Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dinner: Reclaiming a relic?

Is too straight-forward of me to tell you that I wish this article were distributed to newly married couples as well as with the inch-thick paperwork pile you are handed mere minutes after a newborn arrives?

What do you think?

Imagine a world where the dinner bell rings, and feet from nooks and crannies all around the house come shuffling to the table. There, great bowls spill with home-cooked foods. The table is set with silverware and napkins, cloth ones. Conversation, the give-and-take of great ideas, or silly stories, flows. Laughter punctuates the tinkling of forks and knives, scraping against the plates. Someone asks, politely, "Please pass the peas."

Scratch that. Imagine not the whole wide world that way, but just one house. Your house.

Imagine that soccer practice isn't smack-dab at the dinner hour. Imagine you're not driving through the Drive-Thru and calling it "good enough." Imagine that the TV isn't roaring.

Radical imagination, we know.

But we're about to get radical. Really, really radical.

It's time, people, to reclaim the family dinner.

It is, in our measure, not only essential for the care and comfort of the ones you love, but it also lays down a lifetime of memory that stands a chance of stoking generation after generation. Family dinner goes a long way toward keeping civilization from crumbling. The body politic, you might say, is launched with fork and spoon. Sopping up spilled milk is mere rehearsal for decades of diplomacy.

No short order, surely.

And, yes, yes, we know …

There are a million and one reasons that it's practically as hard to get food on the table and bodies in the chairs after a long, hard day as it is to, heck, circle the moon.

We know, thanks to the most up-to-the-minute snapshot by the market research gurus at the NPD Group, in a study titled "Dinnertime MealScape 2009," that if a camera peeked in the kitchen window of every American household we would see slightly more than half of them eating all together (an uptick, thanks likely to the recession). But in a third of the homes, meals are being eaten in shifts. In almost 4 out of 10 households, the TV is blaring during dinner. In 4 percent of the households, there's a computer right beside the dinner plate. And the computer is whirring away.

The bottom line, according to NPD's Kim McLynn: "There are more (of us eating together) than what most people believe, but we're approaching it in the easiest way possible."

Are we cranking up the stove, peeling a real potato, doing any actual cooking? "We're looking for any way around that," McLynn said.

Behold the counterargument.

"Family dinner is one-stop shopping for health and wellness," declared Lucinda Scala Quinn, co-host of PBS' "Everyday Food," executive food director for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and author of "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys" (Artisan, $27.95).

"You have to eat, so why not nourish the ones you love physically, emotionally, spiritually?" Quinn asks. "You're using this necessary function to create a lifelong dialogue with the people you live with."

It won't happen overnight, she cautioned. "It's a day-in-and-day-out commitment, and there aren't rewards all the time. But when you see it, not all the money in the world could buy it. Each of those moments is like a little pearl on a necklace. When you look back on those pearls — when you have a 22-year-old who invites you for dinner, when you have a kid who likes vegetables, when you think of all the laughter and stories and learning that took place at the table — you're going to have a magnificent necklace."

Chef and cookbook author Lisa Schroeder couldn't agree more.

The dinner table, she said, "is a great location for many lessons of civilization. We pass the plate, we use tongs instead of grabbing. It opens a door for all sorts of communication. Sometimes you just have to set aside the time and make it happen."

Schroeder, a European-trained chef and single mom who felt so compelled to preserve home cooking that she opened Mother's Bistro & Bar in Portland, Ore., recently tucked 150 of her favorite recipes into a new cookbook, "Mother's Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again" (Taunton Press, $28).

Anna Last, editor of "Everyday Food," the magazine that strives to make it doable to cook dinner any night of the week, said we need to ditch the notion that it's OK to sit in front of the TV, shoveling in food.

"It's about breaking a habit," she said. "I don't know why every day can't be a celebration. Or an everyday inspiration."

- Reclaiming Family Dinners, Barbara Mahany for Tribune Newspapers


Queen of Cashmere said...

In our home, we sit for dinner every night. Using Irish linen "lapkins" that belonged to my mother and at a table that my husband remembers as being the center of his childhood home, often the food is secondary to the conversation and company.
We don't save the linens, china or crystal for special occasisons. Our daily lives are special occasions enough. Now if my 16 year old son would just get his elbows off the table we would have dinner table perfection!
I enjoy your blog immensely and although this is the fist time I have commented, I have been a reader for a while. Thank you for constantly reminding us, in a world where it's easy to forgo, that civility is indeed never optional.

EntertainingMom said...

We aim to have family dinners 4 to 5 times a week. Sometimes, with after school sports, activities or a late meeting for my husband, this is not possible. But we try. It is the one time during a crazy and hectic week that we can be together and connect. Family meal time is terribly, terribly important!

Faff Around said...

I just read an article stating that children whose familys eat meals together at night are less likely to suffer depression, do drugs and get in trouble with the police.

I am with you, I think it is important to sit together and talk and share. It has to be a priority. Good Post, Thanks,

ALL THE BEST said...

In our home, we sit for dinner every night too. It's the only way I have ever known. Of course there are the few crazy and hectic nights it just doesn't happen...such it life.

Great post!

Debra said...

This is such a good post! We always sit at either the breakfast nook or dining table for dinner, candles lit, cloth napkins. It is relaxing and a wonderful way to wind down. I think it's such an important habit for young families. Now the exception would be a mug of chili on Super Bowl Sunday-comfortably on the sofa...

Southern Aspirations said...

Great post and a habit that needs to be relearned (even in my household of just my husband and I). Great way to foster family intimacy. And of course, given my new year's resolution of celebrating, I LOVE the last line about celebrating each day!

LindsB said...

I think dinner time at home with family is more important than anything. Growing up it taught me conversation skills, manners, like keeping my elbows off the table, how to actually butter a roll (one bite at a time :) ), where my napkin belongs, how to set a proper table, how to cook with my mom, passing the salt and pepper together as a pair, and so much more! It was a time for my family to bond and for my parents to get to actually listen to my brother and I. I totally agree with you that a manual should be handed out, that is a great idea- you should write one!

Suburban Princess said...

I love this post!
When my husband is home we all sit down together at the dinner table. Our little boy has learned from a few months old that we all sit together even if we arent eating. We can now take him to any calibre of restaurant! I have friends who wont even take their kids to the diner :O(

I have another friend who doesnt even have a dining table of any kind and I keep thinking her little boy is going to grow up to be a savage - it really shows when we are all out together for lunch and my little boy treats 'the table' like a ritual as opposed to a playground!

JMW said...

Great article. We have made a strong commitment to eat together as a family, at the dinner table, every night. While it's hard at times with a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, it's something we feel strongly about, to connect as a family. I'm not always great about making a home-cooked meal, but that's a resoltuion for this year. I'm sure sports pracices may make this more difficult in the future, but it's still a practice we hope to maintain.

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Happy New Year, Blushing! Wonderful observations this morning...I've linked this post on my blog today.

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Thanks for visiting! I am local, send me an everything about entertaining so I will stop by often. I saw your beautiful "snowy" picture and had to laugh because what was to be the largest party we've hosted in years...was scheduled on none other the nite of The Bizzard of2009!!!

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou said...

growing up, my mom always made sure we ate dinner together (and no TV) every night. it's so important. i'm happy to see it promoted!!!
xox alison

Karena said...

Those traditions are so important. Many of us have gotten to just fast, fast, fast fast. Using linens and stemware can make a big difference in respecting the dinner hour, and of course we can go casual sometimes!!

Poindexter said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I completely loved your essay and it inspired me to elaborate slightly. Hope you don't mind that I included a link to your blog from my post. Thank you! - Diane

The Hasslers said...

Thank you for the post, I really enjoyed this article. My husband and I both come from eating in shifts families. Most of the food we ate growing up was microwavable or frozen.

During our pre-marital counseling this was something we decided that we wanted to change. We made a commitment to day one of marriage eating dinner together and most of the time it's been home-made goodness. (I had never really cooked before marriage, so it was a learning process.) We love this time together and look forward to continuing when we have kids some day.

Nan said...

This is a fantastic article! I think a lot about how we now have so much technology to make the simple act of cooking dinner and eating as a family easier than what our grandmothers faced. Food processors, non stick pans, dishwashers, it goes on and on...and yet we complain about how hard it is to find the time to do something that humans have done for thousands of years without modern tools. Why is it so hard for us with so much at our disposal?

Susie said...

Loved reading this - my children have never known any different - their highchair was pulled up to the table from infancy & interestingly, my daughter (who is now at Sydney university whilst we are living in the UK) said the thing she misses most is our daily dinner date for discussion over the meal table! The great thing is that when I eventually visit the home she will create for her own family I know that I won't see TV dinners!! Thanks for stopping by - warm wishes, Susie x

The Blushing Hostess said...

I'm glad we're all agreed. Where are my non-dinner-together readers? Maybe I don't have any? Hmmmmm. I have heard the sports and activities issue can be a very big problem. My parents solved this rather autocratically for me: Ride well, and be at the table at 6:30, dinner is more important...
from time to time I needed to be reminded but I was always there.

Ah, since then, never a question as to what the priority was come 6:30, you know?

Hasslers - you're to be commended in sticking to your commitment to cross the street.

As to the difficulty making it happen in general: I'd make as a comparision the other mothers who say to me during Josh's deplotments, "Oh it must be so difficult to..." Like anything in life, it isn't "difficult" at all if you know no other thing and hopefully your families will no other as well!

Nan - excellent point: what, indeed, are those huge wedding registries for if no one intends to use them!

Happy new year to all and thank you for your contributions, Catherine

LPC said...

It's great to do. Just need to let all young mothers know that you CAN approximate:).

sle said...

Guilty as charged. Been there, done that. Travel soccer, AAU basketball, after school practices, dance lessons, voice lessons. Drive thru windows and take out boxes. Family dinners only on Sundays. Kids are both in college now. Fortunately, they know to pass the salt and pepper together and which fork to use and when but if I could have a do over I would definitely do it differently. It all started when they began middle school. It's so easy to give in to the " we must do it all " thought process. Don't.

Gwen Driscoll said...

Thank you for this post. As a working mother, I struggle on a daily basis to make this happen for our family every night. We always succeed at least three to four nights a week but between dual careers and a child (9) who now has her own extracurricular activities, it gets hard.

This is one of my New Year's Resolutions that I WILL succeed at accomplishing. It's so important. My parents made this a priority for our family and we deserve the same priority. I truly believe it's what creates a family that loves and understands each other.

So enjoy your blog. Looking forward to many more great posts.

Ragland Hill Social

susanne said...

Great blog post. Both my husband and I were raised in "Dinner at 6:30" families - and you'd better be there.
All three of our children were raised the same way.
It is seriously the only family time left in our culture - you have to make it count. It's worth every sacrifice. Now that we're to be grandparents, it's reassuring to know that our children understand the importance of this civilized time of day and it will be carried on.

Town and Country Mom said...

Dinner at home with cloth napkins, candles, and real food is our standard. When my children were preschool age, we had supper at home together every night. Now they are 17, 14, and 10. We navigate around tennis,theatre, Boy Scouts, tennis, church activities, tennis, and after-work meetings. We seldom sit down before 7:30. Wednesdays are impossible. Friends and study groups are welcome. My husband established the rule that no one sits down after leaving the table until the kitchen and dining room are "closed" and ready for breakfast. The camaraderie of cleaning up together is almost as swell as that of eating together.

Needless to say, I love the article! Thanks for commenting on Town and Country Mom. I look forward to reading Blushing Hostess in the new year.

Butler2880 said...

I love your blog! We're so on the same page. I just wish I could convince my wife on the importance of the family meal! If I had my way (entirely), we would dress for dinner, then retire to the drawing room to read, relax and enjoy each others company (once the kids have been put to bed!). Alas, we would need a bigger house for that to be a reality, but starting with the family dinner would be great!

A Flair for Vintage Decor said...

This is so true! Thanks for bringing it to light- I have always felt that since my husband and I have home-cooked dinners together most nights of the week that we are doing it right! But we have to get away from the TV and make each dinner a more special occasion!

Thanks for visiting my blog! The drapes are called "Mint Julep" for their color and they are dupioni silk. I found them at The Curtain Exchange. Looking forward to reading your blog in 2010!

MDiskin said...

I have a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 4 month old. I pull out the china, cloth napkins and candles every night. (Okay, the toddler eats on divided plastic plates for now, but the older one knows how to respect the china.) I put food on platters instead of serving up the kid plates, and now they actually ask for and eat the food I serve. My husband is a "grazer" so I had to educate him on the loveliness of eating dinner as a family, but it really is civilizing and restful. And not nearly as difficult as the military-industrial-fast-food complex would have you believe. :-)

pve design said...

I love this, we are hopelessly devoted to family meals.
I somehow feel more humane when we do have a meal as a family. Real china, cloth napkins, lively banter and good food create healthy individuals.

Ms. Bake-it said...

I am definitely a proponent of family meals and loved your essay. I linked it to my blog and shared my own observations. Thank you for another great post.

thislovelycity said...

I agree that family dinners are essential. I'm recently married, with no children yet. My husband and I don't sit together at the dinner table enough [lots of eating out or eating while watching football or movies!;] but I definitely want to implement this soon - definitely before we have kids! LOVE your blog! XO!