Eating Dinner as a Family

Eating Dinner as a Family

I was fired up awhile back. I started this post in 2014 and haven’t come back to it because frankly I forgot about it.  So the other day when I was going through my blog “drafts” I noticed it, reread it and got re-amped up about it.

It goes back to an article in Slate Magazine. Michael Ruhlman, one of my guys I have learned much about cooking from via his blog and books, responded with is own piece, to which I respond here.

I Think it Starts with the Idea of Community

The idea of community conjures up many images for me. Some are religious (think Jewish tradition), some hippy (think non-religious communes), church in general, feeding the homeless/charity work, and most of all, bringing family together around the table to eat, celebrate, communicate, and connect.

I believe in community. I really do. I believe that the reason Judaism, Christianity, and Islam work so well is their celebration of feasts, festivals, Saints, God, and their family, all of which are centered around food (including fasting).

The idea of “breaking bread” makes me happy.  Where else can you forcefully be engaged in another loved ones’ life? In the time we are living in, with crazy schedules and electronic devices, and many meaningless relationships, sitting around the dinner table to eat, laugh, and share is becoming more and more difficult to do.  It didn’t used to be.  The dinner table was THE place where dad was with his family, sometimes for the first time that day. It was THE place where mom told dad that their son was in trouble at school. It was THE place where a sheet pan birthday cake was put on the table after dinner to celebrate a birthday. It was THE place where jokes were told, stories were shared, bruises from that afternoon’s football practice began to heal, and relationship was built.

As you can probably tell, I am a big believer in this dynamic and work VERY HARD to make sure we all get together. I see tremendous value in the kids helping finish up cooking, setting  the table, counting out the right number of cups, plates, and silverware.  I love the last minute building of a salad, and the adventure of trying to get all of the “hot food” out at roughly the same time. Wine? Sure!  Three pitchers of water! You bet!  Milk? Optional!

So when I read Ruhlman’s response to the article from Slate, as I said, I was a little amped up. I loved his response, and although he was respectful to the writer, he didn’t mince any words in supplying multiple studies, and multiple counter points to the author’s translation of a recent NC State study that articulates the “burden” for some parents to cook food for their children.

Let me add to the dialog by addressing many of the common claims, some from these articles, and other that I have observed regarding cooking for a family.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” – Ronald Reagan

Buying quality food is too expensive – This is tough one for me. I have been and argued both sides. I fell into the same trap. I have bought cheap food because it was cheap and didn’t think I could afford it and I have bought ingredients at a premium because of where they are from, authenticity, purity, or simply because it really is better.  Some people have a hard time buying “organic” and struggle with paying extra.  I think that most of the time it is simply a matter of belief and habit. If you aren’t used to doing so, hard to break from that (we humans can be difficult).  Or maybe we are so “cheap-minded” it simply isn’t worth the cost. Others simply don’t believe that the term “organic” for example, is legitimate. They think it is a scam to charge more for roughly the same items.  My own wife is a good example of this. When she was considered “poor,” she still bought organic, whole foods. She rarely bought processed food (even with good ingredients) and always cooked even when she, and her kids didn’t care for it. When we got married, we had some hard conversations about food. What to buy, why, organic vs not, processed vs not and so forth. We have moved over to 95% organic, we of course cook all of the time, and now that we have out little farm, grow as much as possible. This now includes lots of veg, eggs, beef, and now pork!  I get it. Not everyone can do it. But can we do it a little? Can we MOVE that way?  I think you will like it.

I am too tired to cook – I get this one too. I work hard and come home and do 90% of the cooking. For me, I love it. It unwinds me. It takes my mind off the stress of the day or week. I make an Old Fashioned, or a glass of wine, turn some country music and start cooking. The best thing I incorporated was a plan. In my “notes” on my iPhone, I have a note for the ongoing grocery list as well as one for the menu for the week. I have bonus items like when I want to make jerky, or a big pot of tomato sauce, or chicken stock, or bread, or something that is not necessarily for a specific meal but for a longer view for the week or month.  I sit down on Sunday nights or Monday mornings, do a quick review of what is in the pantry and fridges and freezers with Dominica, and try to build out a dinner menu around minimal to zero waste.  If you plan, I think it minimizes the decisions a family has to make when they feel too tired. This includes those nights when the kids have baseball practice!

My kids are fussy eaters – This one irks me a bit. It probably is because of my own mother. She NEVER let Molly and I skip what we were eating. Even if it was lima beans, oatmeal for the 4 millionth time, etc. My mom was a pretty good cook, honestly not great, but she was committed to making sure we ate enough and healthy. We RARELY got to go out to eat, even fast food. Our Aunts took us out a few times and that was fun but the point is this: we were not allowed to be picky!  Attitude was it. You ate what was in front of you. Combination of my parents upbringing I am sure, and the fact that my dad worked SO HARD working graveyard at the Spokesman Review, that money was precious and therefore the groceries were also precious.  You can teach your kids to eat ANYTHING. It is all in how you raise them. I always tried to teach my kids that attitude was the most important thing. This went for every area in life. Control your attitude, shape the life. Includes food.

It is simply not worth it – This thought is interesting. A little defeatist. A little weak but I kind of understand.  I have people I know that let their kids eat lots of junk food, drink soda, etc. and seem to be way skinnier than my kids. Maybe it isn’t worth the fight! Or the commitment to sitting down. I don’t know about their actual health, but we have tried to cook whole foods and think it is helping. We certainly feel better about it and again, since we have our little farm, we like to “control” a little more of this narrative for our own family. We plant the seed, we get to reap the food. It is fun, and feels really good. For us, it IS WORTH IT.

We really do value our time around our dinner table and the holidays as well. We have made it a priority and it has made the melding of our families stronger. We cover a lot of ground at dinner. Some super simple and silly and other times, super deep and intense. The point, for us, is to be there, together, as much as possible, for us and for our kids. It has made a world of difference.

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