What’s so hard about dinner?

What’s so hard about dinner?

I’ve been trying for days to figure out a way to write about this topic without sounding like a scold. Maybe the key is to ask you all (well, the three or four of you left after my various lapses in blogging) — what is it with dinner in America these days? Why is it so hard? Estimates vary, but it now seems that something like 30-50% of American families are not eating dinner together on any given night.

I don’t get it. I’m not talking about pulling off some gourmet multi-course meal. I’m just talking about dinner — a meal in which everyone eats the same thing, at the same time, in the same room. Even my parents, who admittedly didn’t have it together much of the time when we were growing up, managed dinner. Pot roast, spaghetti with red sauce, a roasted chicken, or that pork chop thing my Dad used to make with the tomatoes and the sour cream that my brother and I hated (sorry Dad). We ate out once in a while, but not very often, and I think I can count on one hand the times we ordered out, even for pizza. When we were little, it’s true, my mother was fond of the TV dinner, and when we lived with my Dad in high school we ate dinner in front of the TV a couple of nights a week. But we always ate together, even if we had to wait for Dad to get home from a late meeting, or if Patrick or I had an after school activity. It would never have occurred to us to eat alone, or in stages.

And it’s been one of the nicest things about dating someone again — I have someone not only to eat dinner with, but to check in with sometime during the day to see what the plan is for dinner. Dinner exists again and not just as another thing to get through by myself. Now it’s true, we both like to cook, and we’re both interested in food, but it’s not as if just because one is interested in cooking, one has to cook elaborately. I cut my teeth on Laurie Colwin’s books, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, for example, memoir/cookbooks that follow Colwin’s interest not in fancy restaurant cooking but in the sometimes-oddball things people cook at home, and about the ways we take care of one another by cooking.

So, gentle readers, fill me in — just what is it about dinner that has us all so flummoxed? What’s the big deal?

6 thoughts on “What’s so hard about dinner?

  1. DH and I don’t even get takeout pizza anymore, we make our own (though we occasionally pay good money for bad Chinese). I can think of reasons why families don’t prepare a meal and dine together (e.g., lack of organization, scheduling conflicts). But I once worked with a woman who told me that her husband and two children all demanded completely different things for dinner – four separate menus. And that her husband and son refused to touch any manner of leftover, ever. I was incredulous and simply couldn’t relate. Plus, if that had been my family I would never have stood for it. But this woman (with well-honed diva tendencies herself) seemed proud of her family’s extravagant individualism. So that, to me, points to a difference in values. I wonder if that family ever sat down together much. I don’t remember for a fact, but I bet they all ate in their own rooms!

  2. I don’t have an explanation but just want to share your bewilderment. Growing up, my family ate together every night, and now that I have my own family, we do too. It just hadn’t occurred to me that we could eat separately, even on nights when the kids have lots of activities going on. Maybe it’ll get harder when the kids are older (they’re 7 & 10)…

  3. If an occasional reader can comment for the first time :-), I suspect there are a lot of different reasons. Overall, it seems to me that our society has lost most of its personal interaction. People talk to each other on cell phones or over the internet (like I’m doing now); music, dance, and other entertainment are performances rather than participatory. When everything else in our lives is related to individual consumption rather than to personal connection, why whould food be any different?

    My family nearly always eats dinner together around the table. I have had occasional chances to share an evening playing Irish fiddle tunes with other musicians, and watching TV just doesn’t compare (we also don’t have cable and can’t get any stations without it where we live). By contrast, all I hear most of my coworkers talk about is what was on the TV last night!

    It makes me sad that our society has largely lost its interconnectedness, its ability to create and enjoy and live without the consumer machine, but there it is.

  4. You know, I was really worried about this when our daughter (I almost typed “dinner” — you can see where my head is!) was born six months ago. I thought we’d never have time to cook, have to eat incredibly early, etc. But that’s not the case. Yes, we have to be more organized than we used to be, and it’s very rare that we can cook together, but once we got past the intensely sleep-deprived early days, we’ve been doing pretty well. Of course, tonight we’re heading out at 5 pm for pizza, but that’s a rare treat.

  5. When I worked fulltime dinner seemed like such a big deal, getting in at 7pm and starting to cook was, often, just too much…

    Now I don’t work and I live in France where Food Is Important and I cook every day using fresh, seasonal ingredients…

    I have to say that I much prefer this current state of affairs…

    PS Am I No 5 then?

  6. I’m wonderin’ if some of the angst about actually putting dinner on the table isn’t brought on by watching too many episodes on the foodtv channel…and thinking every meal has to be an event instead of sometimes being Just Boxed Pasta with Canned Sauce…I find I sometimes get into that mode…and after about a week, I’m exhausted and ready for Take-Out…

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