Here's what Gramma knew about dinner, that we've all forgotten in only two generations: We're supposed to eat dinner together. One meal, one table, no TV, no radio. We have a standing date, a ritual, see you there around 6 pm.
Perhaps one night a week Gramma took it easy and made eggs and bacon for supper. Sunday nights were probably reserved for a roast of some kind, ham maybe. Or roast beef. Something that made good leftovers for the following day.
Now what do we have? You want to eat a "home-cooked" meal but you don't want to cook it yourself. Presto, your local grocery store sells pre-packaged meals at the front of the store: single-serving lasagne, tuna roll-ups in dry flour tortillas, and freaky expensive scary looking salmon and rice in plastic microwaveable containers. You have to search in this grocery store for an uncooked pork chop.
It's nearly too much. What would Gramma say?
Gramma would say "look at the rates of childhood obesity. Look at the divorce rates. In my day we ate dinner together. One meal. No excuses. If you had band practize that interfered with dinner, you missed the practice, not the dinner . "
So what are we missing two generations later?
We're missing the connection that dinner brings. We get to ask each other "what happened to you that was good today?" Everyone is seated around one table. The TV is off. The meal doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be mostly healthy, mostly homemade, and done with a bit of care.
It's not complicated, really. Pick something you know you can make without much fuss and shop at least the day before. When your dinner night arrives, start your preparation in a clean kitchen, and construct an event – the dinner event.
It's not supposed to be stressful, you just putter along until it's done, no hurry. The kidlet helps with washing carrots, setting the table, the mate puts Xs in the bottoms of the brussels sprouts.
Try to get three food groups involved (veg / fruit, meat / fish / protein, bread / pasta). Spaghetti with meat sauce and a plate of sliced cucumbers on the side. Roast chicken with green beans and whole wheat bread. It can be as simple as that.
Throw in a placemat, a couple of candles, and a cloth napkin. Sip your glass of sparkly water. Now it begins: "Tell me something good about your day?"
If you're on your own, you set a nice table, light the candles, and settle into your lovely dinner with an internet article you've downloaded for later reading (hint, hint), or a magazine you've been meaning to read, or a great mystery book.
Then what happens? Well, then it all seems possible. You're making a date with dinner. Soon your once-a-week date turns into a couple of nights, then you're doing it regularly.
So this week the challenge is for you to make a date with dinner. Just try it once this week. Use the real dining room table, the medium china, two candles. Cook something basic. Make grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off and a dish of pickles (notice now Gramma always puts the pickles in a dish). Add a tomato + feta + balsamic vinegar salad.
After you've had your date with dinner, you can reflect on how it felt. Was it terribly difficult? No. Was it better than takeout? Most definitely. Did you learn something new? What did you learn?
If you need a simple, illustrated recipe for roast chicken, there's a pretty great one at http://www.oneroastchicken.com .
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