What a couple of weeks these have been! My middle guy just returned from a school trip. I was at a company meeting for three overnights. Upon returning home, my husband had an evening meeting and there was the annual dinner for our Economic Council. I hope it doesn’t sound like a complaint as we enjoy an abundant life but what do I really miss when our schedule fills up like this? Dinner time!
Beyond the ability to decompress while stirring a pan of risotto, I really miss the opportunity to round out the day for both me and my family by talking about it. I love our evenings around the table where everyone shares something good or sometimes shares something not so good that they’ve experienced during the day. And what saddens me is that when I talk with other families, everyone is struggling to preserve this sacred time.
Now a few studies have confirmed additional reasons to protect our dinnertime. A study at Columbia University revealed that adolescents who had family meals at least 5 times per week were more likely to receive As and Bs than their eat-on-the-run colleagues. And in a separate piece of research, the single common variable amongst Rhode Scholars was their regular participation in family meals. Finally, researchers at the West Virginia University Extension found that children increased their vocabulary at a more rapid rate when dining with their parents and they were more likely to incorporate fruits and vegetables in their eating than in meals on the fly.
So what are the best ways to make this habit stick? Obviously, I’m still working at it. But for starters, turn the TV off. Make everyone take a part – even if it is minor such as putting the silverware on the table or filling glasses with ice. Plan meals in advance so that you can figure out where to squeeze them in before dance class or after violin lessons. And be creative. Family meals don’t have to be around the dining table but can be a picnic tailgate before soccer practice or a brunch after church. And for those who are single or separate from their families? There’s ample new research on the value of building in-person social connections and shared meals are a great way to do so.
What are your favorite meal-time conversation starters?
- 6 oz asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 oz butternut squash
- 6 oz buckwheat noodles, cooked (this is soba from an Asian food store)
- 6 oz spinach or other mild green, chopped into bite size pieces
- 6 Tbs sunflower oil
- 2 tsp dill
- 1 tsp salt (I prefer this with a bit more salt)
Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash in half, remove seeds and bake, cut side down in 1/2 inch of water for 40 minutes. (This can be done in advance.) When cooled, scoop squash from the skins and cut into bite-size pieces. While the squash in cooking, boil water and cook the soba al dente. Steam the asparagus until tender. Drain soba. Combine all ingredients together and mix well.