Three-quarters of families are now cooking more than one meal every evening to appease dinner table demands and dietary requirements, a survey has found.
Despite more than a quarter (28.2 per cent) of households aiming to eat at least one meal together every day, for over 80 per cent their menu has to be shaped according to dietary needs and demands.
The difference in meals was mainly down to personal taste (40.3 per cent), with 30 per cent citing health and fitness reasons and just 16 per cent saying it was due to strict medical reasons.
The research of 2,000 UK adults on behalf of Co-op Food found overall, almost a third (30 per cent) of the nation has special dietary requirements or intolerances.
But despite people eating different things, once families do sit down to enjoy a meal together, enjoying each other’s company and catching up on the day are most valued. Almost two thirds (57 per cent) of respondents said dinner was the meal they were most likely to enjoy as a household.
Parents know only too well the struggle dinnertime can be with kids who are fussy. “Too many cooks spoil the broth and too many food demands can make mealtimes very stressful,” says mum Cathy Ranson, editor at ChannelMum.com. “While it’s absolutely right that anyone who has an allergy, intolerance or specific food need is catered for, preparing multiple meals just for no other reason is pandering to kids.”
Ranson believes there is danger that doing this will make children expect changes as and when they demand it, and it doesn’t teach them to appreciate what they have.
However Han-Son Lee, a dad who runs the DaddiLife blog, disagrees. He says the study from Co-op makes a lot of sense and strikes a chord with what he sees across the DaddiLife community. “We recently completed our first ever Dad Index, and one of the highlight results was that two thirds of dads are involved in cooking for their children every week with one third doing the majority of the cooking,” he says. “The dads we spoke to identified more and more food intolerances being at the heart of this shift.”
Lee says it might sound like a lot of effort to cook more than one meal, but what’s been heartening is how it’s triggered dads to find even more creative ways to cook together, more often, with many using their time to explore what good food can be with their children despite these intolerances. “In this respect, I think cooking more than one meal can work wonders to bring us closer and to help our children eat good food,” he adds.
How can you get families to eat the same meal?
Ranson believes the key is a three-fold approach:
1. “Choose dishes which can be adapted if you have kids with dietary requirements. For example, sausage and mash can be pork, beef, chicken, lamb, or veggie and vegan. The basics are the same, just swap the sausages and maybe the gravy.”
2. “Meal plan so everyone knows what’s going to be on their plate and don’t deviate. This also saves money on your shop.”
3. “If you have fussy kids, get them involved in cooking. Children who worry about food are far more likely to eat what they’ve helped make and it allows you to gradually expand their tastebuds and become more adventurous too.″