The new dinner table: Feeding the diverse-food-choice family –

It wasn’t too long ago when the standard American dinner featured a meat-based dish, a “starchy” side, and a small plate of vegetables or iceberg salad. Popular American meals like roasted chicken and rice pilaf, meatloaf or pork chops and mashed potatoes made their way onto our tables with bland vegetables such as boiled broccoli and green beans, to the horror of most young children. For most of us, there weren’t many choices on what we ate; deciding what to make or buy for dinner was already tough enough for parents, so exposing themselves or their families to alternatives was an afterthought.

Chances are, you love certain foods because you grew up eating them. Growing up in a family with Italian immigrants, my family dinners were usually a one-pot mix with all of the necessary food groups being incorporated. When my mother— my family’s head cook—was crunched for time, she would quickly make pasta with some olive oil and garlic-sautéed broccoli and chicken or delicious, hearty lentil soup. When she had more time to feed the family, she would make a tomato-based chicken or beef stew with rice, minestrone, or lasagna. However, regardless of what the family setting was, my family and I shared the same meal, and what we were eating together was non-negotiable. For my mother, if you weren’t interested in what was being made, you were on your own.

Today, it is less common that families adhere to a more traditional food profile. This is due to a variety of reasons, namely the evolution of culinary choices and availability of more eclectic ingredients. In a singular family alone, one may subscribe to a plant-based diet, for health reasons, or veganism—a lifestyle choice in which one abstains from consuming products deriving from animals, such as meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal-based ingredients. Another may have celiac disease, an immune reaction in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food. One may be dairy or nut-free based on allergies or health restrictions. Another may choose to eat foods from an omnivorous food selection, keeping carbohydrates at a minimum. Fortunately, our options have increased, so these choices can be accommodated. Nevertheless, this diverse mixture of food lifestyles has resulted in a disconnect or decline in family get-togethers and sit-downs, simply because everyone can’t share the comforting experience of enjoying foods they need and foods they like at the same time.

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These diverse food choice families are struggling to accommodate everyone’s needs and requests. Parents are stressed about nourishing their families properly while satisfying their children’s dietary needs. The “new dinner table” is consisting of three to four different meals, usually pieced together at the last minute. Ordering from a few different restaurants to feed a family for the night is becoming the new norm. On one hand, it’s wonderful to expose the family to a variety of different foods each day, but on the other, it can be costly and time-consuming. In addition, many restaurants do not use the most balanced ingredients, leading to other dietary issues that we are just beginning to realize.

Sandra Marinelli is the owner and head chef for Brooklyn Organic Kitchen located in downtown Mahopac. To learn more or to check out their menu, visit, or call 845-621-2655.

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