Our dining table isn’t really anything special to look at; a well-worn, antique, Duncan Phyfe we picked up on Craigslist for $35 after we moved back into our house post-remodel over a year ago. (Like most people who go through a major remodel, we didn’t have much money left over for all the new furniture I had dreamed would go in the finished space.) It’s deeply scratched and nicked, with white heat and moisture stains that I cannot for the life of me seem to figure out how to remove despite a wealth of information on-line. It creaks when you lean into it, as do the non-matching chairs we picked up, also a steal on Craigslist. The drop leaves at either end tip ever so slightly away from the center leaves. And the extender leaf that “came with it” is definitely a homemade version of the long forgotten original that must have shuffled to the back of a closet somewhere and was left behind in a move.
My husband calls it “old”, but I use the term “seasoned”. I like to think about all the family dinners prior to ours that were enjoyed around this big hunk of wood over the years. What did they eat? What did they talk about? If I close my eyes, I can see them – all laughing at each others jokes, Johnny reaching over the pot roast to dish up the potatoes, mom asking about their day, dad scolding the youngest for elbows placed on the table, maybe even some crying and tantrums, and deep, serious discussions about why Susie’s upset that she doesn’t have a date to the dance. Oh, how I love our table, its history, and its purpose in the present day. It is the heart of our home. It’s where we come together at the end of each day to enjoy a meal and feed our connectivity as a family.
My table, and the idea of sitting down for a meal as a family, may be antiquated, but a new book by Laurie David, The Family Dinner, Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids, One Meal at a Time talks to the importance of getting back to this basic ritual and shows how anyone can do it. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as family dinners have waned over the years, obesity rates have been rising.” She said when I spoke with her recently. The fact is that only half of modern families sit down and eat together 3-5 times each week. Studies have shown that when families do eat together often with no interruptions (tv, computer, cell phones), it can considerably reduce the rates of obesity, drug and alcohol use in teens, and behavioral issues, as well as increase healthy eating and improve school grades.
Laurie David started her career in the entertainment industry as the talent manager for the Letterman Show, then went on to become VP of development for sitcoms and comedy for 20th Century Fox. She is well known for her environmental activism as the author of Stop Global Warming: The Solution is You!, the co-founder of the Stop Global Warming Virtual March, and the producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. As a mother of a busy, two-income household Laurie was driven to find ways to stay connected to her family and found that sitting down for a meal together, coupled with the games and tricks for lively conversation that she devised over the years, worked to bring a greater happiness to her household. In this new book she shares with us all that she has learned over the years. “I’m not a parenting expert,” she told me, “ but I did figure out this one thing that can be fun and enriching for everyone. Great healthy food and healthy conversation is a gift that everyday gives us. We need to not let go of this ritual.”
The Family Dinner is more than a cookbook – though it does have over 75 amazing recipes by Laurie’s family cook of many years, Danish-born Kirstin Uhrenholdt – it is a comprehensive guidebook chock full of tips, information on the impact our food has on the environment, conversation starters, insightful advice, and mealtime memories shared by many public figure such as Michael Pollan, Nora Ephron, Alice Waters, Sheryl Crow, Mark Bittman, and Seattleite Nancy Wilson from Heart, just to name a few. With just ten easy steps to begin, there are also chapters on involving the kids in the kitchen, setting the family table, how to stock your pantry, cooking at the table, dessert, and even a whole chapter on soup – much to my delight! Special chapters include family dinner and divorce, greening your table, Meatless Mondays, and grandparents and the extended family.
There are many reasons people don’t do it – everyone is running in different directions, you don’t know how to cook, you don’t have time, but, “Everyone has to eat,” David said. “It doesn’t have to be a three course meal. It could be healthy take-out, or a one-pot dinner. It doesn’t even have to be dinner – it could be breakfast, or tea, or even Sunday brunch.” Laurie advises that a family start with the rules; pick three and work on those first, just make sure that the no screens or phones rule is non-negotiable and enforced. Then just begin with a few nights. If you need further guidance, her website has helpful videos, and the Huffington Post will be making available a Family Dinner news story download each Friday around dinner time. These will give your family a current event topic of discussion for the table. And no matter where you are at, whether you’ve never done family dinner before, or you consider yourself an old pro, this book has something for everyone. Even though I had been doing family dinners for some years, there is still so much I can learn from this book. I’m excited to use some of the conversation starters, the ideas for getting the kids more involved in the processes, and possibly even looking a the idea of Meatless Mondays in our meat loving house.
“My hope is that the book will be food stained and oil splattered as it is used from kitchen to table.”
– Laurie David
All these years I didn’t know that my husband and I were doing something so important. Fighting obesity in our children. Helping our kids become more adjusted. Keeping them from turning to drugs and alcohol when they become teens. All because we enjoy our family’s company. We do one simple thing. And we do it selfishly, because we enjoy it. It’s something that everyone can do. Eat dinner together and talk, with no distractions. It’s that simple.
If you’re in Seattle, you can see Laurie interviewed by Warren Etheredge and talk about her new book at Kim Ricketts Book Events on November 10th at 7pm at the Sorrento Hotel. Hope to see you there!