In “A Date With Your Family,” a 10-minute educational film made in the 1950s, a mother knits you as she cooks dinner. She and her daughter changed from their daywear to more formal ones. Brother and Junior comb their hair and wash their hands in preparation. Father comes back from the office and hangs his hat on a mantel.
The narrator says, “The dinner date has begun and they are all happy with it.” “Napkins in the lap of the family waiting to be served. They talk with pleasure while Dad serves – I said ‘with pleasure’, that’s the key word at dinner time. It’s not only good manners but good sense. Pleasant, unemotional conversation helps good digestion.”
While he goes on to explain what to do and what not to do at dinner time, the narrator advises praising the mother for the food and avoiding talking rudely about your siblings.
The narrator says, “The dinner table is no place for indignation.” “This doesn’t mean you have to be stiff or formal — with your family you can relax. Be yourself. Just make sure it’s your best self.”
This version of family dinners, if it really existed outside of TV shows, is long gone. But connecting over a communal meal is still a concept that many families today aspire to. But how can this be achieved? It’s a combination of relaxing things and not canceling the whole idea.
Family dinner: what has changed?
Almost everything has changed – starting with the family itself.
“The idea of a stay-at-home mom cooking? That ship set sail,” says Ann Fishel, Ph.D., executive director and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project.
“About 50% of American families are either single-parent families or a mixed family,” Fishel says. She also points out that if there are two parents, they may both be mothers or fathers. And sometimes there’s grandpa in the mix, too. Some people have extended their definition of family to their chosen family — people in their inner circle who make them feel at home, even if they are not related.
The dinner itself has also changed. For many people, that rarely means cooking from scratch. They may prefer other options, such as subscription meal kits, frozen foods, delivery, takeout, and restaurant dining.
“A family dinner doesn’t have to be dinner and it doesn’t have to be family,” Fishel says.
“I think they’re any two people,” she says. “It can be as far as you get to meet everyone night after night. Some families I know have a rule that no one eats alone. In some families, kids eat vegetables with hummus at 5pm because they are really hungry and they eat more than one parent at a time. later”.
Family dinner: the impact of COVID-19
One of the few winnings for the first part of pandemicWhen as many people stayed at home as possible, the hectic family obligations that involved going out were literally off the table. Dinner at home was more bearable, whether you cooked or baked more than usual (sourdough bread, anyone?) or ordered in.
Just over a year after the pandemic, Fishel teamed up with Make Caring Common, a Harvard graduate school project, to poll more than 500 parents about family dinners.
“More than 60% said they ate family dinners more often,” Fishel says. Most of these parents – 80% – said they wanted to continue. “Parents have reported an improvement in the quality of family dinners,” Fishel says. “They talked more about their days, laughed more, communicated more, and talked about the news.”
As we settle into the “new normal,” what does it take to keep family dinners in the mix?
Family dinner: it has become a tradition
If family dinners are important to you, it’s likely because they were part of your childhood.
If you grew up in the age of strict family dinners, you might not like being asked to eat everything on your plate or to have a table manners lesson every night. But even so, as an adult, you are more likely to prioritize family dinners.
“Traditions of family meals may encourage more frequent family meals across generations,” says Diane Neumark-Zetiner, PhD, chair of the department of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “Parents who ate six to seven family meals per week while growing up reported significantly more family meals with their current family.”
Some even make a career out of it.
“Family dinners are at the core of what we do,” says Caroline Galzin, who, with her husband Tony, owns Nicky’s Coal Fired in Nashville, where Mondays spend a family night. Everything is inspired by Tony’s large Italian family and the atmosphere around mealtimes, says Galzin. When he gets older.” “Everyone brought something different and lots of people gathered to share a meal.”
Family dinner: the benefits
Kids who eat family dinners regularly suffer less depressionand anxiety and eating disordersYou have a bigger vocabulary, you get better grades, you have a higher self-esteem, and you eat more fruits and vegetables, says nutritionist Marianne Jacobsen, author of Family dinner solution.
“But we don’t need studies to know that being together as a family in a positive atmosphere is good for us,” says Jacobsen. “It brings us together, promotes closeness, and shows children the importance of food.”
It also establishes eating patterns that can last a long time.
“Even when kids don’t eat everything we give, we know from research that the food kids are exposed to a lot during childhood is the same food they’d prefer in adulthood,” Jacobsen says.
The table can be a difficult place to navigate family dynamics. That is, if you can get there at all.
“When I talk to families across the country, busyness is the number one obstacle to having a family meal together,” Fishel says. “Parents work different shifts or children engage in extracurricular activities during dinner hour.”
Other common problems include selective eating, struggle at the table, and limited budgets.
The key, Jacobsen says, is to be flexible — and not give up. Make it something for your family – however you define it. Prize connection, not ideal attendance or show list.
“I’m not going to lie: It takes a commitment to planning and eating family meals every week,” Jacobsen says. “But now that my kids are older, I can see it was worth it.”