Meet the Lewis family! Debi and her family have experienced some unique challenges along their family dinner journey, stemming from medical issues that changed the way they cooked, ate and thought about mealtimes. Debi has written about their experiences navigating family dinner with medical needs, and we’re happy to be able to share more here.
Debi Lewis, her husband and their two teenage daughters (17 and 14). The Lewises live in Evanston, Illinois.
“Our goal is pretty simple: we just want to eat together and consider mealtime a communal time,” Debi says. “Certainly it isn’t possible every single night, but as often as it is, we take advantage. We like each other. We want to be together.”
The Lewis family is a typical busy family, with active teens, play rehearsals, religious observances and volunteer activities, and work and academic commitments that make sitting down to a meal together difficult on some evenings. Trying to work around everyone’s schedules is the main challenge at the moment, but Debi and her family have also had some other major obstacles to overcome with making family dinners work for them.
“Because my daughter was born with some complicated medical needs and diagnosed early with ‘failure to thrive,’ I learned to cook initially as a way to help her grow.” Debi’s writings have detailed some of the difficulties she faced in finding foods that were appropriate for her daughter’s medical needs, as well as the emotional toll of trying to build a positive family relationship to food and mealtimes when one member of the family had physical symptoms that made eating uncomfortable. Debi shares that they are now able to cook and eat without the dietary restrictions that were a regular part of their family meals for many years, which has provided her with new insights into dinner. Without the dietary restrictions, she says, “I found that making delicious meals for my family (including myself!) was rewarding in a variety of ways — personal satisfaction with creating something I was proud of, giving my family food that made them happy, making dietary choices that supported our ethics and politics — with the added benefit of creating a reason to gather every night. In a world where the work we do for money never really ends, meals have a beginning, middle, and end that were satisfying to me. Along the way, the gifts for my family that came with these lentil stews and pasta dishes and homemade pizzas and hearty soups were beautiful surprises: an appreciation for the work of cooking, a love of vegetables, expanded palates, and, of course, family meals with all the laughter and serious talk that we always hear are important for humans. I’m so glad this is what our family has come to expect!”
Part of the reason the Lewis family has come to expect those family mealtimes Debi mentions, filled with serious talk and laughter shared over delicious food, is because they’ve taken the approach that no one eats alone. Like many families we’ve met over the years, Debi and her husband and children have had to adjust their expectations and recognize that when schedules are hectic, family meals can be found wherever two people can sit down together to eat. “If more than one person is home, there’s a joint meal. Even if that meal is short and takes place during a study break, we try not to eat alone in separate rooms.”
Every member of the family also knows how to make their universal fallback meal, which ensures that a quick study-break dinner is always just minutes away. “If time is tight, everyone in the house knows how to make pasta and to sauté spinach and mushrooms to mix into it. It’s simple but tasty, and all of us end up happy.”
Besides the spinach and mushroom pasta dish, Debi says the family prefers meals they can cook together, like vegetarian sushi — a meal that’s complicated enough to require a team effort to prepare. “Most of all, though, my family loves Matzo Ball Soup. A traditional dish for the Jewish holiday of Passover, we eat it all year round. It is the ultimate comfort food!”
The Best Part:
Debi says she most appreciates the opportunities family dinner can provide for meaningful discussion. “A mention of a challenge at work for my husband or I can create the chance to model healthy responses to stress or conflict. A story about a classmate’s bad attitude can remind us all to think about what might be happening in the rest of that student’s life, prompting us to lead with compassion. It’s so much easier to talk about these kinds of things when they come up organically.”
Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us? We’d love to hear from you and consider featuring your family! Contact Us.