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Evolution of the modern family meal

  • 08 April 2019


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

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