Mike Frost on Being a Family Is an Art and the Dinner Table Is Where It Finds Expression

Being a family is an art and the dinner table is where it finds expression.

Some time ago, I was staying in the palatial home of a wealthy couple in California’s Orange County. They had all rushed off to work early that morning and left a note saying I could eat anything I wanted from their kitchen. I located the bread but I couldn’t find a toaster, so I thought I’d try grilling it. But when I opened the oven I found two or three expertly gift-wrapped presents in there.

I was a little taken aback and decided to cut my losses and buy breakfast out that day.

That evening I was talking to my host who asked whether I’d found everything okay, and I confessed that I’d been a little thrown by the gifts in the oven.

“Oh, my gosh,” he erupted, “I totally forgot they were in there! I should have warned you.”

I reassured him I hadn’t cooked the presents, and he explained they were for his wife whose birthday was coming up.

“I hide them in there because we never use the oven,” he explained.

It turns out that never using the oven is becoming a more common thing for American families.

Up until Covid19 hit, Americans were spending more of their food budget on restaurants and food delivery services (50.3%) than they did on groceries (49.7%). It might be even higher since quarantines and lockdowns were instituted in various parts of the country.

For some perspective, back in 1970 only 26% of a family’s food budget was spent on eating out. In 2010 it was 41%.

In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car; 25% of Americans eat at least one fast food meal every single day; and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.

In fact, only 32% of American families typically have dinner together all seven nights per week.

Interestingly, when families do eat together the average dinnertime is 15 minutes. In the 1960, the average family dinnertime was 90 minutes.

I have a friend who insists his teenage and young adult children share dinner together as a family every night. He was telling me that when he calls his son, who is a keen online gamer, for dinner he can hear the other boys playing the game tease him about how he has to go eat dinner with the family. When he asked him if it bothers him to be teased about it, his son replied that even though they torment him they’ve told him they’re actually jealous. None of their families eat together.

My own young adult daughter routinely instagrams me placing dinner in front of her each night. Referring to me with a semi-mocking tone as Garcon, she asks me to explain what’s on the menu that evening as though I’m a fancy French waiter. When I complained about her filming me every night, she told me that she’s had so many young women tell her how much they love those stupid Instagram stories and how they wished they had parents who cooked meals and ate with them.

So, if we all wish we could eat together more, why don’t we?

Well, more than half (57%) of parents agree that even when they eat together as a family, some of their family members are distracted by technology. This occurs even more with Millennial parents (60%) vs non-Millennial parents (54%). Plus, food preparation takes time and everyone is crazy-busy these days. It’s not like there’s a stay-at-home parent slaving over a hot stove all afternoon anymore.

The answer is pretty simple, though. Elizabeth David coined the slogan back in 1950, “Eat simply and eat together.”

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Source: Church Leaders