Three well-known Irish people tell what family mealtimes were like for them growing up

Helen O’Callaghan hears some fond memories from family meal times through the recollections of celebrities and their mothers.

FAMILY mealtimes are when tastes and experiences converge. 

Tucking into your favourite dish, stubbornly resisting foods you didn’t like, the interrupted conversations, the row and repartee, stories told and heard – it’s when so much of family life happened.

*Snapchat star James Kavanagh and mum Margaret

James, aged 27.

“At the time, I was always jealous of kids who got to eat in front of the TV or in their room. My parents were like ‘Now! Around the table’.

Three well-known Irish people tell what family mealtimes were like for them growing up

“Today, I value that it was hammered into my head. I’m the youngest of three and we were all very different ages and on different schedules. Every day was hectic so dinner was when we got to sit around and meet each other. It was a chance to connect — otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened.

“I’d like to replicate in my own life that mood of being able to sit around the table and be open, not keep secrets, nothing was ever taboo.

“My least favourite meal was coddle — it’s hideous. I don’t understand the appeal of a wobbly skinned sausage. One thing we never had back then was avocado — now we’re all mad for it.” 

Margaret

“My children weren’t great eaters. They’d never come in and say ‘oh, Mam, is the dinner ready yet?’ It was always a struggle when they were younger. We had rows over it. Their dad was strict and he’d like them to clean their plate.

“I remember one trick my kids played. They’d be still at the table and my husband and I would go off to watch TV. I’d come back and their plates would be clean. It took me a while to realise they were feeding the dog.

“James loved a roast chicken dinner, spaghetti Bolognese and potato gratin – I’m famous for potato gratin. I did a lot of plain cooking too, like bacon and cabbage. 

"There weren’t many treats during the week. They were only allowed cocoa pops for breakfast once a year. They loved Christmas morning for the cocoa pops. 

"One treat they did get before bedtime — we’d toast bread on the fire and have that with a slice of cheese and a pot of tea.

“I do think family meals created closeness. James was able to come out when he was 14 with no fear.”

Boyzone and Coronation Street star Keith Duffy and mum Patricia

Keith, aged 42

“Looking back, family meals were just part of life, part of the routine. We always had dinner together. I had two brothers. One of us would lay the table, the second one would wash the dishes and the third would dry them.

Three well-known Irish people tell what family mealtimes were like for them growing up

“We’d always wait for Poppa to come in before we sat down. He worked in the rag trade, still does. Everybody sat down and talked about the day and what went well and what didn’t. We planned stuff like holidays. It was time to chat and have a row and interrupt other people’s conversations.

“My wife came from the same background so she cooks dinner every day. And it doesn’t matter if our son or daughter has had a pizza earlier, they expect a dinner. We don’t allow mobile phones or iPads at the table.

“My favourite dinner growing up was probably bacon and cabbage with mashed potato and parsley sauce. Growing up, it was the usual, meat and two veg. Now I eat all sorts of spicy Indian dishes, all kinds of foreign cuisine. 

"One thing I never eat, which I got a lot of as a child, is turnips. Absolutely, 100%, I wouldn’t touch a turnip. I don’t care for any root vegetables but especially turnips.” 

Patricia

“My boys were great eaters. Dinner wouldn’t fill them. They were hungry all the time. I did a lot of baking and that kept them filled — apple tarts, mince tarts — they’d go for all those.

“Between them and their dad, I had four men coming into the house and I had to think of that first thing in the morning. The main objective of my day was that they’d be full. It was my priority above my work — I’m a hairdresser.

“The challenge was getting vegetables into them. I’d say ‘you can’t leave the table until you eat your vegetables’. I’d manage to get a few spoonfuls into them. 

"I didn’t use any tricks or strategies — I just told them to eat and that was it. Keith loved his cabbage. Mushy peas would be a favourite now but we didn’t have them back then.

“Nutrition plays such a huge part in keeping healthy. My husband’s aunt got Alzheimer’s disease. She forgot how to eat. I saw how quickly she went downhill. 

"My mother-in-law was brilliant up to 93 but as soon as she lost her appetite she went downhill rapidly. I thought: Wow! Nutrition is so important and for mental health too.

Model Daniella Moyles and mum Pauline

Daniella, aged 28

“You’d never be eating on your own in my house. Mum, my brother and I ate dinner together a lot. Dad was a chef and working, so the four of us would eat together at weekends. 

Three well-known Irish people tell what family mealtimes were like for them growing up

"Back then, people had meals together more often than now. There wouldn’t have been a rule and you didn’t have to try — it was just what was done.

“It was a very positive thing. It probably made us a lot closer — sitting down together and catching up with each other — it was great for bonding. I didn’t realise growing up the value of having someone cook dinner for you.

“Because Dad was a chef, we were privileged to have very nice dinners. Both my parents were good cooks and well versed in food — we never had frozen or fried food. It definitely gave me a palate for [vegetables like] Brussels sprouts. I have a very balanced diet today.

“There were no rules like ‘you can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten everything’. We got up when we felt we’d finished and that kept us there longer. 

"I loved my mum’s stew. I have very fond memories of coming home after a long day at school and there’d be this nice warm stew with bread and butter to mop it up. 

"My mum was a fan of gammon steaks though and I hate gammon steaks. I wouldn’t be a fan of eating meat with every meal.

“The feeling I got from all those dinners we had together was a sense of being home in my house and having the support of my family.”

Pauline

“Daniella was a very good eater, even as a baby. I remember her loving broccoli and cheese. She wasn’t a great one for meat but that never worried me. I don’t think it did her any harm. 

"If she left it on her plate, I wouldn’t make a big thing of it. I never forced any food on my children and, as a result, they both ate well and they still do.

“One of my own favourite meals is lasagne. I did a nice roast pepper and tomato soup that Daniella loved. She still does.

“It was nice for us all to sit down and have the chat. Dinner together in the evening was the only chance we got to do that. I really don’t think using phones at mealtimes, which happens so much today, is a good idea. I think put them away and talk to each other.” 

* The families were speaking after Dolmio research, which found almost 50% of parents recall family mealtimes as their most powerful childhood memory.

Take part in Dolmio Mealtime Memories conversation on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DolmioIreland and share your mealtime memories to have a chance of winning a new kitchen.


Lifestyle

These are the nail hues to choose this season, says Katie Wright.Perfectly polished: 5 autumn/winter nail trends you’ll actually want to wear

This early 19th-century table is one of a number of Irish lots at Sotheby’s Style, Furniture and Ceramics sale in New York on Thursday (October 24).Irish lots poised to add bite to Big Apple sale

Something for all at Hegarty’s auction in Bandon, says Des O’SullivanSomething for all at Hegarty’s auction in Bandon

Des O’Sullivan gives a preview of the Irish selection on offer at two sales in DublinPreview of the Irish selection on offer at two sales in Dublin

More From The Irish Examiner