Missing In Action: The Family Table

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?

– This post was originally published on Eat Drink Better. – 

Image credit: anyjazz65 via flickr/CC license

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