I’m a huge fan of regular family meals. The recently published book “The Family Dinner” by Laurie David (producer of “An Inconvenient Truth”) with recipes by Kirstin Uhrenholdt focuses on getting everyone to the table for regular meals, one of the most important family habits if you want to know what’s really going on in your kids’ worlds. “The Family Dinner” is much more than just a cookbook. It’s a manual for reclaiming the endangered art of family meals and conversation.

Family meal ideas, topics of conversation, table games, and family dinner memories from people like Maya Angelou, Michael Pollan and Nora Ephron fill the pages. There are tips on how to get the whole family to the table, an ever-increasing obstacle in our society.

There are so many great ideas jammed into this book; it’s hard to know where to start. The recipes are family friendly, and at the beginning of many of the recipes there is a list of what young kids can do to help. There are also ideas for quick dinners made from your pantry like pizza potato – broccoli, cheese and pasta sauce melted on top of a pre-baked potato (which could be baked in the microwave). These ideas will keep families out of the fast food drive-thru, but can be thrown together when there isn’t a lot of time.

The conversation topics range from quick questions that everyone takes a turn answering to moral dilemma topics for in depth discussion. Here are a couple of examples.

Quick Question (called "Let’s Play" in the book)

Tell everyone one thing you complained about today. Round two: Name two other things you often complain about.
Moral Dilemma
If you accept an invitation and a better offer comes along, is it okay to cancel the first one?
Games include playing “would you rather” (I know from experience that “would you rather” can lead to some really gross conversation when the kids at the table are 8 and 11-year-old boys) or telephone (also known as whisper down the lane). None of the games are physical; they are all meant to foster conversation and to help families get talking about what’s going on in their lives.

An important chapter in the book focuses on family meals after a divorce. David shares the story of what family meals felt like after her divorce, and how she fought to keep them even when they no one felt like having them.

If family dinner had stopped, the lesson to my kids (and to myself) would be that we weren’t whole anymore, that something was broken forever. I honestly didn’t believe that to be true. The message I did believe, and the one our continuing dinners provided was – This family is changing, but we are a family that is gong to get through this and come out strong and connected.
Even the importance of saying a blessing at the table, whether it’s a religious blessing or simply one of gratitude for those that provided the meal, is addressed in “The Family Dinner.”

The role that food plays in environmentalism is discussed throughout the book, and there is advice on organics, growing your own food, and storing food without a lot of waste.

One of my favorite sections discusses mood music while cooking dinner and different musicians give their picks for music to chop and prep by. Both Carly Simon and Cheryl Crow cook with Cat Steven’s “Tea for the Tillerman” while Better Miller likes to cook while listening to anything by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Every night when my family sits down to dinner, we ask each other what was the worst thing that happened to you today and what was the best thing that happened to you. Many nights, I answer honestly that the best thing that happened to me is happening right at that moment – sitting down with my husband and boys and enjoying a meal and their company. If you’re looking to have connections like that with your family, “The Family Dinner” can help you on your way. If you already have those connections, the book will give you new ideas to keep things lively at the table. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Cookbooks: The Family Dinner
A cookbook dedicated to helping families connect, one meal at a time.