Activity: Reenact Ration Card Shopping with Kids

Early last Saturday morning, I got in my van alone and braved a rare Washington blizzard to pick up a few items from the grocery store. What I saw in the midst of the COVID-19 virus panic shocked me. At 5am, the parking lot was already full, the shopping carts were almost all being used, many of the shelves were bare, and the lines for check-out stretched to the back of the store!

As I maneuvered my cart through the crowds of people, and then stood in line for half an hour, I thought about my Grandma Loa whose routine grocery store trips were similarly changed with tragic world events. She lived in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. After that, she and her family lived under extreme rationing conditions as production and importing was so greatly interrupted. There was also an immense fear about a future attack. They evacuated Hawaii a year and a half later, because normal life was so impossible on the once-paradisal island.

Standing in that long line and thinking about Loa gave me courage to face the chaos. And the more I thought about her experience, the more I wanted my children to have a glimpse into our ancestor’s world of food shortages, hoarding, rationing, and careful planning.

I found some images of World War II ration card booklets and printed them out to make little booklets for my kids. We set up a little store with real food items in the room under our stairs. My kids then took turns buying goods and using their stamps. The activity turned a little crazy as the kids bargained for certain goods and tried to run away and hoard others. They even set up a black market under someone’s sleeping bag!

The most powerful moment was when my son came up to the store to buy oatmeal and I cut in and said, “You can’t buy that. You have reached your limit for the month.” He walked away truly disappointed. That gave him a small taste for the limits and frustrations of this time period. Learning about our incredible ancestors surviving troubled times gives us strength and perspective when our own lives are upturned.

Further Suggestions: To make your own version of this activity more interesting, you may want to find WWII ration recipes online that homemakers invented to use their limited goods in creative ways. You can also research and buy exactly what one person was allotted each week. It’s powerful to see that modest amount in front of you. Additionally, you could have a great-grandparent tell your children a story about living under those difficult conditions.

Find more fun and meaningful family history activities for kids in our book, Turning Little Hearts – Over 90 Activities to Connect Children with Their Ancestors, available at Cedar Fort Publishing as a paperback or a digital download. Also available on Amazon. Visit

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