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How Do I Get My Son’s Family To Eat Dinner Together?

Dear Bintel Brief:

I’m very upset. My son, daughter-in-law and their four children NEVER sit down together at the dinner table. One child works at Abercrombie & Fitch; another is being tutored for the SAT (Sheer Agony Test); another is on a traveling soccer team; the fourth child belongs to a Jewish motorcycle club called “Chai Riders.”

I don’t want to interfere. But I’ve read studies that show that teenagers who ate five to six meals a week with their families were less likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, drink alcohol, grow depressed or attempt suicide. Children who ate with their families were also more likely to have higher academic scores, confide in their parents and feel that their parents were proud of them.

Family dinners were a staple of my 1950s childhood in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. At our house, we could count on dinner every night at 6:45 — the same way we could count on our Catholic neighbors having fish on Fridays.

How can I impress upon my son’s family that the key to success is as close as the kitchen table?


Joan Nathan responds:

Dear Concerned Bubbe:

I understand your dilemma about the dinner table. What you say is correct, and it has also been proved that family dinners encourage higher-achieving Merit Scholars.

Although I agree with you, I don’t think that anyone wants to hear lecturing. The only way that you can really impress anyone is by setting an example. Why don’t you — unless you already do — invite your children and grandchildren for a dinner around your dining room table where you serve a good home-cooked welcoming meal once a week. Preferably, that meal would take place on Friday night or a Saturday, or even on Sunday night for supper. The essential thing is to be together at the table, to take a break from what sounds like everyday chaotic lives, and enjoy each other with good conversation. From my own experience, this helps people slow down, enjoy themselves and eat better.

You might even want your grandchildren to help in the process of cooking, to learn from you, and to help clean up! All of these activities encourage good conversation.

By the way, the Jewish Sabbath is a brilliant phenomenon in our modern world because it makes you slow down, no matter how you spend it. Shabbat dinners were always so important for my children growing up that now, in their twenties, they make challah and have friends over wherever they are living.

Good luck!

Joan Nathan is the author of numerous cookbooks, including “Jewish Cooking in America” (Knopf, 1994), “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Schocken, 2004) and “The New American Cooking” (Knopf, 2005). She is at work on a book about French Jewish cuisine, slated release next fall.

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