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What are your memories and experiences of family dinner?

I’ve had three opportunities recently to reflect on mine, both while growing up and as a mother who struggles with her weight:

1)  While traveling in the car with three darling LDS girls, ages 17, 16 and 15, they spontaneously started a lively discussion of what they love about returning home in the afternoon after departing at 5:40 a.m. for seminary and then a long day at school   As they listed the pleasures of home, one of them chimed in about her friend who goes home to an empty house each day where no one else returns until after 7:30 p.m. each evening  “She’s alone the whole time, fixes her own dinner and eats by herself.  How sad is that?” 

”I’d hate it!” they all agreed and launched into the details of evening mealtimes at their own houses. A sociologist would have had a party with their comments. Whether our children admit it or not, they LOVE eating with us! It’s worth whatever effort it takes to gather everyone at dinnertime.

2)  Two days after this conversation, my husband and I found ourselves with a few moments at Yesterday’s Rose, a musty old thrift shop with bins and shelves of used books. When I heard Bob’s soft chuckle reserved just for when he’s found something too good to keep to himself, I sauntered over to find him with a small volume entitled “The Family Dinner, A Celebration of Love, Laughter and Leftovers.” It was ours for the grand total of fifty cents and became the highlight of the weekend.  Filled with vintage photos (the 1920’s through the 1960’s)  of families at the dinner table and accompanied by tender memories and humorous passages about mealtime from various authors, we read and laughed our way through it with our teenagers It generated another round of noteworthy discussions of our own family mealtime memories.

3) A day or so later, I read an article from the November 2010 Ladies Home Journal entitled: “Family Dinner After Divorce: How Eating Dinner Together Got My Family Through The Best and Worst of Times.”  In a marvelous, remarkable way, the author and mother of two teenager daughters was able to continue the tradition of enjoyable family dinners even as she and her husband struggled, separated and divorced.  Dinner time was truce time for she and her husband.  Even after he left the home and lived separately, he would frequently return for dinner and positive time with his girls and their mom.  They had some beloved word games they had always played during dinner that provided comfort and a sense of normalcy during this difficult transition.

 

No doubt about it: meals together are an intimate, cherished and integral part of each family’s personal history and identity. In today’s busy world, it takes lot of effort just to get everyone together. However, it’s obvious that it is worth whatever effort is required to make it happen as often as possible whether your family is one or two, or many.

Kids who do this at least five or six nights a week are a third less likely to be overweight than children who never eat dinner with their families, according to a 2006 University of Alabama study. Other research shows that kids who eat more family meals consume less fried food and artery-clogging trans fat and saturated fat.

 

Most importantly, it needs to be a satisfying meal that will sustain you emotionally and physically through the evening. 

The trickiest part of family dining is that though everyone shares an identical need for bonding and socializing, when counting calories or watching carefully, not everyone else is on the same agenda foodwise.  How easy it easy for those of us who are reading these articles to be mindful all day of what we consume, then have your eating program derailed by eating the dinners and meals that helped you gain those extra pounds in the first place,  prepared as a matter of habit established years ago.

With the holidays and extra family gatherings on the horizon, now’s a good time to ask:
How can you eat with the family, yet keep the calories down and your weight management program in place?

1. Get some new family-pleasing healthy meals plans and recipes.  There are many resources both online and otherwise for magazines or books that will help you create delicious meals that everyone will enjoy. 

If you’re not the head cook at your house,  help by finding the recipes and assisting in making them.  Involve the family and teach them how to cook healthfully.  Many a happy memory is made while peeling and chopping together in the kitchen.  It will make mealtime that much more fun to eat what they themselves have created.  Great cookbooks with healthy fare are a dime a dozen at most thrift stores.  

2.  Do not use serving bowls on the table.  Fill and serve plates from the stove or a counter, or have family members do it for themselves.  You’ll serve yourself the correct portions and it’s much easier to avoid seconds if they are not in front of you.

3.  Purchase and use smaller dinner plates for everyone, “less is more” fools the eye – and the tummy!

4.  Just like you would request at a restaurant for bread baskets and butter to be removed,
do not put them on your own table!

5.  Always have a back-up plan:  a low-cal frozen meal or fixings for a salad just for you should be ready to go when what everyone else is eating is not in your best interest.

6.  Add Some Entertainment:  Games and Reading.

Remember the old TV Show “The Love Boat”?  Julie, the activities director of a luxury cruise line designed for romance, was always perking things up.  Needless to say, she was very popular!  You can be Julie by adding  some entertainment that will occupy your hands and mouth to avoid overeating, and make dinnertime more fun for everyone as an added bonus.

Games:  The mother in the Ladies Home Journal article had several mental word games that they all enjoyed to keep everyone gathered for a bit longer.  After eating your own meal, be the one who keeps score and your hands will be busy with something other than food. 

Reading: As the meal ends, it’s particularly easy to nibble and indulge in second servings.  Have an interesting family, age-appropriate chapter book, joke book or some articles that will keep your hands, mouth and mind busy with something else.  Our family has two or three weekly columnists that we love to read at dinnertime.


5.  Start a family journal of the day’s events in a small notebook or desk calendar.  No matter if it gets a little sticky – jot down the day’s activities while everyone is there.

The effort required to make dinnertime more healthy and more fun is one that will serve you and
your family well for generations.

Dig in!