What Stands in the Way of Family Dinner?

Family dinner used to seem so effortless. (Photo: Beverly/Flickr)

A post on Change.org’s blog called "Can We Reclaim Family Dinner" got me thinking this morning. The author, Katherine Gustafson, wants to know, even if everyone wants to do the family dinner thing, can it get done in our fast-paced, women-working-outside-the-home world? I work from home, and it’s difficult.

Before 3 p.m. yesterday I had gotten the boys off to school, written four blog posts, done two loads of laundry, gone to the doctor’s, stopped at the store for bread for dinner, made muffins, participated in a phone interview, spent time talking to my mom’s visiting nurse, helped my husband get his car into the dealership for maintenance, and kept up with my e-mail and Twitter.

At 3 p.m., I started to make dinner — lasagna. No sooner had I thrown on my onion goggles and begun tearlessly chopping away than the boys came through the front door foraging for something sweet. I steered them towards the fruit and then I sent them on their bicycles to the park with instructions not to come back through the door until 4:45 p.m.

3:30 p.m. – Back to work on the lasagna. I get the meat browned with the onions and garlic when I realize I don’t have a can of diced tomatoes that I need. My turn to forage. I head down the basement where, hallelujah, I find a very dusty large can of diced tomatoes with a year-old expiration date. I go for it anyway. Canned goods last way past their expiration date and when I opened it, the tomatoes seemed fine.

Back in the kitchen, I see on my iPhone that an important e-mail has come through. Run up to my computer to answer it. Get a little sidetracked on Facebook. Go back down to the kitchen to continue lasagna.

4:45 p.m. – Boys come in from the park very cold because they had changed from their coats to sweatshirts before heading out without my noticing it. Stop the lasagna prep to make hot chocolate. Resume lasagna prep while my 7-year-old does his mandatory 10 minutes of reading out loud to an adult. I feel guilty about only half-listening to him read.

5 p.m. – Just about got the entire lasagna put together when my husband comes in and says the car is done. Put him off for a half hour until lasagna is in the oven. We jump in my car so we can pick up his car.

6:40 p.m. – Lasagna is done, bread is cut, salad is in a bowl, Sangiovese is (generously) poured and the family finally sits down to eat three and a half hours after I began making dinner.

This is not an atypical day for me. Many people might think that because I work from home and I write about food that getting dinner on the table every night would be an easy task for me. It’s not. And, if it’s not easy for me, I know it’s not easy for others who aren’t home at 3 p.m. to begin making the meal.

The time factor is certainly the biggest obstacle. There are other obstacles, too, like actually having all the right ingredients in the house, coordinating schedules so everyone is in the same place at the same time, and unplugging once we’re at the table.

Catch up with this story:

• Part 1: What stands in the way of family dinner?

• Part 2: How to overcome the obstacles

• Part 3: Why eating a meal together is so important