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Giving Thanks for Family Dinner

By Dr. Marisa Weiss on November 16th, 2011 Categories: Uncategorized

For years, dinner time at my house was a recipe for chaos. With a busy husband and three active kids, I never knew who was coming or going. On any given night, sports, friends, school activities, and other commitments kept us on the run. It wasn’t a rare occasion to have one kid running out the door with an energy bar while another was coming in with a bunch of friends about to gobble down cheesesteaks (of course they “forgot” that it was close to dinnertime). With all the comings and goings, and bellies part or even over-filled by dinner time, it was always a challenge to insist on the important concept of family dinner togetherness. Still, I pushed hard to enforce what I thought was a very important tradition — the chance to meet regularly, even if only momentary in order to keep up with each other’s lives and keep all dialogues going. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. For us parents and for the kids, we all have so many responsibilities with our jobs and schoolwork, plus community demands — it’s truly harder than ever. I know I’m not alone in this ongoing struggle.

Some of you may be familiar with Laurie David. She’s the Academy Award-winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth, an avid environmentalist, and mother of two. She is author of the terrific new book, The Family Dinner. And Laurie has also become a wonderful personal friend and champion of Breastcancer.org. When I met her, I was inspired not only by her commitment to protecting our environment, but also to protecting the roots of our family values — with dinner.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to hear Laurie speak at a TEDxManhattan conference about the proven benefits of sitting down and sharing a meal. She said, “We are so overscheduled, working so hard, rushing, that we forget what all the hard work is for. Honestly, what are we rushing to if it isn’t to sit down to dinner with the people we love? Family dinner is one of those rituals that connects us, enriches us, nourishes our minds and our bodies. It is how our grandparents raised their kids, and their parents before them. We may be living in modern times, but it’s the old-fashioned values that will help us get through the day.”

In families, we have to pick our battles, and one battle should be to fight for family dinner time together — and Laurie so brilliantly articulates the reasons why in The Family Dinner. It’s a practical, inspirational, fun (and, of course, green) guide to help us get our families back to the dinner table. The book is full of kid-friendly recipes, conversation starters, and expert advice on everything from teaching green values to ways of expressing gratitude. In it, Laurie talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day’s events. “Dinner,” she says, “is as much about digestable conversation as it is about delicious food.” For me, these are great words of wisdom, as I believe every meal tastes better with a side of zesty conversation.

When my kids were younger and in their teens, often it was the “delicious food” part that was most challenging. Knowing that their food choices during the day may not have always been the healthiest, I used dinner time as my opportunity to get some good food into them. But if the food hit the table and they weren’t hungry (grabbing a snack with friends can do that) or didn’t like the meal, dinner time sometimes caused more frustration than joy. That’s why I’ve always stuck to one simple rule: this is home, not a restaurant. While this didn’t always win me votes as most popular, I do think my kids learned the value of compromise and respect, and the importance of supporting each other as a family unit.  Laurie has said, “The dinner table provides the most effective way to share values, pass on family history, and debate opinions—one meal at a time.” I couldn’t agree more.

In addition to her own personal experience, the scientific research on family dinner she presented at her TEDx talk was even more compelling. Laurie said, “Dozens of universities, including Columbia, Emory, and Harvard, have studied the effects of family dinner and have all reached the same conclusions. Basically everything a parent worries about can be improved by the simple act of sitting down and sharing a meal. Drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, depression — according to research, regular family meals lower all those risks.”

While I can’t say for sure where my family would be had it not been for regular family dinners, I do know that we’re all in a pretty good place. My kids are grown and yet I still enjoy “family dinner” nearly every night with my husband. And when the kids come home, we’re right back to where we started — thankfully reconnected.

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, we’d like to express our sincere gratitude to Laurie for being a great friend and supporter of Breastcancer.org and for her unrelenting commitment to our mission. I’m very grateful for the great food and fascinating conversations that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed at Laurie’s family dinners.

For inspirational tips and kid-friendly recipes, check out The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt at thefamilydinnerbook.com.

In the meantime, let us know what family dinner means to you. Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marisa Weiss

Marisa Weiss, M.D. is the founder, president and guiding force behind Breastcancer.org, the world's most trafficked online resource for medically reviewed breast health and breast cancer information, reaching over 8 million visitors per year. A breast cancer oncologist with over twenty years of active practice in the Philadelphia region, Dr. Weiss is regarded as a visionary advocate for her innovative and steadfast approach to informing, empowering, and treating patients with breast cancer.

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