By Samantha Papesch
Dinner time. It was a favourite part of my day when I was growing up.
At 6pm every workday evening, a ‘supper-time symphony’ would occur in my family home. Dad would walk through the front door, Mum would sing out “up to the table”, and my brother and I would race each other furiously to our chairs.
Our table was small and round, which I loved, and every night we’d tuck into a simple, but delicious meal that Mum had prepared. This ritual was the anchor to our day; a chance for us to reconnect, and find contentment that only good food and cherished company can offer.
On the rare occasion, Mum would dish up a ‘less than acceptable’ meal, like steak and kidney casserole, or liver and bacon (with a side of Brussels sprouts). This would be met with an air of disgust, and substantial whingeing as we shoved the offal to the side of our plates.
Most nights though, Mum would serve a winning dinner for her family, and would always manage to come up with variation. As a parent myself, I’ve come to realise that neither of these things are easily achieved.
Working out a dinner menu every week can be a downright banal exercise. Add a pinch of contempt from your offspring, and it’s enough to warrant going on strike and serving up jam on toast instead.
Recently, this is exactly what I did.
On Tuesday nights my kids practice Taekidokai, and we don’t get in the door until 7.45pm. Typically, I’d bust my boiler to get a nutritious meal into my little ninjas, but the task was becoming futile; they weren’t overly hungry, and despite coaxing them on the importance of healthy refuelling, they’d only take a few bites.
So, against my propensity for eating well, one night I declared that ‘tea & toast’ would be the short order instead.
And, it went down a treat.
The kids were happy, I was happy, and instead of flogging a dead horse each week, this change in tactic now offers other benefits that improve our wellbeing:
- More sleep – the kids get to bed quicker
- More fun – it’s our special ritual and there are a lot of smiles
- More time – there’s zero preparation, and minimal cleanup
- Less stress – none of us have to suffer through the nagging
- Less annoyance – I don’t feel my efforts, or food, are wasted
- Less guilt – I’ve accepted that we’ll definitely fail nutrition standards one meal a week
Since this epiphany, I haven’t looked back. And, moreover it got me thinking that other meals don’t need to be complex either.
These days, with the advent of TV cooking shows, social media, and more ‘educated palates’, there’s an expectation to routinely provide restaurant-quality food at home. This is fine with the time and inclination to get creative, but trying to broaden your culinary repertoire at the end of a busy day is unrealistic, and as I discovered, quite the recipe for disaster.
Lately, I’ve turned to simple food that’s full of flavour, just like Mum used to make.
My go-to recipe book is the Edmonds Cookery Book, which is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. It’s been well-worn over the years, and for many Kiwis it’s an institution, providing generations with “tried and true New Zealand recipes since 1908”.
As kids, my brother and I were taught to bake using Mum’s edition, but in 1999 I received my own, which arrived on my London doorstep, with love from my parents, and some tongue-in cheek encouragement on learning to cook.
My new favourite, and bestseller is the 4 Ingredients Healthy Diet cookbook recently published by Kim McCosker (1 May 2016). As always, her books focus on easy, but this one particularly bites my burger. It follows “traffic-light logic”, and uses mainly green and amber foods in the recipes, all of which have four ingredients or less.
What I also find interesting in this book, is Kim’s reference to her grandmother; a centenarian who’s longevity was attributed to eating “good, wholesome, homemade meals”.
These eating habits resonate firmly with me, because my own grandparents ate primarily from their veggie gardens; prepared modest meals, and also lived to a ripe old age (my Pop is still going strong at 93).
One thing always on the menu at my Nana and Pop’s place though, was bread. They’d have toast for breakfast, and a fresh slice or two with their evening meal. It was a simple pleasure that we all enjoyed when we were together.
Today, there’s a lot of conflicting advice on the daily intake of bread. On one hand, it’s considered a ‘red food’ that should to be eaten occasionally, and on the other, it’s a staple source of carbohydrate, that should “constitute the base” of the human diet.
With dietary information in a constant state of flux, it’s hard to know which habits to embrace anymore, but one that my elders have always favoured is: ‘everything in moderation’.
In other words, finding balance.
Juggling the nutritional needs of a family is certainly no cake walk, but with a holistic approach that includes a few humble dinners, and now ‘tea & toast Tuesdays’, for me, meals and meal-time planning are both tipped towards a more appetizing affair.