Did you know that September 18th kicks off “Eat Dinner Together Week”? Yes, we have officially reached a time in our social history when we need to remind people to do something as basic as finding a way to eat together. I need to pause and say (in full disclosure) that I’m like you. My dinners are not likely to be gracing the cover of a gourmet food magazine and when my family sits around the table, it is not calm or even always relaxing for that matter.
That said, dinner matters. When I reflect on my own childhood I think about “Friday night dinners.” My mom generally made the same thing every Friday, so it wasn’t always about the food. It was, however, about the commitment my parents made to the meal and to us being together. We knew no matter what–whether friends joined us or we were late for a school event–Friday night dinner was happening first. There was plenty of push back against this and many opportunities for my parents to give in…but they didn’t. Needless to say that by the time I was in college, I appreciated and understood what their commitment to eating together meant and I made sure that a weekend visit began with Friday night dinner. Yes, it was and still is an important part of me.
So today I remind you that no matter what it is, or what it looks like, keep your commitment to family dinner. Like you, my family’s schedule is dizzying. Let’s review for a moment the point of coming around the table at the end of the day. It is to share, to slow down for a moment and, of course, to be nourished. I realize that in the middle of a busy week it can feel like another task, but I promise you, it is one of the most important.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when a family sits around the table together at least three times per week, there are many benefits besides just being together. Those include a reduction in the odds for becoming overweight (12%), eating unhealthy foods (20%), and disordered eating (35%) and an increase in the odds for eating healthy foods (24%) (Hammons and Fiese, 2011). That’s a lot of benefit for something as simple as eating together with your family. Let’s face it: you’re eating anyway…this just reminds us to do it around the table instead of in the car, in front of a TV or standing at the counter.
I know that saying goodbye to the carefree days of summer is difficult but, as it relates to meal planning and family dinner, it in many ways makes planning and executing a family dinner easier. The colder days ahead mean casseroles, stews and soups, which are perfect, make-ahead dishes and easy to reheat when your family makes its way to the dinner table. They also usually create leftovers for the next day. And for those with no additional time, who doesn’t love that?
I spoke to a customer yesterday with four children who, on Monday nights, all do things in different places at overlapping times. Let’s face it…this is not the night her family will make it to family dinner. That said, a very busy night is likely offset by a far less busy night (unless this woman has her kids in way too many activities!). This less busy night becomes the night that everyone knows is family dinner night. With proper planning, she can make it work. And before you know it, one night can become three.
About our Consulting Dietitian
Allison Stowell MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and a working mom of two. Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.
She also runs a successful private practice with offices in Danbury, CT, Bedford Hills, NY and Mahopac, NY. Since 2007, Allison has also worked with the grocer, Hannaford Brothers Corporation, as a Nutrition Coordinator. She provides complementary nutrition classes and tours, community workshops and one-on-one shopping experiences at their Carmel, NY location.
She joins the Guiding Stars team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.
Allison lives in Connecticut with her husband, two small children and her dog, Chase.