“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf
When is the last time you shared a meal with someone, without television or cell phones to disrupt conversation?
Thankfully, family dinners were a staple in my raising. Gathering around Vicki's table was where my family and I talked about our day, made plans for the upcoming week, solved life problems that seemed so big to us kids at the time, sometimes cried, and lots of times laughed.
We did more than just eat.
No matter what craziness was going on while raising four kids, my Mom made it a point to have dinner together. Whether it was a home cooked meal at 5:30 p.m., Subway sandwiches at 2:00 p.m., or Campbell's tomato soup and grilled cheese at 8:00 p.m., what mattered was the habitual act. Of course, as my siblings & I got older, it was hard to get us to gather around when we had cars, friends, and "better" plans. She still made it a point to have Sunday dinner together each week. (My dad has actually had to build two larger tables, because she keeps feeding more mouths.) Such a simple act, with grand benefits that I took for granted until I was in college learning about health and nutrition.
As a student in dietetics, I learned about the benefits of family meal time. Sadly, I had a harsh realization learning not everyone was able to do this, and the negative effect that can have on a child. The negative effect of not having this dedicated time to feel connected, listened to, and have a sense of belonging. The negative effect of not having a balanced meal to fuel a little, rapidly growing body. I can't put into words how much this fact still hurts my heart and how badly I wish I could take in every little soul that needs some extra love. I imagine this billion-foot long table where I can have a delicious and nutritious meal for every lonely kid out there....
Buuuut despite my strong-willed personality, this tremendously sized table is not humanly possible. So, here is some information to figuratively extend Vicki's table. My hope is that more and more people, especially kiddos, can get to experience the joys and benefits of family meal time. It doesn't have to be dinner, it doesn't have to be with biological family, and it doesn't even have to be at a table. It can be a Saturday breakfast for the kids you babysit, your kid's friends for a Wednesday picnic at the park, Thursday snack time with your niece, your friends, your co-workers, etc. Everyone can gain from good conversation and a meal, but kids will reap the most benefit.
During my senior year of college I got a chance to do some volunteer work helping with an event for https://thefamilydinnerproject.org.
The Family Dinner Project is a non-profit organization based out of Harvard University. They have been doing research on this for FIFTEEN years! Check this out:
BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
Our belief in the “magic” of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals. Some of the specific benefits of family dinners are:
-Better academic performance
-Greater sense of resilience
-Lower risk of substance abuse
-Lower risk of teen pregnancy
-Lower risk of depression
-Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
-Lower rates of obesity
If you’d like to know more about the research behind the benefits of family dinners, Dr. Anne K. Fishel’s Food for Thought blog is a great place to start. These reports and articles are also good references:
The Importance of Family Dinners VI, a report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA*) at Columbia University
Share the Table: The Importance of Dinnertime in America, a white paper study by Dr. William J. Doherty commissioned by Barilla
Of Ketchup and Kin: Dinnertime Conversations as a Major Source of Family Knowledge, Family Adjustment, and Family Resilience, a working paper by Dr. Marshall P. Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush at Emory University
Their website has more information on quick and easy meals, conversation starters to get your kids or loved ones talking about their feelings (for all ages, too!), and more resources and transformation stories.
Check out this sweet transformation story from
The Donald Family:
Emily Donald is a 47-year-old single woman who hosts international students studying at a school in Massachusetts specializing in teaching English to students from around the world.
It is particularly important to Emily to have meaningful conversations at her dinner table. Even though they all have very different schedules, she works hard to make sure that dinner is a time when everyone is able to check in with one another, voice any concerns and learn from each other.
Emily comes from a large family with a Greek background, and she has warm memories of Sunday meals. She remembers a lot of food, conversation, laughter and eating. This is the kind of experience she would like to share with her students.
When asked about meals that are particularly satisfying, she thinks about holiday meals with extended family. There are sometimes 30-40 people, including Emily’s parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday because there’s “no angst” about gifts. They have traditional Thanksgiving fare as well as some Greek dishes.
When growing up, Emily remembers there were times that her father would watch the news during dinner, and she hated having to be quiet. She believes that talking is every bit as important as eating.
Here's to more gatherin' around the table!
I would LOVE to see your pictures of you and your people sharing food and conversation. Snap a picture, then put the phone away to
enjoy the time!
Use the hashtag #VickisTable to share.
Here are some pictures I found that revolve around sharing a meal and having some heartwarming talks. Whether the "table" is a nicely decorated kitchen table with pretty dishes, sitting on a rock by a creek with no utensils, the floor of a kitchen on paper plates, a little baby table where you can't even fit both of your legs, or a beach towel on the concrete...
It doesn't matter, enjoy the meal and the company!