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The Magic of Food Whatever Your Age – Eat, Chat and Enjoy!

What is your favourite meal memory? If you are a sophisticated “foodie” you may be recalling a fabulous meal on a special occasion at your favourite restaurant. More likely though is that what you recall will be strongly linked to eating with the family or a group of friends.

In our family, it’s Granny Ruby’s AMAZING home-made macaroni cheese, my delicious broccoli soup and “never the same twice” comforting pasta bakes or a selection of tasty tapas.

Dad Tom loves a lamb roast, mince and tatties, sausages and mash, stovies and the occasional cooked breakfast with Stornoway black pudding or a wee slice of haggis in the mix (we’re Scottish, don’t judge).

Lewis, aged 24, can’t see past a big plate of sizzling chicken or steak fajitas with guacamole, soured cream, grated cheese and salsa. His idea of bliss.

Other of the lads favourites include pizzas, big beefy burgers in buns and curries of all descriptions - all of these mostly eaten out in restaurants or takeaway outlets. Takeaway food, eating out and the advent of ready meals are undoubtedly the biggest changes seen to the way we eat over the last 50 years.

Older folk who lived through rationing often still prefer basic home cooking from store cupboard ingredients like soups, stews, omelettes, roast dinners and old-fashioned puddings like fruit crumbles and custard. “Meat and two veg” in modest portions and “hold the fancy sauces, nothing too exotic!”

Baby boomers (age 54-72yrs) were the first in the UK to try a wider array of international foods – Asian, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese etc. – and to get a taste therefore for curries, pasta, pizza, paella, tapas, chow mein and sushi. And they experienced all of this in the UK as well as on their travels around the world. As a result, their children were brought up eating a much wider array of flavours and recipes than all of the generations that went before.

Along with Generation X (age 38-53yrs), they were also the first to see “health foods” become mainstream – as yoghurt, vitamins, shakes, probiotic drinks and exotic fruits and vegetables all became more widely available. I remember visiting a friend’s house as a teenager and being handed a strawberry yoghurt in a wee carton to try out. It was delicious and I couldn’t wait to tell my Mum about this fancy new food when I got home. That was in the seventies and it was around that time we also started to hear more about vegetarianism as it became more popular as a health and lifestyle choice.

Eating out in restaurants, pubs and cafes and enjoying a huge choice of take-away foods was big in America long before the UK caught up. Initially, eating out was exclusive and expensive and really only for the wealthy. That soon changed with the opening of the big chains that made families welcome and offered affordable food.

Most millennials (22-37yrs) were brought up eating out regularly with family and friends and enjoying many a themed birthday party at the likes of McDonalds and Burger King. Who doesn’t remember the delights of searching through your Happy Meal for the latest toy? And poor parents trying to resolve the fall-out if the kids started fighting over them!

I’m trying to remember the first time I ever saw a ready meal in the supermarket. The closest thing I can recall is when Mum used a Kraft macaroni and cheese sauce kit if she was in a hurry. Palatable, but not a patch on Granny Ruby’s made-from-scratch version.

Then there was that eventful night in the seventies when my teenage boyfriend invited me to his house for a home-made curry. Wow, I was impressed! He could actually make me a curry? He disappeared into his mum’s kitchen and emerged 25 minutes later proudly holding up a plate of lumpy, bumpy, greenish-brown “stew” surrounded by a thin circle of plain white rice. That was my first introduction to the delights of the Vesta Beef Curry. We shared it with two forks, sitting romantically together on the carpet in front of the fireplace. Duncan knew how to make a girl feel special!

Millennials and Generation Z (6-21yrs) have probably grown up and gone through school, college and university eating on the move. Grabbing burgers, pies, chips, bakery hot food, pizzas and sandwiches on a regular basis. Every high street, most estates, schools and workplaces have take-away food outlets nearby and, if you don’t want to cook, you certainly don’t have to anymore. The choice of fast food available “to go” around the clock is quite incredible.

Who is least likely to pick up a Starbucks coffee and a ready-made sandwich for lunch? Apparently, the older “Silent Generation/Traditionalists” (over 75s) are the generation most likely turn their noses up at the prospect.

Do the generations have anything in common when it come to food these days? Yes, of course we do. Almost everyone, regardless of age, likes to cook from scratch some of the time. A combination of wanting to know exactly what is in our meals and the enjoyment of eating with others will keep us interested in home cooking for a long time to come. MasterChef and all those other cooking TV shows also keep us hooked!

A statistic I came across that really shocked and saddened me was that half of all adults in the UK mostly eat alone and 70% have never eaten a meal with their neighbours. Yet, Oxford University research in 2017 revealed (what we all really know) that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives. They found that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of wellbeing, and enhances our sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.

We’re big on this in our family and make a point of all getting together to eat and chat every Sunday. The lads come over from their flat (often with friends) and Granny Ruby takes pole position at the top of the table. It’s the highlight of the week – not because of the quality (or otherwise) of my cooking but because it keeps us connected and in touch with what’s going on in each other’s lives. Sometimes, all the clearing up afterwards can seem a bit of a chore, but the chat, laughter and hilarity we enjoy together is priceless.

A wee plug here too for the fabulous work Contact the Elderly charity does throughout the UK, organising monthly afternoon teas hosted by residents in their local communities for the over-75s who live alone. It’s such a simple and brilliant idea. We started it 18 months ago in our village and it has literally changed lives for the better – not just for the guests but for the hosts, drivers and organisers too. Everyone is getting the chance to make new friends and getting to know each other better.

Bottom line? How we eat, what we eat and when we eat has changed beyond all recognition over the years, but enjoying simple home cooked food with others is still a source of pleasure and joy. If you’ve got out of the habit, give it a go now and then.

Get around the table with your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or community and enjoy!


My NEXT BLOG will be on either "BUY or RENT?" or "DATING" - what's your topic preference?

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© 2019 by Sandra Burke