Laurie David hit the nail on the head. “There is one thing I did right as a parent: cultivating the ritual of our family dinner since the children where young,” she said recently at a Climate One event in San Francisco, where she had been invited to discuss her new book The Family Dinner: Great Ways To Connect With Your Kids, One Meal At A Time. She made no bone about what a hard time she’s currently having with her two teenage daughters, Cazzie and Romy. “Everything you’ve ever heard about teenage kids is true, and beyond: it’s horrible!” she said with a laugh. “But they do come to the dinner table every night and that’s my chance to connect with them,” she added.
Her book was born of a simple and obvious premise: the ability of a family to sit down together and connect through shared food and conversation is an essential building block of a child’s formative years. A family meal brings a child not only nutrition but also self-confidence, connection with parents and siblings, and a transmission of family stories and values. It’s also at the dinner table that the child gets to practice empathy and gratitude.
Now, allow me a little confession. I am somewhat perplexed by the American conversation about “The Family Dinner,” this special event that one aspires to and must work towards — unless, more often than not, one ignores it altogether in favor of the “refuel-alone” scenario. Given my own upbringing, it would never occur to me, nor to anyone I know back across the Big Pond, to even talk about “family dinner.” There’s just dinner. As unalterable, undebatable and unavoidable as the advent of night after sunset. As a child living with my parents, when else, where else, what else would I eat but what my parents would put on the kitchen table for the whole family to enjoy?
When I was a child in France, 80 percent of mothers were working outside of the home yet no parents could escape making dinner day in day out — not necessarily anything fancy or even creative, nor always to the liking of the children, but home-cooked nevertheless. In the rush to get through the day’s chores, many opportunities to turn those meals into “family quality time” were undoubtedly lost. Nevertheless, meal after meal, day after day, one grew up in the setting of those relationships, connections and stories woven around food. Then, the festive, elaborate Sunday lunch would usually be a strong reminder that gathering around the table and sharing food prepared with love is a beautiful ritual indeed.