What does the British Sunday lunch mean in 1998? Definitely not roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for these five gatherings of family and friends. By Caroline Stacey
Vegetarian with Hilary Lewin

Having spent the week rushing round the M25 massaging computer operators, stress therapist Hilary Lewin makes sure Sundays are as relaxed as possible. An organised lunch in the middle of the day is not guaranteed at the house in the Surrey countryside where she lives with landscape gardener Jeremy McBurney and their two children - Daisy, 10, and Flynn, eight. But a wholesome, hot vegetarian meal will be ready at some stage in the day.

She describes the family's Sunday lunches as "a real hit-and-miss affair". Even if she starts peeling potatoes while The Archers is on, in between polishing the children's shoes and answering tricky maths homework questions, they still may not eat until early in the evening. That's because on Sundays she tries to spend as much time as possible out of doors and as little cooking. What this usually means is that lots of vegetables - delivered by Sunshine Organics in Cranleigh - are "bunged in one tin in the oven together and left to roast". "I like there to be a simple but big meal," she says. "The main thing about Sunday is that I will not leave the premises. I like to be hearty in the garden and come in to a big dinner, then there's chaos getting ready for school the next morning."

This weekend they made a little more effort than usual. Hilary invited Jeremy's parents Bill and Louise who live next door - "we see a lot of them but don't often invite them round for proper lunch" - and friends Mary Branson and Mat Clark and their son Shola, seven. Before lunch, beekeepers Richard and Diana dropped round for some mead.

The meal wasn't served until 4pm. They started with broccoli and brie parcels - "I pulled out the stops there" - then roast potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and Mediterranean roast vegetables. Mary brought an apple crumble made with locally grown apples and blackberries she'd picked herself. They finished with coffee and "ginger tea for our colds" and Shola passed round the Ferrero Rocher with ambassadorial grandeur to go with the remains of the Chardonnay. Then it was time to get ready for school the next day.

Eclectic with Jonny Wong

"I'm very possessive in the kitchen, other people can help with mundane jobs but anything else is my department," says former Masterchef contestant Johnny Wong.

His life-long interest in food started at home outside Sunderland. "I used to sneak into the kitchen and play around when my parents' takeaway was closed." Though he originally studied hotel management, he's now in marketing for an educational publisher, and one Sunday a month he works for the Food Chain, which delivers meals to people housebound with HIV and Aids. He'd planned this menu to meet his friends' expectations for something special without being stuck in the kitchen. As well as his landlady, Cecilia, and student niece Lily, in London for work experience, he'd invited friends who didn't all know each other and he wanted to be free to introduce people. His cooking is by no means exclusively Chinese. "I enjoy cooking lots of different types of cuisines. With a Chinese meal, four or five different dishes have to be ready at the same time, which means lots of last-minute cooking." This time he had the added challenge of producing something suitable for his friend Simon, an inconsistent vegan, and another vegetarian friend Kate. Paprika chicken could look after itself, and he could leave the rice in his rice cooker; only the three vegetables - roast carrots, stir-fried cabbage and green beans needed attention before serving. He also devised a meat-free dish - chickpeas, chestnuts, mushrooms and shallots in red wine. "I was a bit worried about it, because it looked a bit murky - we decided it was autumnal."

Johnny doesn't take shortcuts when he's cooking for friends. "If I served anything plain they'd be disappointed," and he made pastry for chocolate pear tart and cinnamon ice-cream to go with meringue and hazelnut apple roulade, a choice of rich or lighter pudding, although inevitably most people wanted both.

The guests had started arriving at 2.30pm and the last left at 7pm. The meal was ready to eat at 3.30pm. "Dinner parties are an opportunity to really show off and be arty farty, lunch is less stressful, more plonked in the middle of the table," admitted the host. Everyone except the cook drank wine - he's allergic to alcohol.

Jewish with Diane Saunders

For 20 years, Diane Saunders put on traditional Jewish Friday night dinner. Now she is a "single parent grandmother", she often entertains friends for dinner but doesn't insist the family gets together regularly, though invariably they do anyway. And this was a typically family-dominated weekend for Diane and two of her 24 cousins. Her lunch includes her two sisters, her two daughters and their three children, a son-in-law and brother-in-law, her two best friends, one with a husband and son, a cousin and his wife from Northampton, her ex-husband and his sister and her husband and their daughter - Diane's niece. They'd all come to see her cousin El Hanan and his wife Helene visiting from Israel, but there's nothing unusual about a gathering this size in her own or another relative's home.

Diane is orthodox but not kosher, though her sister is, which is why this meal doesn't mix milk and meat, "and at family do's we tend not to have meat on a Sunday, though you can be as contradictory as you like and nobody can deny your Jewishness". This was an undeniably Jewish meal, although it involved almost no cooking. They had bagels, smoked salmon ("my grandchildren adore it"), herrings, and falafel made by El Hanan in pitta bread.

Guests started arriving at midday; at 1pm her son-in-law arrived with the fresh coriander for the falafel. Her sister-in-law brought egg and onion (chopped egg and spring onion filling for the bagels). Living in the centre of Leeds' Jewish area, Diane had already bought herrings (rollmops, sweet, pickled, and in tomato and olives) and the salmon from the Kosherie, and bagels, challah and kuchen, a sweet bread cake, from the Chalutz bakery. "Sunday brunch is a brilliant meal because you don't have to cook it, it's more of an assembly job, and it can expand according to the number of people who are coming." Eating carried on from 2pm to 5pm, with orange, apple, and grapefruit juice and lots of tea and coffee. "I'm very privileged having so many family who live close and others who visit, that's what this is all about," says Diane.

Greek with Victoria Paphides

"Greeks love good food," says Victoria Paphides, who provides a traditional Sunday lunch after church on the occasions when she has more people than just her husband Chris to cook for. "It's very important to have a good lunch on a Sunday," she says. Victoria follows a well-rehearsed pattern: a starter of avgolemono soup ("the most popular in Greece") of chicken and lemon, and a meze including dolmades, meatballs, roast peppers, salad, her special taramasalata and other dips for people to help themselves to before, during and after the roast lamb. "Greeks fill the plates with everything," she says. The lamb is studded with garlic, served with potatoes which are roasted with mustard, lemon juice and olive oil for piquancy, and her oven-baked macaroni cheese. After this there's fresh fruit, and an hour or so later coffee and something sweet: "You never serve coffee without cake, and we leave feta on the table." On this particular Sunday, Victoria made three traditional sticky cakes. Only one wine, usually retsina, is served.

Cooking on this scale takes preparation, but she has no difficulty getting everything done in time for her guests: "I'm very quick. I can cook three or four meals together." And she already has some ingredients to hand which she saves from trips to Greece, such as cod's roe for her taramasalata - "very nice the way I make it".

"Since the boys left home, I don't do this kind of thing every Sunday," she says. "If it's just me and my husband. I'd replace the leg of lamb with chicken. But I still invite relations or they invite us." This week she invited the priest, Father Pavros, and his wife Elenia, with whom she works in Birmingham, teaching Greek children, her relatives Effie and Anthony, and friend June and her husband Christos. Victoria's son Peter, who lives in London, describes her stifado (meat stew) as "blinding". The meal began about 2pm and the guests left around 5pm. There was still plenty left over for Peter to take home with him.

Pakistani with Shahrukh Husain

"My father was one of the most spectacular cooks in creation, and my mother is still a marvellous cook," says Shahrukh Husain, who was born and brought up in Pakistan, and began cooking at 18 when she was living with her parents in southern India. "I've cooked ever since; I love the instant gratification - the pleasure of watching everyone's faces enjoying it." When her latest book, Temptresses: The Virago Book of Evil Women, was published, she made all the food for the 80 guests at the launch party. "It's a wonderful balance with being a writer. There's 18 months to two years between writing and publication, with cooking you can produce something at the end of a few hours."

For her family, husband Christopher Shackle, son Adam, 16, and daughter Samara, 11, she cooks Indian food about once a week; European pasta and fish the rest of the time. "Adam's completely Anglicised but he says the only food that fills him up is Indian." This Sunday, the first the family had had in their house after several weeks' building work, her mother, Sabeeha, joined them for lunch. Chicken, murgh musallam, was pot-roasted whole with spices, potatoes - dum aloo - were deep-fried then cooked in yoghurt. Shahrukh also made borani, deep-fried aubergines in yoghurt, and gobi bhaji - "lovely south Indian cabbage with mustard seeds, cumin and garlic". As a diabetic, she seldom eats or cooks pudding, but made an exception with shahi tukra, an Indian version of bread-and-butter pudding. Lunch is served punctually in the kitchen: Christopher gets hungry around 1 o'clock, Adam eats and runs, "but we sit around the table chatting, even though it's not terribly comfortable".