More on Family Dinner

Beauty From Sweat

The Industrial Revolution is in our rearview mirror now—we’ve moved on to the Information Age.   A lot changed in the Industrial Revolution; much of it was good but some changes need to be reconsidered.  I’m OK with tractors pulling plows instead of humans, or draft animals.  (Though years ago, in the Amish country near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, I came upon a man plowing behind a magnificent team of four draft horses.  The animals were pulling hard, tossing their heads and manes in the breeze.  There was a beauty to it that I can’t fully explain, but the image remains with me.)

In the last century people fell in love with laborsaving devices before they had thought about the benefits of labor.  There’s a direct link between labor, muscles, strong bones, a healthy body, and natural beauty.  Which leads to the beauty of sweat.

There was more prophetic wisdom than punishment in the Genesis 3:19 admonition to Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread . . . .”  The Industrial Revolution offered to free us from the directive to “sweat” for our bread.  Now we must reconsider for a new lesson has emerged:  The labor that causes sweat has its own benefits.     

The rich don’t have to sweat—they can hire someone to do that.  But regular people do.  Which brings to mind the beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor . . . .”  Have to do your own cooking?  Count your blessings. The work that goes into preparing a meal is the stuff of life.  It’s good for you, but it also blesses and gives importance to the food.  The love you cook into food sets the scene for the family dinner. 

More than she, or he, might realize, the cook in the kitchen is a leader.  Sunday, the beautiful wife told of a meeting where a mother discussed what she had done to improve the family dinner.  Previously dinner had been chaotic and rushed.  Ever had that experience?  The mother, being a prayerful person, decided that in her morning prayers, she would seek inspiration for the dinner table topic.  Before, the dinner conversation reflected the struggles of the day.  Now, purposeful topics were introduced and a new harmony was established.  It was an impressive example of leadership, quietly done. 

Family Dinner for Singletons

It’s uncommon to find a person who lives alone and eats well.  It’s hard to cook a healthy meal for just one person.  I hear this when speaking to groups of single people.  Because more people are living alone—early in their adult life or near the end—it’s a public health issue.  I don’t know an easy answer for this, in fact, that may be the key thing to recognize:  There’s no easy answer.   Eating well is hard, especially if you eat alone.

Judith Jones has been the leading light in food publishing.  She was Julia Child's editor and shaped the modern cookbook.  Jones agreed that cooking was a lot of work but reminded that "the alternative was worse."  After the death of her husband she wrote a book titled The Pleasures of Cooking for One.  Jones, determined that though she often ate alone, she would make the effort to eat well, to enjoy good food.  She opens the book with this paragraph:

After my husband, Evan, died in 1996, I was not sure that I would ever enjoy preparing a meal for myself and eating it alone.  But as I described in “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food,” I was wrong, and I soon realized that the pleasure that we shared together was something to honor.  I found myself at the end of the day looking forward to cooking, making recipes that work for me, and then sitting down and savoring a good meal.

Ms. Jones’ book is full of elegant recipes for small meals but more than that she shares a discipline about eating well. There's room for improvement.  Below, we invite those who eat alone to share what they've learned.

Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Mac ‘n Cheese may be America’s favorite comfort food.  Thomas Jefferson enjoyed it and Fannie Farmer, in 1896, included it in her original cookbook.  Kraft, in the way of Food Inc, made a business out of it—they’re reported to sell a million of those blue boxes daily.  It’s cheap, easy to make, and kids don’t tire of it.  Just one problem:  It’s not so healthy. 

So we set out to make a healthier, and tastier, version.  Our goal was to use whole grain pasta, slip in a vegetable, and make it so good you’d be willing to spend an extra 15 minutes cooking.  I think we succeeded—check it out in the next post.

Please comment: 

Eating alone:  During the period when you ate alone, which may be right now, what did you do to enjoy a healthy diet?  Please share your ideas. 

Family dinner:  Please share your success stories with improving family dinner.  This is an important topic, so tell us what worked for you. 

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Reader Comments (6)

In college, I ate tuna and crackers, chicken salad, baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, lots of salads, chili, anything simple!

I admit that mac n' cheese is my weakness. I never let myself buy it because I WILL eat it! I recently found a mac n' cheese recipe that I actually like! I'd never liked it homemade before. I'm excited to see your recipe!

For our family dinner we eat early when everyone is there to eat. Usually around 5:00. In order to reduce chaos around 4:00-5:00, I make dinner early in the day! It is a serious stress reliever. Then right before dinner I reheat. Or if it's something that needs to bake for an hour, I'll make it early in the day, then pop it in the oven to be ready by 5:00. I also recently started doing crudites before dinner so we get extra vegetables. Nothing's worse than a bad attitude before dinner because you're hungry. I cut up veggies and we all snack while preparations are made for dinner. If we're too full to eat a lot, whatever! We're full on the good stuff! Another related thing - we don't allow technology at dinner. No phones, ipads, ipods, tv, etc. We focus on us. :)

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRik

My freshman year had been one of eating "cheaply" as most Americans would see it: lots of pasta, nutrition-free bread, a little chicken and fruit, and almost never a vegetable. They were just too costly, I thought.I once reported to my nurse roommate I'd had some frozen peas with my dinner, and she gave me a look and said, "One serving of veggies for the whole day? You must be proud." During my last two years of college, I lived alone, and I had learned to cook and eat much better (though that's not saying much). I cooked like a mother of three and had good casseroles, soups, and other "family" dinners and ate leftovers in the fridge for a week. I also collected recipes from family and friends and scoured cookbooks and the Internet, and by the time I graduated and later married, I had quite the collection. My husband, son, and I eat well (and are steadily eating better, thanks to this blog and others), and the only major adjustment from my single days has been having to make food more often.

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks for the interesting question. My college and post-college roommate is visiting and it made me think: what *did* I do for dinner all those years I couldn't cook? And the answer was: a lot of fruit (no prep needed) and salad (even I could dress lettuce) and noodles (but not much because the box had to last the week) with red sauce (because it was cheaper than butter, or canned soup. I took sandwiches for lunch and had cereal for breakfast...not such a bad life, really. It's harder to eat healthy now because I am locked in to the "meat-starch-veggie" idea of my childhood (though I have tried to drop the starch from the equation as much as possible) and my kids are pickier eaters than I am--or, I should say, they crave more variety than my post-college life afforded me. I enjoy making myself one filet of fish, or a great salad with all ingredients I like, but trying to make it something the whole family will eat and enjoy saps my will. Food for thought, no pun intended. Thanks!

April 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMemeGRL

One thing I did when I was working and single is to make freezer meals in single serving portions. It is hard to cook for just one person, so I would make a larger amount and then freeze them in single servings. This helped me in a lot of ways. It gave me lunches to take to work so I didn't need to go out. It gave me something to eat when I came home from work and was too tired to cook, so might be temped to eat something like ice cream for dinner. It also helped me to eat the proper portions of food. Not everything has to be cooked ahead. One fun thing I did was to make foil dinners and then freeze them. I could then put one in the toaster oven (it was Arizona and I didn't want to heat up my apartment!) and it was the perfect dinner for one!

April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine

In college my roommates and I would take turns cooking dinner and ate family style. It was really nice to have some company at dinner and the predictability of dinner ready most nights of the week. The stuff my roommates cooked wasn't always great, though (I remember lots of hamburger helper :)

April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I was eating alone for three years in college, and yes, I did eat healthy. That was before all the bad habits crept in. If I was doing it now, I wouldn't eat nearly as healthy as I did then.

Family dinner...we really need to improve on that. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's true. Our biggest challenge is that my husband never gets home before 7 pm, and most days we have already eaten by then. Especially on nights when the kids or I have other commitments after dinner. Definitely going to work on it.

April 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

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