Dinner time – is it just a survival game?

Pastor Darin Phillips of Oceanview Community Church talks about making diner more than 'the survival game' in his Points to Ponder column.

I have a wonderful friend in Victoria, a successful career woman who heads up a museum design company.

The hectic pace of her job, which includes a lot of overseas travel and meetings, means that my friend is often eating on the run. The phrase my friend created for this aspect of her life is “scarf and go — the survival game.”

If you need some translation, “scarf” means to eat quickly (almost inhale) your food while you run between meetings. “Survival game” means that she is forced to eat that way in order to survive, to keep up with the work.

That raises a great question: is that all mealtimes are about — survival?

I don’t have survey data on Ladysmith families, but I suspect between soccer, drama rehearsals, piano, swimming, football, violin, basketball and dance classes, a lot of families would probably feel that much of the time it is simply, “scarf and go — the survival game.”

A friend recently gave me a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks: “I encourage you to think of the family dinner as your child’s nightly dress rehearsal for adulthood, a protected space for him or her to master patience, conversation and co-operation … one meal at a time.” (Dr. Harvey Karp, The Family Dinner)

In a June 4, 2006, Time magazine article, columnist Nancy Gibbs cites a comprehensive 10-year study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The findings were pretty clear — families who ate supper together regularly had a much higher percentage of children who got As and Bs in school. The study also found that children with the regular five-nights-per-week routine of the shared family meal were far more likely to stay away from drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and depression.

What makes the study really interesting is that they found the families who ate together most often were the Hispanic and Asian immigrant families. That means that the economically poorer, less-educated families were producing higher-achieving and more emotionally well-adjusted kids!

So if the family dinner time is such a great thing, why don’t we as average middle-class Canadians put more time and energy towards this?

I’m not sure, but here are my guesses:

• No. 1 — Too busy. Is there one thing you can drop from your schedule that would make family dinner possible? If we don’t make an intentional choice, we will default to the status quo.

• No. 2 — Cooking is intimidating. There are lots of great resources to get you going. Food Network Chef Sandi Richard’s book Anyone Can Cook Dinner is a great place to start.

• No. 3 — My teenager would rather text or watch TV. This may be the initial response you get, but if you make it a regular practice, the benefits will outweigh the challenges by such a wide margin you won’t consider giving it up and they likely won’t either.

It isn’t surprising then to find out that God’s plan for teaching our kids about life wasn’t so much a formal school environment as it was to be done while we live life together.

God says in Deuteronomy Chapter 6, “write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.”

I don’t know about you, but in such a technologically advanced and sophisticated world, it is very encouraging to know that some encouraging words around a simple meal might just be one of the smartest investments we can make.