Feeling less connected these days? I’m not talking about Zoom connected. Here’s a thought — maybe it’s time to bring back the tradition of sharing family meals together.
Back when I was a kid life seemed a lot less complicated. We never mentioned it, but my sister and I just knew that the end of the weekend meant we had a long-standing date every Sunday at my grandparents’ house. It was a time to get together to see your cousins, aunts, uncles, great-grandparents, and of course, eat!
My childhood was influenced a great deal by having my grandparents next door, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins within walking distance. Some of my warmest memories are of the big Sunday lunches at their house. I can still hear the screen door flapping open as the family all piled in, hugging each other and catching up. Us kids scurried everywhere, and I’d make a beeline over to the counter to gaze up at the waiting food. After I checked to make sure no one was looking, I’d peel up the foil for a peek at one of those steaming hot sides my aunts always brought. Maybe it’d be a cheesy casserole or some smothered green beans or potatoes creamed with milk and butter. No matter what side dish was sitting there, one dish which was certain to be there — rice. Our dad was obsessed with it. He still is! If white rice wasn't prepared any given Sunday, he would not have been happy.
Our mom or aunts would gather all the extra chairs in the house and crowded them around the dining room table, which was covered with a feast fit for royalty. Steaming slices of honey ham piled high on a platter, squares of fragrant warm cornbread, a crockpot of still bubbling beans that had a little spice to them, and crispy fried chicken — it was all there. Sure, everyone had pitched in with the cooking, but grandma’s roast was the real star of the table.
We’d sit down, clasp our hands and bow our heads while my grandfather said grace. Out of the corner of my eye, giggling, I’d watch my sister sneak a dill pickle and gobble it down before the Amen. Then we’d burst into talking as we heaped our plates full, mothers making sure we used good manners. We'd eye the desserts — chocolate layer cake and lemon pie would be our reward if we cleaned our plates.
Those Sunday lunches, however, were about so much more than the homemade food. They were really about the stories my family told and the way everyone else sat back and listened. The grownups shared their experiences and were role modeling to us without even realizing it. Those lunches made me feel like I belonged and was part of a tradition older than myself. A wise lady once said, “family that eats together thrives together”, and that holds true to this day.
Now that I’m older and living thousands of miles away, my thoughts often drift back to those Sundays. The memories of those lunches are just as nourishing to me now as the actual food was back then. Losing my grandfather a few years back made me realize that what Benjamin Franklin once said was true — lost time is never found again. When I’m at home overseas, I don’t have the opportunity to see as often those who are dear to me. If I’m fortunate, my trips home will coincide with the occasional birthday or holiday and I’ll get to see everybody all in one place. I sure wish that would happen more often.
My sister is all grown up now, of course, and has kids of her own. Whenever I’m in town, between my travels, my sister will call me and say “We’re coming over,” and within minutes, she and my ten and two-year-old nieces descended on my home bearing salads, margaritas and delicious, soft tortilla chimichanga’s from Plaza Jalisco in Wadesboro, NC. (If you haven’t had it, you need to order online, STAT! You’ll thank me later!) The beauty of my sister’s impromptu dinners is that they’re never for any special occasion. They’re just for fun and for family.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who benefits from my sister’s impulsivity — my nieces, Kiersten and Adelyn surely do too. Experts agree that children who regularly spend family meals together tend to have a bigger vocabulary (you're welcome Adelyn) and do better in school than children who do not (you’re welcome Kiersten). Kids also tend to have better diets and thus are healthier, both physically and psychologically. They have lower rates of depression and behavioral problems (when they’re not irritating one another), as well as higher levels of self-esteem.
It’s not hard to understand why. Family meals are all about nurturing relationships and feeling included. They are safe spaces for everyone to interact with each other and if multiple generations are involved, it’s even better. A table full of people of many ages with varying interests provides a richness of experience so necessary for raising well-rounded children. The benefits are not just for kids. Older people who have the opportunity to share meals with their families will tend to live longer than those who do not.
These spur of the moment get-togethers my sister throws may not be the “Sunday lunch” of our past but the concept of togetherness and family is surely the same. Inevitably, when I look back on my trips to the states which are so often busy with work, it’s the family time that was the highlight.
Living in Italy allows me to experience traditional family mealtime that still runs strongly throughout the country to this day. Not only do my family, friends, and I sit at the dining table for hours, but Italians in general also cherish family bonds and their gatherings typically involve multiple generations. Their approach at home is pretty casual — the lunches or dinners may not happen every week but everyone manages to come together for a meal at least a few times per month or more. Family members take turns hosting. Sometimes the meal is simple like roasted chicken with potatoes tossed in rosemary and olive oil. Other times, it’s a little more complicated and someone spends a lot of time making lasagna bolognese. No matter what entree is served, somebody better bring enough tiramisu for everyone or there will be familial unrest for sure!
Want to know an interesting fact? In Italy, don’t be surprised when the salad comes after the meal before dessert is served. Odd you wonder? Well, leafy greens help your body with digesting heavy foods. Makes sense? Haven’t you ever seen a dog or cat nibble on grass sometimes after they’ve eaten?
At my home in Italy, I have a rule at my house when hosting — no electronics allowed during mealtime. Every single person who walks in the door must put their electronic devices in a bowl and leave them there until after dinner. You’d be surprised at what a relief it is not to be burdened with constantly keeping tabs on the outside world. It turns out that having non-distracted, face-to-face conversations with your friends and family is utterly priceless.
Making “Sunday lunch” a tradition in your family
How can you translate that old Sunday lunch tradition into something that makes sense for your family in 2020? Here are some ideas.
Remember, there is no reason that Sunday meals have to actually be on a Sunday. Pick any day of the week that works. Also, who says that it can happen only at dinnertime? There are three meals in a day and seven days each week which is twenty-one meals where you can be together, and you should pick the one that makes the most sense for you and your family. Also, don’t be afraid to make it fun! How about instituting Taco Tuesdays? Get all kinds of tacos delivered to your door from DoorXDoor Delivery, with toppings and tortillas everyone craves and let everyone go to town.
Maybe your family would prefer a Saturday breakfast? The Hub Restaurant is a particularly good choice for favorites! Country ham, eggs, and hash browns sound pretty good for any crowd. I’m absolutely certain that Order Online Wednesdays would be a huge hit — everyone could choose a restaurant they’ve never tried for something delicious to order from DoorXDoor Delivery.
The key is to plan your family dinners well in advance. It’s all too easy to say that you’re going to do it someday and then never follow through. Get out that calendar and pick a night. Make sure everyone commits and then send out reminder texts a few days before, but the key is communication so that everyone is on the same page. You’ll all be so glad you did and everyone will be wondering why they hadn’t done it sooner. This is the tradition that your kids will remember and reminisce with their own children about someday.
Sunday lunch doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy and it shouldn’t be stressful. Have fun with it and remember, it’s about taking the time for one another. Don’t be afraid to tailor your Sunday lunch for the needs of your family. If there are loved ones who can’t come, you could FaceTime, FaceBook Messenger, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, or Google Duo with them so they can join the conversation and participate.
These last months of COVID-19 lockdown have reinforced the notion that there are no guarantees in this world. If nothing else, it has reminded everyone that spending quality time with one another should be a priority whenever possible. When our society is finally able to get back to normal, the temptation will be to return to how it was before. I say, however, we shouldn’t let ourselves forget about what really matters. Instead of spending time reminiscing about those old Sunday lunches and wishing that they were still a regular thing, we need to commit to actually making them happen. We at DoorXDoor Delivery can help you bring those family lunch traditions back, or at minimum, help to create new ones.