Easter will soon be upon us, but today, I want to talk about a “lost supper” of a different kind – the demise of family dinner. When I grew up, family dinner, every day — at least with Mom — was a given. My father worked very hard, and long hours, but even he set aside one night a week – Friday night, the “Shabbat dinner” in the Jewish faith – to make sure he sat down and had dinner with the family.
Today, a recent study has found that less than 50% of Americans eat dinner together on a regular basis. An Atlantic article titled “How Americans Lost Dinner” blames fractured schedules and less time at home for much of the loss. Less time; more takeout. Millennials who eagerly signed up for meal-kit services like Blue Apron found that it took too much time to unpack the box, cook, and clean up. Or even to remember to collect the box. “Right now,” the article begins, “a box of food from a meal-kit company is probably moldering in my apartment building’s mailroom.”
Lack of know-how has also added to dinner’s demise. I suspect young adults generally know very little about food prep, in spite of proliferating cooking shows and how-to videos on YouTube. In time, scratch cooking may become a niche field left largely to the “experts.”
With everything else Americans are threatened with losing, like freedom of speech and religious liberty, “losing dinner” seems the least of our worries. Still, we miss it. No other creature turns the necessity of eating, into something like a ritual. Whether “dressing for dinner” Downton Abbey style, or setting the table for soup and a sandwich, humans tend to give meals importance beyond consuming calories.
Of course, the Bible cloaks mealtimes with significance, from the elaborate ritual of Passover to a picnic on the beach with the resurrected Christ. Pilgrims to Old Testament Jerusalem could look forward to the fellowship offering, when, in addition to the sacrificial animal, families were invited to bring “whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (Deuteronomy 14:26). Passing around the goat kebabs reminded the Lord’s people of His blessings. Passing around bread and wine during communion service not only commemorates the Lamb of God but also anticipates His wedding feast (Revelation 19:7-9).
However, even for the most secular among us, dinner as ritual plays an important part in developing a healthy family dynamic for your children, as well as helping them, and you, to become a more emotionally secure individual.
The website, TheFamilyDinnerProject.org, lists the scientifically proven benefits of families eating together, from higher self-esteem to lower obesity. Those benefits are embedded not in the meal itself but in the importance the family gives to the meal—the ceremony of preparation and table setting and sitting down together and giving thanks. Ritual connects us to the image of the forever, not just on special days like Thanksgiving, but every ordinary day of our extraordinary lives.
Do you think having dinner with your family, at least a few times a week is important? What are some of your family dinner “rituals,” or traditions? Please reply in the comments below.