As a kick-off for a school-wide commitment to family dinners, the Ford Elementary School in Lynn, Massachusetts recently invited The Family Dinner Project to host a community dinner. The Family Dinner Project aims to raise awareness about the many benefits of family dinners and to share resources that make dinners easier, more fun and more meaningful. Most of all, we want to learn from the families at the Ford School what has made their dinner conversations memorable and lively, and their meals nutritious and tasty.
On a rainy night in December, five families came to the Ford School cafeteria, where we made enchiladas together, told stories about our family dinners and shared tips about how to get kids to eat healthy foods. The stories that families told were the best part of the evening. We learned from one father how his mother used to slaughter pigs and use all the different parts to feed the family. Another father told about growing up during the civil war in El Salvador, where military units from the different sides used to show up at his house at night; he and his mother would stay up making homemade tortillas for whichever side showed up.
The kids, ranging in age from 3 months to 15 years, offered tips for how parents should encourage their children to eat more vegetables: “Tell us to just try it;” “Use reverse psychology;” and “Add some sugar.” They also practiced what they preached: Most of the 16 children dipped carrots and celery into humus and ate spinach salad with craisins.
During the dinner, The Family Dinner Project team shared an idea, “The Four Corners of the Table,” which the families are going to experiment with over the next four weeks. Like a sturdy table that has four corners, a great family dinner has four parts:
- The food, which should be nutritious and delicious
- The participation of every family member, so the food preparation and cleanup is shared
- The conversation that it is lively, respectful and interesting
- The fun, so that everyone looks forward to dinner and makes time for it
Each family is going to try new strategies, a week at a time, to explore each “corner of the table.”
In about a month, each family will invite a new family to join The Family Dinner Project, and we will have another community dinner at the Ford School. At that dinner, families will swap recipes, share photographs of their dinners and report on their four corners of the table.
The Family Dinner Project joins several other programs at the Ford School that are aimed at helping students live healthy lives. The principal, Dr. Claire Crane has sponsored many programs that extend the scope of school beyond the standard school day and beyond the classroom. There is, for example, an amazing organic garden built on blacktop, with award-winning vegetables that are representative of the diverse student body, who hail from countries all over the world, like Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There is also a nutrition program aimed at decreasing the escalating rates of obesity and diabetes.
The Family Dinner Project is honored to be part of this vibrant school that has such a rich tradition of innovation and investment in their kids.