With all the pain and problems that this covid-19 is causing, there are a few good things coming out of it–family togetherness, for one. I have seen several posts from my friends with young families that they are doing things together that they haven’t done in a long time–if ever.
One of those things, hopefully, is re-establishing family mealtime. I remember eating dinner together as a family while growing up as a routine, everyday occurrence; even my own children who grew up in the 70s and 80s were usually home for a family dinner.
When I started helping my mom prepare dinner at about age 12, she let me plan and cook most of the meal–much to my delight–but I had to adhere to some rules. First, there were six parts of every dinner: meat, potatoes (or starch equivalent), vegetable, salad, bread and dessert. The meat could be another protein like eggs, fish or cheese and we usually had potatoes in some form but pasta or rice could substitute. Vegetables (often two) were always present and meant hot vegetables; salad could be lettuce-based, or fruit or cold vegetables like sliced tomatoes in the summer or cold relish sticks like carrots and celery. My Dad couldn’t eat a meal without any bread–so if we didn’t have dinner rolls, cornbread or something special, we had store-bought sliced white and whole-wheat bread on a plate. Dessert during the week was mostly fruit sauce or pudding in the winter and fresh fruit in the summer and a cookie. Cakes, pies, cobblers, shortcakes and other fancier desserts were on the weekend.
No one in the family was fat and none of my friends were either and they all ate similarly. I think our greater activity was a factor, and the fact that if you had that many different dishes, you couldn’t eat a great deal of any one of them. Mom had us “eat in a circle” which meant that we took a bite of each food on our plate, rotating around–one bite of each and then start over. Her reasoning was that that way we couldn’t eat a lot of what we liked best and be too full to eat less favored foods. It worked–I learned to like almost everything. I didn’t like peas, though, and when I complained about the 3 tiny peas she put on my plate, she would tell me that grown-ups liked everything and I never would know when I was grown up enough to like the peas, so I needed to try them!
Soda pop was a special Saturday treat–one small bottle of coke or 7-up. Only at my Grandma’s could you have pop any time. We didn’t eat a lot between meals. I got a nickel every day to go up to the little store in the summer and buy myself a popsicle or push-up or other ice cream treat. Yes, those treats were only a nickel.
Looking through my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook from 1958 in the Menu section, there were the same components for a meal listed as: Meat main dish, starchy complement, vegetable, salad, dessert and Accent. Breads were usually included with the starchy complement. Here’s an example:
Beef Pot Roast
Pot roasted potatoes
Pot roasted carrots and onions
Classic Waldorf Salad
Tropical Chiffon Cake
I love to look through my old cookbooks and think nostalgically to those traditional meals my mom had time to make. Now I have time too, and I often do cook like that–but we only eat a fraction of each course. Still, I think it’s a good family lifestyle and maybe, at least while this mandated staying-at-home is on, families will once again sit down together to an old-style family dinner.