Evolution of the modern family meal



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  

MMMmmmmm... feeling hungry now!

Richard | 23 April 2019  

Lovely article. Be careful to check please but try fresh mushrooms just picked (mix of boleti and st georges for me) braised with leeks, chives or onions, garlic and light cream if you want, served on wholemeal pasta or brown rice. (Why is rye a no no but wheat flour ok?)

Karis | 23 April 2019  

Thank you for an excellent article on the growth of awareness about our food, where it comes from and how we can make a better difference to the future environment and reduce animal cruelty.

Larry Vincent | 23 April 2019  

How to open minds to a discussion of the cruelty enacted on animals in modern industrial farming enterprises, without attracting the label "terrorist"? That is the tactic that the industry has devised to discourage those who would question. So, Catherine, you have done something wonderful. You have told your story gently, introducing us, through one of your daughters, to the reality of the modern "brutal farming industry", without labouring the point, and yet without letting us escape with eyes still closed. And you have shown us how we can evolve from one way of seeing the world to another, whilst remaining respectful of those whose views differ. Thank you.

Janet | 27 April 2019  

Low fodmap and IBS?

Bernadette | 27 April 2019  

Wonderful! But your article lacks something ... recipes! We're all looking forward to a future Eureka moment, if you happen to feel inclined to write a few more times over the coming months :)

Rod Thomson | 29 April 2019  

Not the first to accommodate incompatible diets. After the first Crusader Conquest, the Brothers Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem cared for patients of all faiths in the Holy City. They had two separate kitchens: one for Christians, the other observant of the Mosaic and their derivative Islamic food laws, ensuring Kosher and Halal meals for the Judaic and Muslim patients in their care.

James Marchment | 01 May 2019  

In the 1980s heyday of Perth's Cordon Bleu vegetarian restaurants, 2 were secular, including that at the University of WA, while 2, most excellent, were quasi-religious: the Hare Krishnas' in the CBD, and "Zorba the Buddha's" run by local acolytes of Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh, "Sannyasins" or "Orange People", in the old Fremantle Trades Hall building which they'd purchased and admirably restored as a respected community centre.

James Marchment | 01 May 2019  

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