The Family Dinner

“People say they don’t have time to cook, yet in the last few years we have found an extra two hours a day for the Internet.” – Michael Pollan


In an absolutely superb new book entitled, The Family Dinner, author Laurie David shares more than favorite recipes, she takes a comprehensive look at the family dinner and demonstrates its vital importance in our lives.

My husband and I always eat dinner together, and most often breakfast too. We were fortunate to have both grown up in homes where the family dinner ritual was observed and valued. Each night, my husband and I continue this important tradition by sharing a sit-down meal where we can discuss the day, debate topics, and reconnect while we nourish our bodies. I adore cooking for us and placing a wholesome, delicious meal on the table. The table is always cleared and set nicely even if the meal is a simple one. I cannot imagine not sharing this essence of life with my beloved partner each night. And it is sad to imagine that there are so many couples and families that no longer practice this ritual. But the great news is that if you don’t, there is never a better time than now to rediscover The Family Dinner.

Author Laurie David uses personal observations and formal studies to show that the family dinner is the most important opportunity families have to pass on values. It is at the dinner table that we learn what is culturally important to our kin. It is the transmission in a subtle way down the avenues of beliefs, empathy, and even vocabulary. The dinner table is also where you learn manners, the art of conversation, and how to truly listen.

“I don’t think there is one thing more important you can do for your kids than have family dinner.” – Ruth Reichl

David suggests ten simple rules to get started: 1) Establish a set time for dinner- everyone likes some structure and regularity to their lives; 2) Everyone comes to the table at the same time; 3) No phones; 4) One meal, no substitutes; 5) Everyone tries everything – you don’t have to force children to sit at the table for hours until they “finish eating [your] brussel sprouts” but you should encourage everyone to give it the “two bite” test; 6) No television or “screen time”. This is about conversation, not one-way communication fogged by the presence of a computer or television screen; 7) Water is the drink served – save the other drinks for a treat; #8) Friends and family welcome- open up your table to those you love; 9) No one leaves the table until everyone is finished; And 10) Everyone helps clean up.

“If we want our kids to lead healthier lives, we should eat with them more often.” – Miriam Weinstein

David continues by providing other tips and ideas including games to play at the dinner table, fun and interactive ways to expand vocabulary, how to get conversation started, how to say thanks for the meal, how to set the scene, along with great recipes. It is at the family dinner that our vocabularies grow, nurturing our ability to comprehend and communicate. Scattered throughout the book are ample quotes and dialogues with authors and experts about the value of the family dinner tradition. All of the quotes here are can be found in the book.

“Children who feel listened to, become better able to listen to others.” – Ellen Galinksy

“People aren’t necessarily present when they talk to you. We are losing the capacity for normal conversation.” – Susan Stiffelman

I highly recommend The Family Dinner for those who want to renew this tradition in their home or for those of us who have always done it. Full of wonderful ideas and a knowledge that the simple act of having dinner each night with those you love is one of the most important things you did all day.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault

To help you serve up some great foods for your family dinners, here are a few recent cookbooks that I’ve enjoyed:

The Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That? Ina Garten does it again with another fabulous and insightful cookbook. I can’t wait to try Roasted Figs with Proscuitto, Roasted Butternut Squash, and Jeffrey’s Roast Chicken.

Cooking for Two (2010) and Cooking for Two (2009) by the editors from America’s Test Kitchen. Harry and I love the Stir-Fry Shrimp, Bok Choy and Bell Pepper found in the 2010 edition. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients- we make this all the time with chicken instead of shrimp and snap peas instead of bok choy. In the 2009 edition, be sure to try the delicious Herb-Roasted Prime Rib and the Chicken En Papillote.

Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook by Ron Silver with Rosemary Black. The sweet smell of Chocolate Chip Scones, fresh blueberry syrup for pancakes, and Cinnamon Pear Compote are sure to wake up everyone!

The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano. Be sure to try the Grilled Peaches with Cinnamon and Rosemary and the Crepes.

Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast by Emeril Lagasse. This book is organized in a great way: by the time it takes to cook the meal. Find recipes that take 20, 40, or 60 minutes. We absolutely love the Sauteed Mushrooms with Fresh Thyme and the Broiled Zucchini.

The Steamy Kitchen by Jaden Hair. My favorites include the Grilled Pineapple with Chocolate Coconut Sauce (or as I make it, just coconut) and the Pan-Fried Mango Chicken.

Perfect One Dish Dinners by Pamela Anderson. I am looking forward to trying the Coq Au Vin Blanc with Spring Vegetables and Roasted Mixed Nuts.
~Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director for the Oliver Wolcott Library and is looking forward to tonight’s family dinner.

8 thoughts on “The Family Dinner

  1. My grandmother and my mother always emphasized family dinners as the most important part of the day. When work or some other activity gets in the way of it, the day just does not feel right.

  2. Loved the personal tips – will pass this on to my daughter and her young son. And I will try Barefoot Contessa’s book, too.

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