Protecting the Dying Art of the Family Meal

Thursday morning on Sports Radio 1310 the Ticket, the Musers dedicated a segment to the lost art of family dinners. They (loosely) cited a new report supporting the old doctrine that a family that breaks bread together stays together.

Their conversation was, as always, insightful and thought-provoking. They made P1s ponder the state, or lack-there-of, of family meals. Have times changed so much that it really is a fading tradition? And, as Rich Phillips might ask, is that a good thing?

Evenings are just so different, especially for families with school-aged kids. A big issue the Musers brought up is recreational sports. Back in the day, most of us played on school-sponsored teams where practice was tagged to the end of the school day and kids were home by 5:30 p.m.

Now kids play in recreational or select leagues (mandatory if you want them to even be considered for the 7th grade B-team) and practice and games don't even start until at least 5:30 p.m.

From a housekeeping perspective, how many working moms and dads want to clean the entire kitchen after dinner at 9 p.m.? And don't forget about baths, homework, reading logs and mandatory xBox. And God forbid it's a standardized testing week (which it is).

So instead of cooking a meal, it's easier to grab something on the way home or, the cheaper route, have everyone forage through the fridge, fending for themselves.

There's also a gluttony of distractions from phones, games and TV. Competing with a teen bent on a Twitter feed is almost a futile effort. Even adults for that matter. An authoritative zero-tolerance policy is the only way out, creating some delicious mealtime tension.

Again, is it easier to throw in the dishtowel and let everyone do their own thing? Or as one Muser put it yesterday, "Hook their lips up to the boob tube and suck away."

Then there are those of us, particularly Phillips again, with younger kids who find dinnertime to be mandatory beat-down hour. The nostalgic concept of a harmonious meal where we all rehash the day's events unfortunately doesn't often play out.

"We sit down three or four times a week and there are no glorious moments," Phillips said. "It's a litany of corrections."

I can sympathize with Phillips. Dinner with my four young kids is like a frat party (for them). I love it that they all find each other so entertaining, but asking them to calmly break bread often feels like the patients have taken over the asylum. Sometimes I wonder if they do it just to make us crazy so they can leave quicker. (Ding!)

Old ladies stop me in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, look at my brood, and tell me with sad eyes that it all passes by so quickly. I invite them to dinner at 7. They never show.

Maybe the modern family meal has morphed into something more cursory. It's also at times impractical with the hectic pace of things. And captivating a reluctant crowd seems defeating. Why cook? Why clean? Why spend the time on it if no one wants to be there?

But as George Dunham continually emphasized to Phillips and P1s, it's just what you have to do as a parent. He advised that we have to work through those moments. "It's part of the deal," said Dunham in his calm dad voice.

There is absolute truth to his point. If our kids won't act right for us (which often, they won't), hopefully they'll at least know how to act around other people or in public if we battle through the dinners and continue to fire off those "litany of corrections." The frat party has to end at some point, right? (Please tell me yes.)

So, while a fruitful family dinner might only be achieved by those hell-bent on making it work, it's worth the effort. It has to be.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.