Sunday dinner is a Very Big Deal around here.
And if you don’t mind some UGA—Unsolicited Good Advice—you should feel the same.
First, since this end of the week day isn’t usually a workday, it’s always nice if the meal is a bit more special than Monday through Friday fare. Given that The Hubster is Midwest born and raised, I’m lucky in that he’s not into fancy-schmancy entrees. So, there’s often a slow cooked roast with gravy, along with a fresh veggie on the side. Sometimes I’ll add what used to be called the starch portion—potatoes, rice or pasta.
It’s not surprising that I love these dinners because I enjoy cooking them, and even more, eating them.
But that’s not really why I do it.
I do it because what’s on our plates doesn’t really matter.
Way more essential is the tradition itself—the consistency, and positive consequences, of a communal dining experience with those we love.
These days, of course, that picture doesn’t look anything like Leave it to Beaver or the Saturday Evening Post magazine covers that Norman Rockwell painted. But who cares?
Whatever one’s definition of family is, it’s the time to put away all electronic devices; sit down at the table as a united, we’ve-got-your-back unit, and discuss the past week and the upcoming one. Heck, it may even be the place to bring up future dreams, hopes and desires.
I recently asked about Sunday traditions on one of those what-our-childhoods-were-like Facebook groups that I belong to, and in fact, coming together played a big part.
Lots of fellow baby boomers remembered going to church in the morning and then eating out at the same restaurant every week. Another wrote fondly of parents inviting the family pastor and his wife over, with a lavish spread of comfort food fit for a king.
“Mama would fix pot roast, bake a ham and fried chicken,” she wrote. “Then there would be mashed potatoes and gravy; sweet potatoes and green beans, and candied carrots. For dessert, my daddy’s favorite, a chocolate cake, and for us kids, coconut and banana cream pies. I guess Mama was afraid someone would get up from the table hungry.”
As it turns out, these feel good memories are way more than that.
In fact, according to a 2015 Washington Post article by Anne Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project (http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/), breaking bread together is one of the very best things parents can do for their children.
For wee kidlets, Fishel says that dinnertime conversations actually boost their vocabulary by leaps and bounds. In fact, these children picked up an average of 1,000 rare words around the table, compared to just 143 from mom or dad reading books out loud. Teens also benefit from regular family meals: Fishel adds that those who eat together at least three times per week are twice as likely to score A’s in school as those who don’t.
And because most families no longer farm together; play musical instruments on the porch, or host quilting bees, American teens also say the most likely place to talk to their parents today is at dinnertime. As a result, these same adolescents are likely to have less stress, and better communication, with their mothers and fathers.
Coming together can also be enormously satisfying even after the kids leave home.
One friend with a 20something daughter told me that she has decided to return to the Sunday magic she knew as a child.
“Now in the time of texts, emails and Facetime, I want to sit across the table from my daughter and listen to her tell me about her week,” she says.
“I want to be able to see her smile, or even hear about her frustrations or heartbreak, or whatever her week has dished up,” she explains. “What I don’t want is to read her week in a text message. In five or 10 years, will people even interact at all anymore?”
As for me, I feel exactly the same way.
That’s why I want to make sure that our Very Big Deal meal stays around for a very long time.
How about you? I look forward to your thoughts and stories—and maybe recipes—involving Sunday dinners, past
P.S. No idea about what to fix this weekend? Here’s an easy peasy spinach lasagna. Add a simple salad and
loaf of crusty French bread, and you’re ready to gather around the table.
1 lb. whole grain or regular lasagna noodles, boil until soft and pliable.
3-4 bunches of fresh chopped spinach, steam just 2-3 minutes, drain. (But not too soft, so you can still spread
out the leaves)
16 ounce can of tomato sauce
2 cups full fat ricotta cheese
2 cups freshly grated full fat mozzarella
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large glass casserole dish.
Cover sauce with a layer of noodles, add half of the ricotta, then half of the spinach.
Then add one third of the remaining sauce and one third of the mozzarella.
Lay down another layer of noodles, the remainder of the ricotta, the remainder of the spinach, another one third of sauce and another one third of the mozzarella.
Finally, lay out the rest of the noodles, the rest of the sauce, and on the very top, the rest of the mozzarella.
Bake uncovered at preheated 350 degrees for 40 minutes.