Missing In Action: The Family Table

The Family Reunion

I spent last week at a dude ranch in the Texas Hill Country with my family.

My grandparents started our dude ranch tradition almost three decades ago when they treated their four children (with spouses) and their six grandchildren (of which I am one) to a week at a guest ranch where we ate, rode horses, played games, swam, and then ate some more. 29 years later, my grandparents watch from a better place while their four children (with spouses) treat their 13 children (with spouses) and 19 grandchildren (with one on the way) to the same experience. The venue has changed, and the attendee list morphs each year (thanks to school, work, and distance), but once again, the family came together this June to celebrate the Kollenberg clan.

One of our most popular post-ranch discussions centers around the ranch food. How was it? Better than normal? Worse? Too salty? Too unhealthy?

This year, the food not only failed to impress, it left me desperate for a decent meal. But there was a silver lining: When I put my tasting concerns aside, I realized how beautiful it was to sit in a too-hot dining room eating flavorless, too-salty food — with my family.

Growing Up At The Family Table

Growing up, my family ate at the kitchen table most nights. We kids set and cleared the placemats, dishes, and silverware. Mom served food on platters and in large bowls with utensils that matched the cutlery. We set out homemade cloth napkins tucked into lovely napkin rings. Wonderfully, every meal was relatively balanced. Mom always fixed a green veggie or two to accompany the main dish, and we usually had bread — served, of course, in a bread basket lined with a cloth napkin matching the ones on our laps.

At these family dinners, we talked about the day, about school, about work and friends and plans. We laughed a lot — cracking jokes, making fun of each other, and creating funny names for people. (We decided that our neighbor, Holly Day, need to marry Mr. Inn. Brilliant, right?)

I remember family dinners fondly. Very fondly.

Raising Children Without The Family Table

Now I’m an adult with a lovely husband and two wonderful teenage stepdaughters. I’m reluctant to admit that we eat on trays in front of the TV most nights. We don’t even own a kitchen table, and the dining room table is just a bit too formal for us. We’re busy, we’re tired, and we record shows that we enjoy watching as a family. I do love to cook, so the meal is (almost) always good (albeit not necessarily balanced because I tend to focus on the main dish and forget all about sides until it’s too late).

We eat as a family — but not at a family table, and not with a family focus.

I wonder what my kids will say about our family meals twenty years from now.

My Mid-Year Resolution: Bring It Back Y’all

The bad food at the ranch compelled me to recognize that we should care not just about what we eat. We should give equal consideration to how we eat. It forced me to think about why I was sitting at that table — it was most certainly not for the food. I also learned that eating as a family may have health benefits. So I made a “family table” resolution, and I hope that those of you who have become as deplorably lazy about family dinners as I am will join me.

I’m bringing the family table back to my house.

We have our girls three nights a week when things are relatively “normal.” At least one day a week, I want us to eat in the dining room with no TV but perhaps a bit of background music. (Fortunately, we’re all keen on Michael Buble, Elliott Yamin, and The Script.) I hope we can talk, laugh, and inspire each other like I did with my family back in the day.

I’d love to hear about your family dinner traditions. Am I the only one whose family dines on TV trays? How do you make family dinners special? What do you do to connect with your family over food on a daily basis?

Image credit: anyjazz65 via flickr/CC license

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5 thoughts on “Missing In Action: The Family Table”

  1. My little family unit consists of me, my traveling husband and my dog. On occasion, when he visits us from England for roughly two weeks out of the year, we also count my stepson in the mix as well. Family dinners do take place in the dining room, and we usually have SkyFM satellite radio playing softly in the background (tuned to a jazz station on most days). From time to time, we do, however, opt to plop down in front of the TV with our respective trays of food so that we can watch the tube while we dine, but those occasions are fairly rare. With it generally being just the two of us–and always under the watchful eye of our greedy dog, Kenji, we like to take that time out of the day as our together time. My husband’s work usually sees him traveling out of the country 55% of his time, so we do value what little time we do have together. I’m thankful for our stolen moments at the dinner table. It gives us time to reconnect after a hard day–his of working hard in the city; mine of working hard writing at home. And, of course, the dog’s very busy day of barking at squirrels and chipmunks, lounging about . . . and foraging for food.

  2. Valerie, Thanks for sharing your family food traditions. You’ve inspired me to keep up with my resolution despite the fact that my stepdaughters rolled their eyes when I shared it with them. Sigh…

  3. Very interesting to find someone with so much the same traditions I grew up with! I grew up going to a dude ranch started by grandparents as well. My family has been reduced from 5 to 3 as kids have grown up. Sadly, dinner has become just my youngest daughter and myself fixing a plate for my husband to eat later. I am home when she gets home from school so I have already heard about her day and her homework and already seen the rolling eyes and irritated sighs By dinnertime, we are ready for a break from connecting. We have the same tastes in tv shows and little time to watch them so we too eat in front of the tv. Now we have a college freshman home for the summer and he prefers to eat upstairs in his room while coding and skyping and texting. I want him to enjoy family time in his own way, but probably more accurately, I want to avoid the eye rolling and arguing. So I allow him to bypass the family table. After reading this blog, I can ask for once a week to all sit down together. That is reasonable and can be the beginning of a new tradition. I already see my daughter’s eyes rolling into her head.

    I also think we should bring back the fondue pot. Remember when we would sit around the appliance and cook the meat with all the different sauces? It would take a while to cook so plenty of time for conversation and lots of fun. Plus the kids did the cooking! Thanks for the thought-provoking blog.

    Ellen Haster

    1. So let’s make a deal. :-) Once a week, family dinner, fondue if we’re up for it??? Thanks for joining the conversation!

  4. Wonderful topic and well written! I’ll have to confess, a seated dinner each night around the family table was the passion and wisdom of my wonderful wife, Debbie! She was always reading about 5 books at a time on how to raise a family and be a better Mom, and I’m sure this is one of the topics mentioned.

    Now that the kids are grown and in the process off becoming gone, I am very happy she made this part of our lives. Even not with just the two of us, she makes it a point to sit down together and eat without distraction … though it does frustrate me a tad that she won’t even allow any outside material at the table that I need to discuss with her. Eating meals is about just us being together. : – )

    I feel like a lucky guy! Blessings to all … as we are all merely fellow strugglers going down the path of life!

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