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Dietary Requirements of a Medieval Peasant

The European medieval diet was largely determined by social class. For the majority of the of the people, peasants, a large portion of their daily diet was made up of grains such as wheat, rye, oats or barley(carbohydrates). The grains were boiled whole in a soup or stew, ground into flour and made into bread, or malted and brewed into ale. Estimates from the late Middle Ages indicated that a gallon of ale a day was not unusual, but the actual alcohol in the drink was low. Protein was usually provided legumes such as beans, peas or lentils, fish where available, or on very rare occasions, meat such as poultry, pork, or beef. Additional nutrients were provided by seasonal vegetables and fruits. The peasant's diet rates high on modern nutrition standards. But seasonal fluctuations in food availability and poor harvests often caused long periods of very poor nutrition.

From Jeffrey L. Singman, Daily Life in Medieval Europe, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999, P. 54 - 55.

A prosperous English peasant in the 14th century would probably consume 2 - 3 pounds of bread, 8 ounces of meat or fish or other protein and 2 -3 pints of ale per day. The bread was usually mean of rye, oats, or barley. Meat was expensive and usually only available on special occasions. Often eggs, butter, or cheese were substituted for meat. Vegetables such as onions, leeks, cabbage, garlic, turnips, parsnips, peans and beans were staples. Fruits were avaiable in season.

From Jeffrey L. Singman and Will McLean, Daily Life in Chaucer's England, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995, P. 159-160.

NOTE: The following sample diets are estimates. Nutritional values of bread, for example, are based on modern recipes. Total calorie consumption per day seems very high compared to modern standards. One must keep in mind that the daily physical demands of a medieval peasant were much more extreme that in most modern lives. Also, medieval diet varied depending on the season. Food was plentiful in late summer, fall, and early winter, while often very scare in late winter and early spring.


Sample Diet 1


3 whole eggs 197 13 16 2
3 cups oats (porridge) 1821 33 78 309
3 pints ale 584 0 4 53
8 ounces cheese 913 75 56


  TOTAL: 3515 121 154


Sample Diet 2

2 cups beans 1394 5 93 252
2 whole wheat bread 2240 32 128 384
3 pints ale 584 0 4 53
4 cups turnips 140 1 5


  TOTAL: 4358 38 230


Sample Diet 3

8 ounces pork 515 37 41 0
2 1/2 lbs. rye bread 2937 37 96 548
3 pints ale 584 0 4 53
2 cups cabbage 45 0 3


  TOTAL: 4081 74 114


Men and Women both burned approximately 1892 calories just sleeping and walking. The calories required to complete
a day's labor must be added.
Work days could last as long as 12 hours in the summer.
The average of the various activities listed below is around 3000 calories per eight hours.

392 Calories in 8 hr

Walking - 3 mph
1,437 Calories in 8 hr


Average Medieval Female - Age 30, 5' 5", 120 lb

Weeding Garden
1,960 Calories in 8 hr

Standing - moderate/heavy work
1,742 Calories in 8 hr

Hauling - water (e.g., on farm)
1,960 Calories in 8 hr

Cultivating Garden
1,470 Calories in 6 hr

Chopping Wood - occupation, fast
5,552 Calories in 6 hr

Farming - animal care, general
2,613 Calories in 8 hr

Average Medieval Male
- Age 30, 5' 5", 120 lb

Sawing - hardwood, by hand (carpentry)
3,266 Calories in 8 hr

Forking Bales of Hay
3,484 Calories in 8 hr

Farming - shearing sheep
2,613 Calories in 8 hr

Farming - chasing livestock, walking
1,524 Calories in 8 hr

Digging - ditches
3,701 Calories in 8 hr

Chopping Wood - occupation, fast
7,403 Calories in 8 hr


Calories calcuated using this calculator.


Compare the Medieval Peasant's Diet for One Day to a Modern Fast Food Meal


Big Mac 600 33 grams 25 grams 50 grams
Large Fries 480 19 grams 5 grams 72 grams
Large Coke 310 0 0 grams 86 grams
Large Cookie Dough Blizzard 1320 52 grams 21 grams

193 grams

TOTAL: 2710 104 51



This article is from http://people.eku.edu/resorc/Medieval_peasant_diet.htm



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