The records show 1940s Britons ate seasonally and bought food from butchers, bakers and grocers rather than supermarkets.
In the 1950s, people ate four meals a day and relied on gardens and allotments to grow more than double the amount of food they bought.
An appetite for easy to prepare meals began in the mid-1950s, the new data reveals, with convenience foods accounting for nearly a fifth of families spend on food. As technology started to improve and more women began to work full-time, frozen foods, ready meals and takeaways began to transform the British diet.
Defra minister Andrea Leadsom said: "This is more than just cosy nostalgia – everyone now has access to this hoard of rich data which shows how technology and social change have transformed our diets over five generations. While foodie fads have come and gone, it’s interesting to have seen a recent revival of fresh, British grown, seasonal foods – though today it is through choice, unlike the necessity of the '40s and '50s.
"Our Great British Food campaign is all about championing British produce, at home and abroad, and highlighting the exciting and diverse regional cuisine all around the country. It’s also about backing our world leading food and farming industry that already generates £100 billion for our economy and employs one in eight people. In my role as Environment Secretary I will be doing all I can to make sure the industry goes from strength to strength."
HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin hopes to meet Leadsom and fellow Defra minister George Eustice for the first time since the election at a Defra reception next week and Eustice says he will attend an Ornamentals Round Table meeting on 4 October.
Curtis-Machin said new Prime Minister Theresa May is looking at post-Brexit opportunities with a meeting at Chequers this week and that the HTA has made clear via Defra civil servant Kathleen Kelliher that import substitution and garden tourism are two of the biggest for horticulture.
For more than 70 years, families across Britain have filled out in-depth diaries of their weekly food and drink purchases for the National Food Survey.
Now Defra has published the oldest versions of the survey reports from the 1940s when Britain’s food supply was controlled by rations to the 1970s when technology had advanced and kitchens were equipped with freezers.
In the 1940s rural households relied on gardens and allotments to provide more than 92 per cent of their fruit and vegetables in winter and 98 per cent in summer. This ranged hugely with urban households who grew 12 per cent of their fruit and vegetables in winter and 49 per cent in summer. About a third of the household income was spent on food in 1940 compared to 12 per cent nowadays.
Post-rationing, the report goes on to say that as more families were able to buy fridges and freezers in the 1970s, the popularity of convenience food reached a new level and by the end of the decade, almost all families across the country (95 per cent) owned a fridge.
Back in 1952 nearly half of all households ate no meals outside of the home and only one fifth ate one dinner a week out. By 1983, the average person ate three meals a week outside the home.
The National Food Survey was established by what was then known as the Ministry of Food in 1940 to establish what people were eating and how much they spent on food during the Second World War.
The survey was mainly directed at workers living in urban areas at first, but in 1950 it was expanded to be a national survey.
The new data is part of #OpenDefra – the biggest ever government data giveaway which has seen 11,007 open datasets published already. More than a third of the government’s total open data has been released by Defra.