layer at the bottom of the mould. Allow to set, then arrange the sliced olives, peas and egg white on this, then cover with a very little more cold jelly. Put this into a cool place to become quite firm. Dice the ham, stone and chop the prunes and mix with the chopped eggs and yolk. Put this into the tin, then gently pour in enough cold, but not set, aspic jelly to cover the ham, etc. Put into a cool place for the mould to set and allow remainder of the jelly to set also. 

Slimmers salad from Marguerite Patten's recipe cards, 1967.
Slimmers salad from Marguerite Patten’s recipe cards, 1967.

Ratatouille (Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards – Slimmers Cards, 1967)

  • 119 calories per serving.

Ingredients: 1 aubergine, 100g courgettes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 green pepper, 1 small onion, 1/2 clove garlic, 225g can tomatoes, salt and pepper. Method: Slice the aubergine and courgettes and fry lightly in oil. Add the sliced green pepper, onion, crushed garlic and drained tomatoes. Season well. Cover and cook for about 1 hour until all the vegetables are tender.

Haddock and egg mouse.
Haddock and egg mouse, crunchy stuffed pears, cheese and fruit cocktail, The Sainsbury Book of Slimming, by Rhona Newman (1984).

Haddock and Egg Mouse (The Sainsbury Book of Slimming by Rhona Newman, 1984)

  • 80 calories per serving.

Ingredients: 175g smoked haddock, 1 hard-boiled egg (chopped), 200 ml natural low-fat yoghurt, 1 teaspoon gelatine, 1 tablespoon water, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, salt and pepper, watercress and egg slices to garnish. Method: Poach the haddock in a little water for 6 minutes. Drain, skin and flake the fish. Mix with the egg and yoghurt. Place the gelatine in a small bowl with the water and lemon juice and heat over a pan of hot water until dissolved. Cool and fold into the fish mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into 4 ramekin dishes and chill until set. Garnish with watercress and egg.

Marguerite Patten's recipe cards (1967).
Marguerite Patten’s recipe cards, Slimmers’ Cards. (1967).


Slimmers' 'Open Sandwiches' from
Slimmers’ ‘Open Sandwiches’ from Slimmers’ Cookbook by Zita Alden.


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