Book Review: The Family Dinner
Writer Kathleen Miller met with movie producer Laurie David ("An Inconvenient Truth") during her recent visit to Seattle to promote her new cookbook/family lifestyle book The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect to Your Kids, One Meal at a Time.
What would it mean to your family if by doing one thing together during the day, each child would consistently perform better academically, grow up with a solid sense of self esteem, resist drugs and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity? What if that one thing was as simple as having dinner together every night?
The thought of trying to all sit down together to a “homemade” meal everyday may seem like an impossible dream for most super busy families. But Laurie David’s new book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect to Your Kids, One Meal at the Time, gives you not only fabulous, easy to make, kid-pleasing recipes for meals by Kirstin Uhrenholdt, but step by step chapters on how you can make a daily meal ritual happen for your family.
Laurie David is as proud of her role as a mom as her work as a celebrated green warrior for the fight against global warming and co-producer of the Academy Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. During her appearance in Seattle Wednesday evening, November 10, 2010 at the Sorrento hotel as part of Kim Ricketts Wine and Words series (http://www.kimricketts.com), she mentioned the “epiphany” that brought forth her book. She recalls the moment when she realized that her two teenage daughters were lingering at the kitchen table with her, still engaged in conversation, long after dessert was finished. “I realized at the point that I must have done something right as a parent.”
That realization drove her to write her new book which is part cookbook and part “how to guide” on why and how to bring your family to the table for a regular ritual of dinner together. David cites years of research in the book that show eating a meal together daily provides a wealth of long-term benefits to children including higher academic achievement and greater resistance to drug and alcohol abuse.
David’s book is not for “perfect families” devoid of challenges. She devotes a whole chapter in the book entitle Two Homes, One Table, on how divorced parents can use a meal together with their children to strengthen ties and enhance communication. She reflects, “When marriages break up, kids need the comfort of routine more than ever.” She herself is divorced from Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, and admits that she had to work hard to get him back to the family table – really at first to the family sofa. Their meals post-divorce began on Sunday nights when they would all sit on their sofa and eat take out Chinese. And from there, they eventually made it back to the table. This ritual met her goal of reassuring her daughters that “this family is in transition, but we are still a family!”
Another chapter entitled “Table Talk” focuses on how to get engaging conversations over a meal started. At the event she let it slip that her friends – the Obamas – play “roses and thorns” at family dinners where they recall the “highlight and lowlight” of their days. Her book contains fabulous suggestions and tips from her many other famous friends including hiking buddy Arianna Huffington, Judge Judy Sheindlin, Dr. Maya Angelou and director Nora Ephron.
David signs her books “Dinner spreads love”, and spoke at the event about how dinner – or any family meal together, is the place where we share our love, values and family history. In today’s jam-packed family schedules David said, “at what other time is a family all together, doing the same thing, except when we’re sleeping?”.
She emphasizes that she is not Martha Stewart and it really is ok to serve just “a great soup and salad for dinner.” But like Stewart, David values meals that are homemade – not from the frozen food aisle. The book is jammed packed with healthy, easy to make recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt. Uhrenholdt is as committed to “living green” as David and draws from her Danish heritage and collective culinary wisdom of her family to provide delicious but also frequently fast to make meal recipes.
A photo of Uhrenholdt with David is featured in the chapter Your Green Table where David explores how making simple changes in the way we shop, cook, serve, store and dispose of food can create a more sustainable lifestyle that is kinder to the environment. This chapter contains one of my favorite tips from David and Uhrenholdt – ditch your plastic wrap and start using shower caps to cover your containers of leftovers. The numerous easy to implement tips included in this chapter will make any parent feel like they can create a “greener” family lifestyle without installing solar panels on the roof and switching to an electric powered car – although David would like it if you did that too.
David devotes another chapter in the book to “Grace Is Gratitude” where she provides many ways families can “say thank you and appreciate life’s gifts”, noting that, “raising grateful kids has got to be one of the most daunting and difficult challenges we face as parents.”
And the opportunity to bring extended family together can also be a gift of a regular ritual of a meal together and is explored in David’s chapter Grandparents and the Extended Family, Words of Wisdom. Bringing extended family to your table to pass along family history and values has lasting benefits says David, who sites research by the Emory University Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL Center). The center’s research shows if you pass on family history around the table you kids will be less prone to engage in negative activities, be active members of the family, helping it to function better and be more resilient in the face of life stresses. Her chapter includes questions that can help kids engage family members in conversations to learn more about family history.
In addition to featuring beautiful photos by Maryellen Baker and playful illustrations by Sarah Coleman and pages with large, easy to read type, the book has a sturdy, easy to wipe cover that will withstand the wear and tear of use over time. David says her dream will be that the book will end up in kitchens everywhere, full of post it notes and with a cover stained with the evidence of years of great family meals with delicious food and engaging conversations.
Writer Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish mother of two. She regrets that her culinary skills are limited to mostly heating frozen entrees in the microwave, take and bake pizzas and “breakfast for dinner” meals. However she is also the proud owner of two compost bins and a zealous recycler.