The Power Of Family Meals
Wednesday - September 12, 2007
Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, Art Smith, was in town a couple of weeks ago to guest chef at a fundraising event, and I had the pleasure of talking with him for almost an hour. I resisted the obvious intrusive questions (for the most part) about Oprah and her diet, and we chatted about a shared passion - getting families to eat together.
Smith’s 2002 book, Back to The Table: The Reunion of Food and Family (Hyperion, $29.95) won the James Beard Award, but it’s more than a collection of recipes and mouthwatering pictures of food. He believes, as I do, that the family table is a place where we are fed both spiritually and physically by those we love.
I’ve written before about the data that supports the power of sitting down to a meal with your children and extended family: less likelihood of children using drugs, improved self-esteem, better communication skills and higher grades are just some of the results of eating together two or three times a week.
Smith believes families all share an innate desire to care for each other. “You can’t tell people that you love them enough,” says the softly spoken, immensely likeable chef. “You can’t thank them enough, feed them enough or love them enough. The more we know about our food, where it comes from and who prepares it, the more appreciation we have for the people who farm it and the people who cook it.”
Smith grew up on a farm in rural Florida, where his family still lives, and he credits his early introduction to tasting food fresh from the land with his passion for bringing that gift to others.
“I’d go out in the fields with my grandfather and we’d dig up potatoes and taste them straight from the dirt,” he says. He believes that all children benefit from learning to cook and from knowing where food comes from. “We nourish children when we teach them how to cook.”
But for most of us, it’s easy to lose sight of what feeding a family is all about. A trip to the drive-through with the promise of a toy might be a quick fix at the end of a stressful day - but you’d be amazed at the long-term effect a homemade bowl of soup and a chat about school can have instead.
You might be dubious about the statistics that cite lesser drug use, higher SAT scores and less obesity in children who sit down to eat with their family, but take a moment to think about why those stats are true - routine, avoiding fast foods and consistent mealtimes will contribute to weight loss in anyone; talking about the day, listening to problems, and feeling you’re being heard gives all of us a sense of belonging, and nothing builds self confidence more than being part of a positive group of people who care about you. And helping to set the table and wash the dishes is a part of childhood that no one should miss!
You can catch a behind-the-scenes look at Smith’s trip to Honolulu, visits to local farms and the work of Easter Seals in Hawaii in a one-hour documentary on Sept. 11 on KFVE at 7 p.m.
Why not make a date with your family to eat at home and watch?
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