Chef Mario Batali on the food-family connection
Life is quite the juggling act with career, family and social commitments. Too often we're calling home to say -œOrder in a pizza, I'm working late- - but studies show that sitting down around the family dinner table for conversation and good food has powerful benefits. Iron Chef Mario Batali and country music star Martina McBride have launched a new project, Share the Table, to inspire families to cook and eat dinner together.
Dinnertime is important family time
"My life revolves around food," celebrity chef Mario Batali says. "It's part of my personal history, and I want it to be part of my family's. Dinner is a time when everybody can come together, cook together and talk together."
As a chef, restaurateur and TV star, Chef Batali has a lot on his plate, so to speak, but he knows the value of sitting down with his wife and two school-aged sons – and drop-in guests, on occasion – to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling dinner. He's leading the project, Share the Table, with country singer Martina McBride, to encourage families in America to follow his lead, get excited about food and the one-on-one interaction of sharing a meal with the people you love.
Share the Table
Visit Sharethetable.com and you'll find real-time tools from a comprehensive team including Chef Batali, McBride, a family therapist and a pediatrician, along with exclusive Chef Batali dinner recipes, to give people the dinner help they need. There's another benefit as well, especially on our minds as we head into the giving season. For each person who shares their table and downloads Chef Batali's recipes, Italian food company Barilla will donate $1 to Meals on Wheels Association of America, up to $150,000, to deliver home-cooked meals to home-bound seniors. The program currently serves more than one million meals per day.
Dinnertime: The food-happiness connection
The Share the Table project also conducted a research study with Dr Bill Doherty, a professor of family sciences at the University of Minnesota, which examined the state of dinnertime in America. The study explored the effects of family dinnertime on both adults and children, finding that people who eat dinner together more frequently are more likely to be satisfied with every aspect of their lives. American families do want better quality dinnertime interactions – with greater conversation and with fewer distractions – as well as better meals that are created with more participation by family members.
Family dinners even improve children's academic success"The big picture is that family meals, and especially dinner, are the single most important activity that parents can do to enhance the life of their children," Dr Doherty says. Mealtime at home has more of an impact on kids' achievement scores, language development and behavior than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports or art activities.
Doherty also says that teenagers have a strong association between regular family meals – five or more dinners per week with a parent – and academic success, psychological adjustment and lower rates of alcohol use, drug use, early sexual behavior and suicidal risk.
Tips to enjoy more frequent family meals and reap the benefits
While the research points to all the positive results, eating and connecting around the dinner table as a family is easier said than done for many of us. However, with a little planning and goal setting, it can become a successful and delicious endeavor.
Chef Batali suggests the following tips to get you and your family cooking together:
- Start with a regular Sunday dinner – and make it really special.
- Make your table a welcoming place for extended family and friends – don't be surprised if you get "regulars."
- Aim high – increase frequency of family dinners by one to two times per week -- and be satisfied by any changes you can make.
- Bring your children along to the farmers market and grocery store so they can help pick out the food.
- Ask your children to help prepare unfamiliar foods so they'll be more likely to try them at dinner.
- Make your kitchen kid-friendly with stepstools or lower workstations and safe, easy-to-use tools so everyone can get involved.
- Allow fewer distractions during your family meals.
- Laugh through your cooking mistakes – they can become great stories for many dinners to come.
Even putting one or a few of these tips into practice will improve the quality of your dinnertime experience.
Go on a distraction diet
It's true, daily life revolves around technology and constant interruption. Chef Batali recommends eliminating distractions while dining. "Dinnertime is unlike any other time spent with family," says Chef Batali. "Outside distractions aren't welcome. I will work with my family to keep dinnertime distractions to a minimum and help us stay focused on cooking, eating and talking together."
Here's how to go on a distraction diet in our high-tech, stay-connected 24/7 world:
- Make the dinner table a media-free zone – no TV, games, cell phones or computers.
- Unplug the house phone, or at least turn off the ringer, for the duration of dinner.
- Teach your kids that eating slowly and savoring food is not only better for their digestion but also for family togetherness.
- Wait a few moments to begin a conversation – give everyone a chance to dig in.
- Don't interrogate your kids; let questions come naturally.
- Linger at the table after the last bite has been eaten – tell a joke or a family story.
- Don't bring a restaurant mentality to the dinner table – no one is serving or being served, everyone chips in.
- Don't begin to clear the table until everyone has finished eating – sit for a while.
Batali's favorite dinnertime moment? "I love the last 15 minutes of a meal, when you take the time to linger over the last few bites or sips of wine, and no one is rushing to clear the table or move on to what's next. That's when you can really relish the 'high' that good food gives you."