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FAMILY MEALS

Why should today’s busy families make an effort to revive the old and nearly moribund custom of family dinners?

Because it works!

Look at all the things family members get when they eat together. First and foremost is nutrition. But togetherness, conversation, information about who’s doing what and who’s feeling what are almost as important as calories and vitamins.

Families today spend precious little time together interacting as a family. When I was growing up eating dinner together was a pretty big daily event. We did our homework and washed our face and hands to get ready for when Daddy came home. As little girls, my sister and I set and cleared the table. Later we helped with cooking and did the dishes. This taught us about helping our busy mother (who was unusual in that she worked outside the home) and about running a house.

We spent time together as a family after dinner too, playing music mostly. TV was around but not yet a pervasive influence on family interaction. And we spent time as a family on weekends too, taking drives to the country to buy cider and pumpkins or visiting a museum or going to the library or just going out to buy an ice cream cone. And we talked on these drives — nobody had a GameBoy or Walkman.

Today in many families weeks can go by before the family gets to eat a meal together. Children’s activities as well as adult commitments to work and/or community endeavors keeps the family apart, eating on the run, not able to touch base with every person every day.

Nobody knows better than I do how how difficult it is for mothers working outside the home to put dinner on the table every night. I also understand how hard it is to get everyone together at the same time for a meal.

But I consider it so important that here is the Heins Plan to Revive the Family Dinner:

1) Pick one weekend day and at least one, preferably two or three, weekdays for a family meal. It doesn’t have to be dinner, Sunday breakfast works just fine. And it doesn’t have to be at home — a family restaurant meal also works (but don’t go to a fast food establishment where the kids spend most of their time in the play area).

2) Put these days on the calendar just like a doctor’s appointment or school field trip.

3) Simplify the cooking. Take advantage of prepared, or partially prepared, foods.

4) Involve the children in helping set the table, do the dishes, and cook according to their developmental ages.

5) Once in a while make it a Special Family Meal. Spend more time in cooking or order gourmet take-out, use the good china, light the candles, let everybody dress up. Sure this can be a holiday like Thanksgiving but it can also be just for the fun of it whenever you want.

6) Once in a while invite somebody to dinner (a teacher, a colleague from work, a neighbor) and spiffy things up a little. I learned a lot about company manners when my mother did this.

Enjoy these meals and each other!

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