When you think back on your childhood, what did dinnertime look like? Many of us might think back on meals eaten around the kitchen or dining room table in idyllic terms: good food, conversation and togetherness. While the reality might have been a little more nuanced, there was a time when the family meal was a pretty typical shared experience in America.
But for many families - even just married couples - the experience of sitting down together over an uninterrupted meal is increasingly rare. Couples work different shifts, kids have nighttime activities and even the most well-meaning among us are sometimes interrupted at meal time by an urgent email or text message.
The editors of the Taste of Home magazine would like you to reconsider the importance of the family meal in 2017. The Milwaukee-based company’s new cookbook, 100 Family Meals, is subtitled Bringing the Family Back to the Dinner Table.
According to Mark Hagen, eating dinner together - whether it’s frozen chicken nuggets or a home made meal - is what's most important. Hagen is Taste of Home's managing editor of print and digital books.
"The meal itself isn't necessarily the main problem or objective," he says. "What you want to do is sit down together, talk about your day, open up communication, make memories, things like that. So the meal isn't as important."
For 2017, Hagen hopes that this book can help families accomplish a joint resolution of having "sit-down dinners at least 100 times this year." That may initially sound like a lot, but it averages out to about two times a week.
Modern families are far busier these days, which is why Hagen took care to include “a lot of easy, quick ideas" that were submitted by families across the country. The majority of the recipes are ready to eat in 30 minutes or less, and the cookbook includes pairing tips and set grocery lists to make the meals more manageable from start to finish.
“I actually choose these recipes myself with the idea that you can make them on a busy weeknight,” says Hagen. “Anybody can put these together.”
100 Family Meals also includes ground rules for family dinners:
- No cell phones or devices at the table - Hagen suggests “(Using) this time to concentrate on your family.”
- Avoid stressful subjects - “You want to have a nice, welcoming environment,” he explains. The book even offers conversation starters appropriate for all ages to share around the table.
- Wait until everyone is at the table to start eating - “This way nobody misses anything and it makes that family dinner more of an event,” he says.
Hagen also notes that children who eat regularly together with their families have more of a sense of commitment, responsibility and shared memories. “When we don’t have these family meals, kids tend to feel like they can get away with more. And the studies actually indicate that they realize they can’t get away with quite as much when they know they have to sit down with mom and dad at dinnertime,” he says.
Hagen also suggests getting the whole family involved in cooking the meal, especially the kids. This can lead to lessons on nutrition, life skills in cooking and gets them more excited about sharing the meal together and interested in trying more foods.
“If they’re helping you create the meal in the kitchen, they’re more excited to sit down and enjoy that meal together,” he says.