By Zerline Hughes
I remember having a very untraditional/traditional family. I grew up in a two-parent household, but I had no siblings. I grew up having my own room, but I didn’t have a grassy back or front yard to frolic in. I’ve had my very own TV in my room since I can remember, but I can count on my fingers the time we sat at our small, circular dining room table to entertain ourselves during dinnertime. In fact, I hail from the time of TV dinners and TV dinner tray tables. Don’t get me wrong, my mom and my dad were excellent and awesome chefs, and we had great meals, but I don’t recall many sit-down, dinnertime, family dinners. And the idea of Sunday dinner … NEVER!
We weren’t a church-going people, so that helped to rule out the get-Sunday-dinner-ready-so-we-can-eat-by-3 o’clock tradition our Black culture. We did go to temple on Friday nights or Saturday mornings every once in a while (yeah, I was born and raised Jewish), but again, I have no memory of a regular sit-down meal. In my research, however, I just learned that Sunday dinner possibly is linked historically to England and with the serving of Sunday roast which was eaten throughout the week, and served as a treat for serfs as a reward. Hmph!
So let’s fast forward from childhood, teenhood, young adulthood and even my early years of being married. Nothing. Until now. Our little family often sets goals at the end of summer vacation in hopes to start the school year off on a good, positive note. This August, the night we drove back from our annual Lake Michigan summer vacation, we decided we would have at least one family dinner a week. Our schedule, however, is so crazy with karate and Zumba nights, violin and saxophone afternoons, and work, so Sunday was the only day to make it happen.
Many studies, including research conducted by the University of Florida say family meals is a proven way to ensure these two stay on this side of the prison cell. I’m willing to test the theory and try it out. All of us love to prepare snacks and treats, cook meals and make desserts, so cooking and preparing is not the issue. We don’t have a dining room, but we do have a small eat-in kitchen and a room we call the multi-purpose room, so we have no excuse — and we have the desire. And since that first Sunday August 17 – about 18 weeks/dinners ago – we’ve done pretty darn well. We’ve missed three Sundays (so make that 15 dinners ago), replaced a Sunday with a Saturday lunch, and one cold, lazy Sunday when we didn’t want to set the table and go all out, we had a family dinner in bed (is that a world first?)
According to a USA Today article that highlighted 2013 research by the Journal of Adolescent Health: “Rituals are very important to everyone especially children …They help provide security and structure and they give a sense of belonging.” And there’s something about it that transforms the kids. They become uber helpful, unlike any other moment. The girl one Sunday made sure to remind everyone “don’t forget about mandatory Sunday dinner.” The two set the table, bring out food dishes, help clean up and try (somewhat) to put into use their etiquette skills they learned this summer at Common Threads cooking camp.
The caveat: the research highlighted by USA Today says, “The more dinners a week the better. With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics. The study was based on a nationally representative sample of 26,069 Canadian adolescents ages 11 to 15 in 2010.”
… Just when I thought we were doing good. We’ll see what we can do about increasing the number of our family dinner nights during the week. In the meantime, I think we’re doing good.
Do you make family dinner night a priority? How do you make time to eat together nightly?