Growing up, I ate dinner with my brothers nearly every night. When we were young, my mom fed us before my dad came home but sat with us while we ate. It was before the days of smart phones and ipods, of constant access and inundation. The rules were this: no reading and no answering the phone. We didn't have to talk, per say, but conversation inevitably flowed. Sometimes we'd talk about our days or ideas with our mom; others we'd slip into that language that only siblings share, continuing imagined adventures begun in the backyard that afternoon or debates lingering from the evening before. As we got older, dinner became an affair that all five of us met over most nights of the week. We learned to communicate--to talk and to listen--and how to behave at the table. More than that, though, we knew where to find each other as our lives became increasingly individualized.
Laurie David (of "An Inconvenient Truth" fame) has recently published a book called The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. It is a beautiful book, one that I've been savoring as I pick my way through. Brimming with recipes (most offered by her friend and family chef Kirstin Uhrenholdt), David's book goes into great detail about the importance of coming together as a family for a meal. While the book focuses on dinner, David repeatedly points out that you can come together with those you love over breakfast or snack or pre-bed tea with the same results. The benefits are myriad, no matter the meal. Kids perform better in school who eat with their families. They have lower teen pregnancy rates and lower rates of disordered eating. Consciousness around eating is fostered, whether take-out is being served up or a completely homemade meal. Everyone slows down for a while, and the end result is healthier, happier people.
In addition to recipes, David offers up interviews with famous chefs. She offers music suggestions to accompany cooking and eating. There are pages upon pages about simple ways to make the table feel special (light a candle, make place settings with Scrabble letters, etc). It is the rare page that doesn't include information about ways that kids can help, too, whether it's setting the table or scrubbing the potatoes. The more hands involved in making the meal, the more appreciation felt for the food once it arrives at the table.
We have been trying to eat dinner as a family more these days. We want M to grow up knowing where to find us. I've found it keeps me accountable, too. Quite simply, I want her to see me eat, to grow up watching me nourish my body in hopes it will help her know how to do the same. The thing about David's book, though, is that while it's focused on families with kids, her points apply to all of us. In our hustle bustle go-go-go society, we far too often eat standing up in the kitchen or shove food in our mouths while we drive. Eating is one of the most basic and essential human functions and it's time that we get back to basics. So let's all try to do like David more often. Light a candle, put your food on a plate (even if it's a frozen pizza or delivery), and sit down. Our minds and bodies will thank us.
And, really. If you only own one cookbook, I suggest this one. It is truly excellent.