Family Dinners


Photo: Daniel Morrison/Flickr

Today at the Kitchen we’re offering up something a little bit different in light of the holidays. Yes, OF COURSE it’s related to food, but it comes our way via a therapist and professor of psychology who practices here in Boston, Anne Fishel. Her essay “Reaping the Benefits of Family Dinners” was brought to my attention by a fellow mom of preschoolers who is also Anne’s colleague at Mass General.

This isn’t an essay solely relevant to parents (parents of toddlers or teenagers, especially) or to 20-somethings dreading coming home this time of year on account of that ubiquitous, religion-blind holiday activity, family meals. Rather, any one of us mildy (or wildly) interested in food and the dynamic of the table can take away from Anne’s essay some thought-provoking ideas about the importance of how we eat and what we eat together. Keep reading the comments posted at the end of her piece and you’ll see that the concept of family dinners can have an impact on the college dining hall and the scourge of eating disorders.

My own self, I grew up in a family that ate together every night, I mean every night, til the day I, the baby, left for college. I don’t know how my parents pulled it off since there were four of us kids. And it never felt like a burden for me as a teenager. No kidding. Miraculous?

Now, as a mom of two little people, I’d say my family of four eats dinner together that many evenings a week on average. In our circle of friends, I believe we do it more often than most. Believe me, enjoying the dinner I’d made and eating it with my 2- and 3-year olds were mutually exclusive activities. But that’s gotten better as they grow and, without needing to refer to the literature on the subject, I intuit that our time around the table is a formative thing for them. I’ll work to keep us eating at the same time, not in shifts, for as long as I can. But I suspect the day-to-day details of our family life at this moment look a whole lot different than they will five years from now. And certainly they look much different from those my parents lived when they were at this point in their own lives.

I am interested in knowing. For all of you reading the PRK blog, how did family dinners impact (or not) your interest in food as a hobby, a passion, a career? Do you make extra effort to have family dinners or to regularly share home-cooked meals with friends? Do you think our collective attitude as a nation towards family meals has changed?

13 thoughts on “Family Dinners

  1. Jill from North Shore Dish

    As an only child of divorced parents whose mom worked the 3 to 11 shift for much of my childhood/teen years, I ate many TV dinners and saw every episode of the Brady Bunch multiple times. When I got my first apartment, I taught myself how to cook and vowed to never again eat Shake ‘n’ Bake chicken. As you might expect, family dinners are a priority for me and were rarely missed when my kids were little. Now that they are teens, they have more evening activities, but I make dinner more nights than not, and when they get home, I sit with them while they eat.

    1. smccrory

      Bravo, Jill. None of that sounds easy. All of it sounds like you’ve made clear, committed choices for yourself and your family.

  2. Jessica

    I loved this post. When I was little, everyone who was home would eat dinner together. My father, a physician, would get home around 8pm. We’d all sit around and keep him company while he ate. When I think about it now it seems totally remarkable!! I hope I can pull of something similar when i have my own kids. Kudos to those who try…I think it’s key.

    1. smccrory

      What a sweet image. Your dad must have loved this time, Jessica. It’s the ‘togetherness’ that underlies the family meal, no matter if someone eats late!.

  3. Sarah @ Semi-Sweet

    We’re big family dinner people, and now that our daughter is 6, we actually enjoy ourselves more often than not! Before and after my parents’ divorce, we ate dinner with one or both parents most every night. I learned to cook by watching both of my parents in the kitchen and by experiencing their appreciation for good food first-hand. I feel that although my daughter doesn’t eat most of what I prepare right now, her exposure to interesting, home-cooked food and our enthusiasm for it, along with our time together around the table will pay off down the road – both in family closeness and in skills for her to take into adulthood.

    1. smccrory

      My kids don’t eat much of what I cook either, Sarah, but I also feel the exposure is important and I talk to them about what I am preparing or eat ing as I do it. I think they’re interested, if sometimes too timid to try! There’s a lot of wisdom in what you’ve written.

  4. Beverly

    At our house, family dinner was sacrosanct. Dad came home every night at 5:30 and dinner was on the table at 5:45. You could set your watch by it. It was my favorite time of the day and we really, REALLY got to know each other well and 30 years later I and my siblings are still very close.

    1. smccrory

      This sounds so much like my family, Beverly. One of my clearest childhood memories is meeting my dad at the back door when he came home from work each evening, that and helping my mom set the table for dinner. I feel quite lucky for this.

  5. Shannon

    We often (always?) had dinner together growing up, which is something i probably didn’t appreciate at the time ;) (but i can say that about alot of foods, too!) i love how the holidays focus on getting extended family together, as I feel that happens less and less these days…

  6. rosie dequattro

    My Mom raised seven kids. Every Sunday she made a real Sunday dinner and we would sit down, all together, at the table. It was usually a multi-course meal, starting with pasta and ending with fruit, nuts, cookies. As we got a little older, we began helping her with the clean-up, but for many years she was it. I remember the mountain of dishes that sat on the counter waiting to be washed after each one of these feasts; the pans piled-up in the sink; the table, ransacked and abandoned, that needed clearing; the crumbed and spattered floor that needed sweeping. Dad never let her clean-up too soon—he liked to linger, bring out the Liquore di Sambuca, pour another glass of wine. This was before dishwashers were standard in every kitchen (certainly not in ours); when businesses were closed on Sunday (people visited, or read the paper, or drank); and before husbands were equal partners in the household. Our table was elastic—Dad made room for 4, 5, even 6 more chairs, and often there would be an aunt and an uncle and a few cousins in those seats, always family, always a fun time for the kids. And much later, when we had boyfriends, we couldn’t wait to bring them home and have them join in at the table. Even then there was a shimmer of awareness that this was something special—after all, none of our friends lived this way. Maybe because we were Italians in a wasp-y town; maybe because Mom didn’t work, outside the home–it was where we all wanted to be, the family dinner table, every Sunday. How did she do it?

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