Talking with Our Mouths Full

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?

Simple Soba Noodles
Serves 6
  • 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.

Leave a comment


  1. It is isn’t always possible, of course, to have sane delicious meals with those you love. But it sure makes a difference to close the day’s busy-ness in that way. During the past week at my artist residency, I expected to eat most meals alone, contemplating my experiences and work of the day. Instead, I had three meals with the Brits and interns, one with my husband in town before a concert, one with my dear sweet friend Patricia, and one with my friends the Jemisons (with a toddler and a baby – luscious). The social opportunities out there from my little cabin were wide and joyful! How lucky I was!!!

    Your recipe looks terrific. I am going to tweek it a bit with goat cheese, fresh kale instead of spinach, and fresh red peppers instead of asparagus. Thanks!

  2. Sally Mom

     /  October 9, 2010

    I think you do a wonderful job Tammy and I agree at least five times a week is something to try and work toward. I was raised with setting and clearing the table between my sis and me and also, we took turns washing and drying the dishes every nite.
    We were just remembering these times recently and makes for a grounding routine. Resposibilities and good conversations and a time for family council. I love it!
    Thanks for the yummy dinner idea. I have guests tomorrow evening and all the right ingredients.

  3. You are so right, Tammy- mealtimes are wonderful for all of us. We sit and talk and end up giggling about something, so that even the toughest day slips away. I love my time with the kids. Hope you get a lovely settled week next week, with lots of mealtimes included!

  4. Great reminder, Tammy.

    The family that eats together, thrives together.

  5. When I have a family one of my goals is that we all eat together at least four nights a week. I was raised to eat dinner as a family, without the television. Even though we didn’t always feel like sharing our days with each other, it was the one time in the day that we could all be together.

    It’s too bad that it’s so much harder now for people to continue this act.

  6. Thank you for the great recipe – I look forward to trying it. But even more important, thank you for raising a family that knows how to be a family, enjoy a meal together, listen to one another and be present.

    Well done, Mom. The odd day out of whack isn’t going to destroy your bunch!

  7. I grew up in a family that always, always ate together at dinner (and ate the same thing – no namby pamby separate meals for us!) and I still remember how shocked I was, as a kid, to discover that so many families don’t. I think you’re right in arguing that this is something absolutely worth preserving.

    In fact, if I might paraphrase… “The family that eats together, stays together” 😀

  8. I am so with you on this, Tammy, and love the picnic tailgate idea 🙂

  9. Melissa Phillips

     /  October 10, 2010

    It is a great time for family connection especially if one of your children have the love language of quality time. My boys are grown now but that is one thing they love is at least once a week having a home cooked meal by mom. So many families have lost this needed tradition and its time some of us help bring it back and train younger mothers to do the same. Great post!

    • Thanks Melissa. You bring up a great point – I don’t know my boys love languages. I did that with my husband and I think the book is still around here somewhere. You’ve given me a mission.

  10. I knew instinctively that family meal times were important, but I hadn’t heard about the research. My husband I, although we don’t have kids, try to get in a sit-down-at-the-table meal together on weeknights. I know that if it’s this hard to plan without kids, it will be much more difficult to fit in with them, although even more important.

  11. Lisa H

     /  October 10, 2010

    Once a week we have left-over night where we clean out the fridge of meals. Even though we may each be eating something different, we still eat together. By no means do we eat dinner together every night, but we do eat most of our meals together in the evening.
    And don’t forget about breakfast! That counts, too. Nothing like pancakes, waffles, or a dutch baby to start the day (weekends for us).

  12. I was just talking with one of my best friends yesterday about family dinners. She just bought a dining room table precisely because she didn’t have them growing up and wished she had. I like your idea of fun, “non-traditional” dinners like picnics before soccer practice.

  13. Naomi

     /  October 11, 2010

    Totally agree with the importance of dinner time, Tammy – and your recipe sounds delicious!

  14. Amen, Tammy! No matter how hectic our schedules were when I was a kid, ALL of us gathered around the table. It was chaotic and loud and funny and good. Thanks mom and dad for such a good childhood!

  15. jessiecarty

     /  October 12, 2010

    Ya know, I wonder if the research looks more at what is DONE at dinner. When I lived with my father and stepmother we always ate dinner together. We, however, were not allowed to talk. Needless to say, we aren’t that close now!

  16. I thought the research you’ve brought up here is very, very interesting. And quite compelling. Our family ends up eating dinners out a lot. (I have two girls, one in college and one in high school) It’s a little expensive, I know, but it allows us all to look forward to siiting down together a couple times a week to share and look each other in the eye and talk about how we’re doing.

  17. That’s funny, I’m eating soba noodles while I’m reading this. So funny. With crispy tofu and orange lacquer. DELISH. Maybe I should share the recipe.

    I love the photo!

  18. Go, Tammy!
    Our lives do get chaotic, moving in so many directions. You’ve got the right ideas in your post—off with the TV, get everyone engaged in the meal—and then, on to the conversation…

  19. Family meal times are so special no wonder they’ve been showing to have a profound affect, and turning off the tv and focusing on the person is such a great way to start.

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