Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Pete Wells ("Cooking with Dexter"): Family Dinner Is Worth It.

Pete Wells has written a great column for the New York Times called "Cooking With Dexter" that I loved mainly because he seemed like a real Dad investigating the world of the kitchen with his son Dexter. He wrote warmly of the new discoveries that father and son would make in the kitchen, about food, about themselves. Wells wrote his last column this week and is off to other projects. I'm sad to see the column go, but his last missive really hit home for other reasons.

Wells talks to the real and true challenges of getting dinner on the table every night as a dual working parent family, and then, kind of shrugs it off as too damn hard. ARGH! I understand his struggles, I do. But I also want to shout: "No, no, no!" Family dinner can be admittedly damned hard, but it is worth it

One of the messages of is not to expect perfection and not to be so hard on yourself, but to make a commitment to family dinner. You have to find the right balance for your family, and that balance is going to change over time, as work demands change and as your kids grow. When your kids are little, it is honestly the hardest time to get dinner on the table in a timely fashion before they unravel. The strategy in our family is to have healthy snacks available and to have many 20-minute dinners under our belts. As the kids get older, the routine and expectation of family dinner, be it with both parents or only one, will be the touchstone of their lives, and yours. Don't give that up. Cut yourself some slack, but keep plugging away.

I was encouraged, though, by the numerous commenters on the NYT site (well over 100), many who call Wells to task. The sentiments were, basically, "Hey, Pete, family dinner is well worth it and here are some things we do in our family that can help." I love that so many people wanted to help Wells and his family with practical strategies and advice. This is the conversation that we need to be having: what can busy parents do to help make this thing work. I also think we need a national conversation about a life-work balance that allows enough flexibility for parents to make a dinner commitment with their families. But that's another story.

Thanks to The Lunch Tray who wrote a blog post (2.21.11) that paralleled many of my feelings and spurred me to write my own response here. (Through the time shifting force of the Internet, I actually read the Wells' Sunday piece on Friday, and tweeted about it, but hadn't gotten my thoughts together enough to respond. And of course the kids are off school this week!)


  1. Family meals are absolutely worth making them happen. It's too easy to throw up our hands and claim we just can't do it, but I think that happens when we put too much pressure on ourselves to make family dinners an elaborate event.

    There's a long list of benefits to the whole family, and especially our children, by coming around the table for dinner together. The conversations, the act of sharing a meal, the bonds that are created only happen when everyone looks at each other with nothing else to do but be together (and eat).

    Yes, there are short and long term health benefits that result from eating homemade, balanced meals but let's be realistic. That might not happen 100% of the time - and attempting to can lead to a lot of pressure and stress (and probably some late night meals). We sometimes turn to convenience items and it's ok. Really. Frozen vegetables that don't have added ingredients can be just as healthy as fresh produce. Organic frozen meals that have just five ingredients - and you can pronounce each of them - are a better choice than orange macaroni and cheese dinner that has artificial food dyes.

    If we're smart about our choices, we can ease up on ourselves and make family meals happen.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment and so true! I feel like the dinner routine starts first, and then we can aim to make it the best it can be. Choosing wisely when it comes to convenience foods is key.

  3. Terrific blog! I just found it as I am a fan of The Lunch Tray on FB. I have been touting the benefits of eating meals together and it's something I've made every effort to do with my own children since the day they were born. I eat breakfast with them every morning and most evenings we are all eating together. On weekends we even make the effort to each lunch together (so three meals)! I will definitelly be checking your blog often for updates!

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