Our teenage daughter, who is away at school for a semester, tells us she misses dinners at home. We feel her absence then more than any other time too. The banter just isn’t quite the same. I don’t think anyone (well, the one person, really) has fallen off their chair with laughter since she’s been gone.
Dinner can be something anticipated or dreaded. It’s at a tough time of day, when people are tired, cranky and for at least half of the year, darkness is closing in. On the other hand, it can be a lovely time to eat something hot, nutritious and yummy, and a space to connect with people you love.
I was interested to hear the experts on Ireland’s Operation Transformation this season advocating for ‘One Family, One Dinner’, after many participants – over the years – found it difficult to produce one balanced meal daily, never mind several to cater for people’s tastes.
I brought my idea of dinner with me from my past lives. Growing up, we always sat down together and ate the same meal (though that extra piece of pie always went to my dad, which didn’t go unchallenged). The people with whom I lived and worked in Europe in my twenties also all sat together, believing that being ‘at table’ with others is essential in keeping relationships strong and healthy. Just as in my childhood home, where table setting was one of the first skills you learned, that table was properly set, candles lit, flowers added.
To this day, we still light candles for dinner every night: both the table setting and the candle lighting are skills learned early in this house.
Another habit from home that we carry on is that you don’t have to finish your dinner. While that sounds radical, my parents wanted to have leeway for those times when maybe you weren’t as hungry: eating for the sake of finishing something is a bad habit. However – and this is a big however – you couldn’t just eat what you liked and leave everything else, and if you didn’t finish your dinner, then you got nothing else until breakfast – unless you came back to your dinner, which could be warmed up for you again. The theory is, if you’re not hungry enough for dinner, then you possibly couldn’t eat a dessert, right? More often than not, dinner does somehow manage to be finished off when there is the prospect of something nice afterwards.
It is also the perfect time to teach table manners, though there are evenings when we feel like all we’ve done is say, “Cut that please!” or “I hope you don’t do that at other people’s houses!”
In the past six months or so, we’ve had several weeks with just two of us having dinner together; we’ve made our own tradition around it, bringing out backgammon, Urban Myth or Connect Four for marathons that keep us from rushing through our food.
So what makes it work for us?
- Cooking and cleaning are shared, sometimes many pitching in, sometimes just one person doing most of the meal – but not doing every meal.
- We’ve never done ‘kid’ food – they eat what we eat, though now that we have a pescetarian, allowances obviously have to be made. However, our already more than half vegetarian diet has become even more plant/fish based so that there aren’t two dinners cooked every night.
- We use the time to catch up, make plans, talk about issues, or laugh together.
- We’ve done it for so long, everyone expects it now. There are occasions where someone’s schedule means they can’t sit down with the rest, but for the most part, it works. Occasionally we eat earlier or later, if necessary.
It isn’t always a Toastmaster’s event in our home: arguments erupt, feelings get hurt. People claim they’ve been put off their dinner because of the subject matter (who knew menopause could be so offensive?). Humour or energy levels sometimes mean we all sit almost in silence.
If it seems unattainable in your household, try for a dinner or two a week, or a weekend breakfast or brunch. If you all can’t be together, eat with those who are there. Try and eliminate distractions like television or technology at the table.
It isn’t the easiest thing to do in today’s often hectic world, but doesn’t that make it a worthwhile goal? Remove the hectic for the 20 minutes it takes to sit down together, breathe, eat, and enjoy the people you live with. You’ll miss it when they’re gone.
3 thoughts on “One Family, One Dinner”
I’m laughing because this just sounds like our family meals from a few years ago! I sure miss the “arguments “ and disagreements now. Who would’ve thought I’d miss that? It’s a lot quieter with just shelby and me. How grateful am I that she IS here still for some meals! Although with university and working late, it’s a lot of keeping her meal ready for her.
Love this article my friend. Miss you and cannot WAIT to spend time together again!!!
Oh! I finally bit the biscuit and am taking an on line course about blogging. Still in the beginning stages, only lesson 5. 35 to go.
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Miss you too! Looking forward to this summer. Want to hear more about the course!