What's for dinner?

It's the familiar phrase heard round the world, particularly at mealtime.

For 50 years, the Taste section has answered that question, from recipes to restaurant recommendations to simple encouragement.

To find the answers, we've visited the kitchens of home cooks and chefs, walked the fields with farmers and the supermarket aisles with grocers and dietitians. We've stalked the aisles of farmers markets, scooped the bulk bins of food co-ops and visited more restaurants than an entire neighborhood would try in its lifetime.

And for the past decade, we've been avid participants in the explosion of interest in food on social media and online.

Which is not to say that readers, long ago, were less interested in food. No, the dinner hour loomed for them, too. The only topic more universal than dinner plans was how to make the prep faster. (File this under Some Things Never Change.)

Today we may scoff at some of the early recipes (Lima Bean and Pear Casserole comes to mind, as does Ham in Spinach Aspic). But a half-century ago, there were far fewer mealtime options given the minimal availability of fresh food and takeout.

In those early years of Taste, asparagus and many other vegetables came in a can or freezer bag, or you grew them yourself. (Even Julia Child used frozen green beans as an alternative in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 1961.) Lettuce meant iceberg, fresh fruit meant apples, oranges and other basics. Fish meant frozen or canned, and even those varieties were limited. Good luck if you were a new immigrant trying to find ingredients for your comfort food.

In fact, if you want to study history, cultural or otherwise, there's no better place than the food pages, which have always focused not only on local options, but also on timely ones. Page through the dusty old sections, as we have, and you'll know right away when the years were lean or flush, when there was an energy crisis, meat boycott or dietary concerns (fat, carbs, eggs, beef, calories and cholesterol, gluten-free or allergies, we've seen them all).

As for timely, during the energy crisis in the '70s, there were recurring articles on minimizing energy costs, including how to cook multiple dinners in a single use of the oven. For the Great Recession of the late 2000s, a "Thrifty Cook" column offered recipes at a careful price point. Lutefisk was offered as a "value" item for grocery shoppers in 1973.

Meatless options have been around since the earliest issue, as have ways to manage food costs. In an early story on vegetarian restaurants, a feature on the collective-run New Riverside Cafe in Minneapolis (which closed in 1997) noted: "The cafe is so flexible that there are no set or even suggested prices for the food. The motto is take what you need, pay what you can."

Ancient grains got a shout-out from the earliest days and we're still talking about them today, though they don't seem quite so "ancient" anymore. Three organic farmers were featured that first year, a topic then far from the mainstream and today very much part of it. School lunch heated up parents in 1989, as it still does.

Dieting never grew old. It may be the single most dominant subject in the first decade of Taste, next to "value" though we were considerably thinner 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not so incidentally, we weren't afraid of raw eggs or E. coli 0157. H7 in those days, though microwave ovens and food irradiation (a technology to extend the shelf life of food) had us concerned.

Contrary to stereotypes, Taste — as well as Minnesota food — was never a collection of hot dish recipes. Its early issues covered recipes for sangria, lobster, focaccia, tacos, tempura, moussaka, polenta, boeuf Bourguignon and an African peanut stew. It was a small world, after all, even in the Twin Cities.

Not so incidentally, the restaurant world exploded as our eating habits evolved from infrequent dining out to almost daily (see our earlier history issue, "The restaurant revolution" at startribune.com/taste50 for the specifics).

Throughout our five decades, what sustained us as writers were the readers. We've been encouraged, inspired and challenged by their enthusiasm, support and questions, which came first in phone calls and letters, later e-mails, and now tweets.

A heartfelt thanks to all for joining us on this wild and crazy — and very flavorful — adventure. There's plenty more on the menu.