In third grade my youngest son had a bad day; not his first one and certainly not his last. I’m not sure why this particular moment stands out in my memory. I can’t even remember what was so bad about the day, but I do remember him coming home from school with the saddest look on his face. After he put his backpack away, he did what he always did: He sat down at the kitchen counter and had a snack.
I have a mental snapshot of him looking up after he’d eaten his apple slices, served with a little peanut butter I had warmed up with a dab of caramel sauce and saying, with a faint smile, “Thanks, Mom. I feel better now.” Yes, he liked the snack, but what made him feel better was the chance it gave us to sit down together and talk about what was bothering him.
Food often gives us that chance, whether it’s around the kitchen counter or the dinner table. It’s the perfect platform for us to come together and hear what’s going on in each other’s lives in a quiet (no TV, no cellphones), pleasant environment. My husband and I try not to use this opportunity to nag about homework or chores; there’s plenty of time for that after dinner. It’s simply an opportunity for everyone in the family to listen and be listened to. How many of those opportunities exist anymore?
In the United States, family dinners seem to be on the rise, and for good reason. Research found that children who regularly had dinner with their families are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and more likely to do better in school. In fact, studies show that the best-adjusted children are those who eat with an adult at least five times a week.
While there are plenty of good reasons to sit down and eat together beyond the food, for me, and I suspect you too, the food needs to be good, as well. I often use the captive audience I have at the dinner table to push the envelope a little. I’ll serve unusual dishes that my kids will sometimes like, and sometimes not. There are nights, though, perhaps when someone needs a little cheering up, when you need a sure thing at the dinner table. In my house, Creamy Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna works wonders.
A luscious, creamy tomato sauce envelops pasta layered with gooey, cheesy ricotta, sausage and loads of mushrooms and spinach. There’s no better dish to enjoy, with your family, on a cold Minnesota night.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.