Earlier this week I was pleasantly surprised when a quick Instagram poll resulted in so many of my Insta-friends sharing their favourite childhood ‘struggle meals’ with me. Now for those not in the know, a ‘struggle meal’ is a dish put together with very few basic ingredients. It’s designed to fill you up (and keep you fuller for longer), on a budget.
Some of the cheap meal combos that I enjoyed while growing up includes an egg and mince situationship that maybe doesn’t make sense but, trust me, it’s delish. Other favourites were curried eggs (literally, a curry, with boiled eggs as the star of the show) and another staple dish included tinned fish… with basically anything.
Now, mind you, my granny (the preparer of said dishes) would not be impressed that I’m calling it a ‘struggle meal’ but, truth be told, these were the type of meals that she would put together with whatever she found in her cupboard.
Her ‘struggle dishes’ were grand slammers – always tasty, always filling and always enough – and they were one of the best parts of my childhood! I love talking about it. But I get that people don’t often want to talk about their childhood… much less so if they experienced lack during that time.
And anyways, Instagram is for the fancy. People SAY they want “real” but they actually go to Insta for inspiration, not reflection.
So I was quite surprised as I read through messages from people explaining (with great detail and gusto) their fave childhood recipes. It was like I had a front-row seat to one of their fondest childhood memories.
What stuck out most for me was that we did not remember the ‘struggle meal’ with contempt or regret. In some cases, that meal was spoken about with a weird sort of victory – almost as if we were trying to determine which meal was the most cost-effective and tasty.
Talking about our childhood challenges created a camaraderie, as we share our favourite weird-cheap-meal combos (you can tell me nothing about mince and eggs – tis a masterpiece!) with laughing emojis showing just how pleased we were to introduce each other to this new concept.
The ‘struggle meal’ chats also created an opportunity to remember the loved ones who prepared these meals for us. Shout out to the “OGs” of the kitchen who whipped up a plate of biscuits out of thin air! They were the ones who made sure that there was a meal on the table when there were very few options available in the pantry.
While we probably equate a ‘struggle meal’ to disparity or lack, it is actually the manifestation of love revealed to us over and over – each meal prepared with care in the midst of a challenge.
Someone loved us enough to figure it out. That’s wealth right there.
And, if you think about it, this is actually the tie that binds us: our humanness – our ability to love and to give love. That is our great human connection – the common thread of humanity. It’s what makes us all the same.
Whether you grew up eating meals that are fit for a king, or meals that were scraped together by miracle – we needed food to fuel our body, but our true sustenance was love.