Nutrition – does one meal suit all?

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'What's for dinner?'

What do you want for dinner?

I don't know ... what is there?

'Well what do you want?'

'Well I don't know until you tell me what there is ...'

That's one family mealtime scenario. The person organising the meal invariably ends up with five different requests to prepare five different meals, leading to a response that we couldn't possibly print here.

Then there is the opposite scenario where  the 'one meal', no choices, this is dinner, 'like it or lump it' dish is placed on the table. This is greeted with disgruntled mumblings of 'I don't like X, Y or Z' - disgruntled because they know their mumblings are going to have no effect whatsoever.  The expected response arrives right on cue - 'I am not asking you to like it, I am asking you to eat it.'

These scenarios are typical in most families and for obvious reasons. Making one family meal is the most practical and economical way to feed a family. Making things that people want to eat is also more economical and easier in the long run.  However neither scenario is actually based on anyone's individual nutritional requirements.  In nutrition terms one size really does not fit all. The five a day is a good general idea but which five are better for you and which five are better for me? The nutritional requirements of an adolescent with acne, who somehow manages to grow out of his clothes between breakfast and dinner, are completely different to those of an elderly grandparent or a pregnant breast feeding mother.  If you then have to consider special requirements for  vegetarians, weight loss, food intolerance or shift work, one meal is never going to suit everyone. And we have been assuming everyone is healthy - add in some of the more common health problems such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes with a smattering of eating disorders and your menu planning is starting to look like a job for MENSA.

Then there is the clearing your plate problem.  When did human beings decide to over-ride the body's natural signals to stop eating and keep going until they could see their well-rounded faces staring back from a shiny clean porcelain plate?  Then go on to reward this behaviour with something fattening and sweet? When did we decide it was important to force the last portion of calorie laden lasagne down the gullet of the person least likely to resist, just to save us from faffing around with a leftover micro-portion of lasagne the next day?

We haven't always been like this. The one meal on a plate, three times a day, idea is relatively new. For thousands of years we didn't eat breakfast nor dinner but only had one meal a day. Breakfast did not become a standard meal of the day until the late 1700's and brunch was a 19th century development that came from the tradition of buffets at hunting parties.

A buffet,  tapas, and side dish system may well be the answer to individualised nutrition.  Tapas dishes don't have to be expensive as many of them use smaller portions of ingredients and if side dishes of fruits, nuts and any other seasonal foods are included it is easily an eating system with a great deal of variety.  The small plate serve yourself method is the perfect way to make sure you eat as much or as little as you need.

We are what we eat, and we are all different so why should you have to eat the same as me because it is the only thing on the table?

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