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By Sarah Mahoney
For Nancy Richmond, Sunday dinners are something to treasure. While her family sits down to eat together in the dining room practically every night (with candles and tablecloths no less), these meals are special. "My husband cooks the same kind of wonderful meals he makes all week long, but it's different. We're all more relaxed," says Richmond. "Sunday night is the evening we're most likely to invite company and the night my kids invite their friends."
Mealtime traditions -- whether it's Sunday supper, Saturday morning bagels or Tuesday night pizza -- are more than just good food and fun times. They are the glue that holds families together. "These traditions are the things that make us feel we belong somewhere and that we're special -- that our family is different from other families," says Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a researcher in the way routines knit families together.
It isn't easy to pull off a family dinner every night of the week, which is why designating one day for a special meal is so important. "The average meal gets eaten in anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes," says Fiese. "The average kid watches four to six hours of TV a day. There's room in there somewhere. Just turn off cell phones, computers and the TV and sit down together."
Here's how to keep everyone at the table…and happy to be there:
Tweak your tradition… Sooner or later, most kids will groan and snort at the idea of spending any more time at the table than they have to. "As kids grow up, expect plenty of eye-rolling but don't give up," says Fiese. "Teens may act like they want you to drop the routines entirely, but they don't." Ask if they'd like to try a little cooking instead of always getting stuck with the dishes, for example. For Richmond, allowing kids to invite friends has made a huge difference: "Sometimes we get 10 kids here -- there's always something we can fix in the kitchen to feed them."
…Or borrow someone else's For anyone who grew up in a traditional Italian home, the scent of slow-simmering sauce (known as gravy, to some) is a cherished memory. Many Southerners feel the same way about chicken-after-church dinners. If you love your Sunday dinner tradition, but are tired of your traditional Sunday food, take a page from someone else's cookbook. Vary the menu on your typical Sunday meals and see what happens.
Make It Extra Special Tere Estorino and her 3-year-old son, Max, live seven houses away from her parents, so they share many meals together. But her favorite occasion is the monthly brunch her parents host, when her siblings and their kids all converge for an hours-long Sunday brunch -- Cuban style. "I love that my son is getting to know his aunts, uncles and cousins this way. I know it's good for Max, but it's also good for me," says the 31-year-old Miami mom. "I so look forward to a Sunday spent talking and laughing with my family. I need that connection, too."
Sarah Mahoney is a contributing editor at Parents and Prevention magazines. Her work also appears regularly in Family Circle and Good Housekeeping.
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