Evolution of the modern family meal

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What's for dinner? When my children were growing up, the answer was easy.

Pop art style painting of dinner plate and cutlery (Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay)Our repertoires (my husband and I have always shared the cooking) have included a motley of favourites: tomato-and-black-olive pasta sauce; slow-roasted lamb with hummus and tabouleh; Thai green chicken curry; winter vegetable soup; dal, dal and more dal; and pizza, eaten every Friday night since before our first child was born 25 years ago. All 'cooked from scratch' and eaten together.

My children learned to bake (and lick the bowl) at a young age — banana bread and choc chip cookies and red velvet cupcakes — and would take great joy in rolling out the dough with toy rolling pins and adding toppings to their own mini pizzas each week. But they took to cooking less enthusiastically.

I insisted they each master at least one dish, and so my older daughter learned to cook lambs' neck stew; my son bangers and mash; my younger daughter spicy pumpkin soup. Still, they were not very forthcoming when called upon to produce the evening meal.

But changing dietary requirements — along with maturity as they left their moody teens behind — have positively impacted their culinary skills, and have forced my husband and I, in turn, to question what we're eating. We have become the students, and the children our teachers.

First, our son was diagnosed at 17 with Type 1 diabetes, requiring him to measure his blood sugar with a finger prick and inject insulin every time he put carbohydrates into his mouth.

And so I began tweaking the family diet, replacing glucose-heavy carbohydrates (which spike blood sugars and increase the risk of nerve damage) with healthier alternatives: mashed potatoes were swapped for cauliflower mash, wholemeal bread for rye, wheat flour for almond meal. Our young diners continued to smack their lips.


"Gradually, meat became less of a fixture on our plates, and in its place a new repertoire of nourishing meals appeared. We parents were now smacking their lips."


A few years later, our older daughter became a vegetarian; the younger one soon followed. 'Don't make special meals for us!' they urged, but instead I seized the opportunity to add more meat-free dishes to our already meat (and carbohydrate) conscious menus. Caramelised vegetable quiches became a fixture, Ethiopian dal (spiced with turmeric and smoky paprika) a standout, lentil shepherd's pie and zucchini patties a promising debut.

The daughter who had resented having to perfect lambs' neck stew started turning out outlandishly delicious bao bowls and beer-battered tofu and chips; my son adapted his chilli con carne to a beans-only version; our younger daughter invented a chickpea-and-lentils-and-tofu curry.

Gradually, meat became less of a fixture on our plates, and in its place a new repertoire of nourishing meals appeared. We parents were now smacking our lips.

Most recently, my younger daughter declared herself a vegan. She wanted to reduce her impact on the environment, she said, to withdraw her implicit support for a brutal farming industry that had long disturbed her, and for a society that fritters fossil fuels and fills our oceans with plastic.

And so — in support of both the spirit an enactment of her decision — our kitchen has undergone yet another revolution. Fresh milk stands cheek-by-jowl in the fridge with plant milk; maple syrup has replaced honey; olive oil — always a staple — is gradually erasing butter from the picture.

And the cuisine — would you believe it? — is better than ever before. Our motley household, which comprises one vegetarian, one vegan, two omnivores and one fence-sitter (me), subsists most often on dishes that accommodate everyone's dietary requirements.

Who knew that food could taste so good without the inclusion of animal products? Lentil Bolognese and French onion soup (sans butter and cheese), pizzas smothered in basil and sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and cashew creme fraiche, and beetroot burgers so perfect they'd fool the most carnivorous of diners: browned on the outside, pink on the inside, topped with guacamole and vegan mayo.

I'll have mine medium rare, please.



Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Main image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images / Pixabay

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, veganism



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Existing comments

Thank you SO much Catherine. What a fabulous feast of an article; and, what a privilege to read this delightfully honest and joyfully upbuilding vignette of family eco-savvy progress with meal-making. Much appreciated.
Dr Marty Rice | 10 April 2019


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