I sometimes find myself caught up in nostalgia — the thought that things were better in the past than they are now. It’s usually an illusion, of course. Spending time thinking about the past just distracts us from the present. But one practice that was common when I was growing up has become less so today: eating dinner as a family.
I think there can be a great deal of benefit to the whole family eating together.
Let’s start with the obvious — it’s a good way to help everyone connect. I work with a lot of families in my practice, and so often, everyone is really busy. Mom and Dad work and the kids are in school. They all have a lot going on. When everyone does get home, the temptation is to eat while kicked back on the couch or cuddled up with a phone.
Of course, that means the family as a whole is more disconnected from each other. It makes it harder to build intimacy, and the mutual support that comes from spending time in each other’s company. Conversely, eating meals together is a bonding experience, especially when it’s a regular thing (it can feel weird at first).
We all already know this, of course, although it’s easy to forget. What we might not intuitively realize is how useful eating together can be from a practical standpoint.
Here’s an example. One of my patients is married with two teenagers. Her family has created a system where Monday through Thursday, a different person plans and cooks dinner each night. They usually eat out or order pizza on Friday, and the weekends are more casual, but for the bulk of the work/school week, the burden of dinner is spread out, and doesn’t rest on the shoulders of any one person.
I think this is a fantastic approach. While the specifics can vary (some of my friends split cooking duties with their spouses or roommates), the general idea is that everyone involved shares in the preparing, making and eating of the meal. This has the added bonus of helping everyone feel more invested. My patient’s teenagers are less interested in blowing off a dinner they themselves cooked. They want to see everyone else enjoying their handiwork!
When everybody helps out, stress is minimized. Each person contributes a little work, so no one person has to do it all. This a great rule of thumb for living in general. Come together for more ease and more joy!
PS — for further thoughts on how to make the dinner process as smooth as possible, check out this wonderful post from chef Rebecca Katz.