I picked up The Family Dinner on a whim at Costco a couple weeks ago. I’m a sucker for good looking book covers and the title of this cheery, bright yellow book had me at family dinner. A day or so later I started reading the book. I devoured it in one sitting. No pun intended.
The premise of the book isn’t anything new. We all know the importance of family dinners. Statistics are clear – eating dinner as a family encourages language skills in children and improves school grades. Teens who regularly dine with their family are less likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, or abuse alcohol. Sharing meals at the family table also help reduce obesity, encourage healthy eating habits and immunize kids against common behavior problems.
What if sitting down at the dinner table with your family was celebrated as the most important thing you did all day?
Our family eats dinner together almost every single night. But I’ve noticed lately that our dinners have become sloppy. Eyes roll at the request to take a ‘thank you’ bite of a new and unrequested dish. Elbows prop sleepy heads up and weary arms dangle forks to mouths. I’m tired of saying ‘sit square in your chair.’ The brevity of the meal is interrupted by homework, the ding of an email, and even the Wonder Pets blaring in the background.
Not all nights are like this at The Schell Cafe, but we shouldn’t have to confine the celebration of being together to Friday evenings when we typically linger over a longer supper and talk about the highs and lows from the previous week.
Husband often tells the Littles (and me!) to ‘finish strong’. I love that man-o-mine and his admirable mantra. And I need to heed his advice. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen planning and preparing daily dinners. But, I’m not finishing strong when we have dinner time scenarios like the one I just described. I’d never serve a cake without the icing! Why would I allow the most important part of my efforts to fall flat?
Stumbling across The Family Dinner was just the encouragement I needed to remember the importance of gathering ’round our family table. The book is light-hearted, whimsical, and encouraging without being patronizing or preachy. The mandate to prioritize daily dinner is clear. As I read through the book, I realized I was already doing 90% of the work to put our family dinner together. I need to finish strong with the added touches that will communicate to Husband and the Littles that this is the most important time of our day.
I have to say, so far, it’s working!
First, I didn’t make a formal declaration of my intent to take back the family dinner hour. In fact, I didn’t really know I was doing anything extraordinary. One night, a week or so ago, after dinner was prepared, I set a casual, but festive table. I used place mats and multi-colored cloth napkins I bought on (another) whim at Crate & Barrel and lit candles. I put a gluten-free chocolate cake on special cake stand and used it as a centerpiece, which you can also interpret as incentive.
I didn’t say a word and when the masses descended from the busyness of their evenings they immediately got ‘it’. From ‘wow’s’ to ‘what’s the occasion?’ I knew I was on to something. Here’s the kicker – it took about 3 minutes to make this effort. And the pay off?
Dinner that night lasted 45 minutes. No one was eager to leave the table. The conversation was meaningful as we discussed the highs and lows of the day. Without being prompted our oldest cleared the table. And it’s continued. Night after night, we’ve celebrated together. Celebrated each other.
Sure the napkins are piling up in the laundry room. And the place mats reveal stains chronicling our meals. But when Littlest asked for the ‘fancy napkins’ in her lunchbox, I couldn’t help but smile. Even our three-year-old understands the importance of our special time together.
It’s not hard to make your family dinner the most important thing you will do all day. It does require the desire and a little effort. The Family Dinner offers practical ways and encouragement to help. I found myself nodding ‘yes’ and ‘YES!’ as I read the book I wish I had authored.
Pick up a copy of The Family Dinner. Keep it for yourself. Give it as a gift. See what small gestures you can make this week to make dinner time the most sacred part of your family’s day.
Ice the cake. It’s the best part.