I don't think our grandparents had this problem--although they may have had it without knowing it.
I am referring to the dramatic expansion of special dietary needs in today's world, and I'll use my family as an example of just how much fun it is to purchase and prepare (let alone budget for) food and meals that my entire family can eat.
There are six of us.
My wife and youngest daughter (the twelve-year-old sometime blogger) are both rebound hypoglycemics. They cannot have significant amounts of sugar in anything they eat (unless carefully matched against countervailing fat content). All baking recipes that require large amounts of sugar have to be modified with items like concentrated fruit juice (because neither of them can tolerate most chemical sugar substitutes like aspartame, either). My daughter needs to consume a significant amount of milk every day.
They are the simplest people to feed.
My older daughter is lactose intolerant and has problems digesting meat that are cooked to less than shoe-leather consistency.
My son has adolescent chronic fatigue syndrome, which is apparently related to his hyperallergy to milk products. This is not lactose intolerance. He cannot consume any product made with lactose, whey or casein. (The result is often wracking stomach cramps that last for hours.) He is also allergic to bananas.
My grandson (five years old) cannot consume much sugar or artificial sweeteners at all. At first we thought they simply made him hyper. Now we suspect (and are having him tested for) borderline juvenile diabetes, with all the dietary implications that entails. He is so sensitive to sugar content that he drinks soy milk instead of cow's milk (but he can eat nonfat yogurt and cheese.
I have a propensity for growing kidney stones. I have been forced to swear off iced tea (and I am a Southron--argh), peanuts, peanut butter, most other nuts; spinach and broccoli (no big loss there); and almost all berries (as well as limiting consumption of tomatoes).
Making a dinner that everybody can eat becomes an increasingly dicey proposition (and my problem as chief cook).
I used to think it was just us. But our neighbor's family of five includes two (father and eldest daughter) with Celiac's [cannot touch even microscopic amounts of wheat gluten) and another who can't tolerate wheat or milk.
There is, of course, a peanut-free table at school, and loads of special diets to be accommodated.
I pay a good amount of money, by the way, to have beef and chicken certified hormone and anti-biotic free delivered to my house on a regular basis because the literature on that is downright scarey.
I wonder where all this comes from. Did these needs always exist, but we just didn't know about them?
Or have we somehow created this brave new world of dietary complexity?