Sharing A Family Meal

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - May 10, 2006
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This time last year I was writing this column for Mother’s Day about to go into labor with our second son, Finn. The one thing that’s true about having children is that the days may be long, but the years really do fly by. I’ve learned a lot these past few years, watching our children grow. I’ve learned that no matter how much you push organic yogurt, fresh fruit and green vegetables, little eyes will always light up at the sight of a bag of Doritos. I’ve learned that Cheerios can become a fashion accessory of sorts; certainly I’ve worn them in my hair and on my clothes on more than one occasion in public. I’ve learned that until the age of about 3, you can give your kids water in a colored plastic cup with a straw and they’re happy to believe it’s juice. And I’ve learned that there is possibly no better compliment in the world than a small voice telling you that your chicken noodle soup, made from scratch, is the best thing they ever had.

We’ll be eating at home this Mother’s Day, not least because it’s the busiest dining day of the year, but also because for me, the place we connect best is around our dinner table. There’s lots of information nowadays about the benefits of sitting down to a family meal. Funny, really, that something we never really gave much thought to as children has become such a focus for study groups and surveys. Children who sit down to a family meals four times a week or more do better in school, are less likely to smoke, do drugs or have alcohol problems than children who eat a family meal twice a week or less. It’s tough, I know, to get together during the week. Sports practice, after-school activities, long work hours and the fact that many parents have more than one job mean that the days of mom and dad being home Ozzie and Harriet-style for dinner are long gone. I suspect, too, that childhood obesity is less in families where the family meal is the center of the evening. And children who are around adults cooking get a sense of the preparation involved in making good food - something that the drive-thru, with its instant gratification, can never bring.

But it’s not just the fact that you probably eat healthier if you’re making dinner yourselves that makes family mealtimes important. A 45-minute conversation as a family every day can mean the difference between knowing what’s going on with everyone in your world - and what’s not.

Still, I know it’s hard. I know there are thousands of you out there juggling schedules along with mealtimes and just wondering how you’ll make it to the weekend. So you can’t do dinner. How about breakfast once or twice a week or even just on the weekends? Or if you have to get take-out, get it from a local restaurant that specializes in home cooking. At least you’ll get the chance to sit down for a short time and connect with the reasons you became a family in the first place.

Trust me, I know it’s not easy. Every night as we sit down to dinner, I look across the table at noodles dropping to the floor, squash between Finn’s fingers and endless dollops of ketchup that end up everywhere but on the plate. I think about the time it will take to clean it all up and often wish I was sitting at the bar at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. But then I take a deep breath, look at my husband, for whom family dinner is the most important time of the day, and wait for our 3-year-old, Max, to ask his favorite question. “So, guys, what do you want to talk about?”

I might have Cheerios in my hair and yogurt on my shirt for the next few years, but I’m sure one Mother’s Day in the not-too-distant future I’m going to long to hear that little voice at the dinner table just one more time.

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