NOTE: I wrote this post pre-Covid19. Let’s wait until we’re free, clear and safe before we institute Sunday dinners! It’ll be awesome to gather friends and family, hug, share great food and realize that we truly are #inthistogether. This life we have can’t be taken for granted. xoxo ~ally
I get it when it comes to how busy families are today. Listen when I was raising my family back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was breathing fumes just to get done all that needed to be done. There were times that I’d collapse in bed at night. My mornings started at about 5 am and on Saturdays while the kids were still sleeping and their Dad was at home, I’d trek to the grocery store, yes, the 24 hours open ones, and grocery shop. There was a symphony of delivery trucks, people mopping, stocking and readying the store for the onslaught of traffic. For me, it was a sliver of peace and quiet that my brain desperately needed. Honestly, I thought for about 15 years I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Working full-time, running my own business, having three boys who were active in sports and then keeping up with everything else meant twenty-four hours in a day was just not enough time! And, pulling off a Sunday dinner was the last thing on my mind.
Fast Forward to Now as a Grandma
But, I’m older and wiser now, at least I try to think so. The experience of time passing and looking back lets me know that there was one thing that I could have done that I didn’t. And, that was to have a consistent predictable Sunday dinner. Hey, even if it as burned hot dogs and classic yellow mustard around the table, it was the idea of an hour or so of together time for the fam. Yes, I regret this, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t make it happen now. Even though my boys are all married with their families, there are times when we’re all together on weekends and putting forth this extra effort pays high dividends. Hey, I see my sons and daughters-in-law exactly where I was thirty-five or forty years ago. Yep, suckin’ wind just to keep up and get through the week. Last thing for them at this point is to have a traditional Sunday dinner. No worries, Mama Ally will do it!
I get why family mealtime might be ultra difficult during the week. Your table can be bare and just a place for the kids to do homework. If both parents work, the kids are in after school activities and other things encroach upon getting everyone around the table, then why not shoot for at least one or two times a week. I mean it’s better than no times a week. And, weekends, typically less hectic, especially say Sunday from about noon to five. That’s when you can start having your traditional Sunday dinnertime! According to Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist and parenting expert: The family that eats together thrives together. Mealtime has historically been a time of family togetherness. Plus, if you’re getting multiple generations together, then there is a tapestry of diversity in terms of ages and interests and that is just so good for kids.” This Ted Talk talks about why family mealtime so important.
Sunday Dinner in West Virginia
Growing up Sunday dinner was always at Grandma Cook’s house. Grandma Cook was a fiesty full of piss and vinegar little blue haired matriarch. With eleven grown kids and their families and spouses, honestly, she still ruled the roost. Yep, she was revered. And, everyone knew that on Sunday from about 1pm til about 5 pm, it was time to mosey on over to Grandma’s house if you lived nearby. And, many of the children did.
Family and friends would gather. We wouldn’t all sit around the table; there were way too many of us. But the table in the kitchen and the stove top and oven were full of steaming pots and serving dishes with great food. Opal Accord, who worked in the five and dime in town, always brought her coconut cream pie. I’ve tried to replicate her recipe to the best of my ability because it was better than any I’ve ever had! Weather permitting, some folks would gather on the big wrap around front porch, bring their plate out there, pull up an easy chair, eat and talk about what was happening in the world. Others would gather in the living room and do the same. You could roam from group to group and find the liveliest of conversation, catch up on the latest gossip and hear about the politics of the era. During the summer, tables were put outside on the lawn, crisp ironed table clothes and lots of folding chairs, some with the strapping about to fall off. It was always quite a festive affair and social gathering. Entertainment abounded with horseshoes and badmitton. Yes, this was life in a very different era.
Benefits of Family Meals
Standford Children’s Health points out that family meals are more than just good nutrition, there are big benefits. “The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University says that the more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs. The center compared teens who dined with families five or seven times a week with those who did so twice or less. Those who ate together more often were four times less likely to smoke, 2.5 times less likely to use marijuana, and half as likely to drink alcohol. The CASA says that teens who regularly eat dinner with their families are also more likely to get better grades and do better in school. Better grades are associated with a lower risk for substance abuse.”
The Family Dinner Project calls these meals ‘magic’ and I agree. If these benefits don’t sell you, I don’t know what will:
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
- Higher self-esteem
- 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
The Good Ol’ Days
Can we really bring back the good ol’ days? Well, I contend we can on just one day a week. The weekend. Sunday. If you simply take the time to all gather round the table at a designated time, same time each Sunday, you’ll be making huge inroads to family meals. And, when I say family, I mean friends that are like family, neighbors and more.
Lots of people long for those good ol’ days. Well, this is one tradition of the good ol’ days that you can resurrect. You don’t have to make it complicated. Nor do you have to slave and cool all day in the kitchen. We have so many take outs, catering services, grocery delis and more where you can pick up the mainstays of your meal, then add sides, salads and desserts. Or you can put something in the slow cooker that morning and have a full on pot roast and all the veggies by afternoon. It takes a little planning. And, most of all it takes a commitment.
Here are some fabulous ideas from The Hearty Soul about Sunday dinners:
Here a few top tips for a successful Sunday dinner
- Plan ahead. Let everyone know early enough that there’s going to be a dinner that week. Discuss details of the location and everyone should know what they can bring along. These requirements should be assigned by everyone’s current financial capabilities.
- The menu doesn’t have to be a smorgasbord of royalty-worthy dishes. Focus on inviting more people over than on the food to be served. With time, everyone would understand the real essence of the get-togethers.
- Your family doesn’t have to be limited to people who are related by blood or adoption. Your friends, neighbors, co-workers, romantic partners, and acquaintances can also be family. Sure family is blood, but it’s also a mindset above all else.
- Choose a time of the day that suits most of the people that would be attending. It doesn’t matter if the dinner holds outside or indoors. Whatever the weather permits is fine, as long as everyone sits together happily.
- Tell everyone beforehand to do away with their electronic gadgets and any other sources of distractions. The television should be put off and no phones are allowed at the table, except for taking pictures. Everyone must focus on one another.
- Sunday may be tradition but it doesn’t have to be. The day of the week doesn’t matter, as long as the family falls into an exciting pattern. It also doesn’t have to be held every week, but try for what works, and do it as frequently as everyone feels comfortable.
The ‘Sunday dinner’ is a lot more than tasty food and a lovely afternoon. It’s a magical and medicinal healing time to bring everyone together. This is definitely a way to get back those ‘good ol’ days.’ I think we all should want to resurrect this nostalgia in the world of cyber space and technology. Give it a try. Let everyone bring a dish or grab take out, just make it happen. xox ~ally