George Pieper

George Pieper

Reclaim Your Dining Table!

In our modern hectic world, I feel that many things have fallen by the wayside for ease and convenience.  Then perhaps we fall into different a pattern of behavior until the new normal sets in.  I think that is the case when it comes to eating dinner or any meal for that matter at the dining table. 


Whether you live by yourself, are coupled, with kids, have a non-traditional family, or multi-generations living under one roof, our dining habits have changed.  Grabbing a plate food, (if a plate is even necessary), and plopping yourself somewhere comfortable in front of the TV, with a laptop, or a social media device in hand to consume our food is the standard today for most of us.  We are conditioned to multi-task and mealtime is no exception.  I do not want to judge this as sloth or condemn the behavior.  I am certainly guilty of this myself.  It is a long progression that has become our new normal.  This laissez-faire way of eating probably has health implications when it comes to our choices of food too.  It is unceremonious, so we are probably less likely to meal plan or consider healthier options with consistency.  Grab and go style food is easy to choose when we eat so casually.  Not to mention the missed opportunity to interact with your family or others that form and deepen relationships through the successive experience of sharing these mealtime moments over time.  We have foregone strengthening the bonds we can create in favor of overconsuming information on our devices.  In my opinion, this does not add value to those of us seeking our best life!   Food consumption becomes a rote act of necessity rather than the joyful experience it can be.  If we approach it differently, focused with this as a pleasurable time to clear one’s mind, connect with others, and seated with a purpose, we can once again savor the simple experience of unfolding taste in our mouths and a mindfulness to share it with those we love.  


Our dining tables have become gathering places for things, rather than people.  Rooms for this specific function seem archaic to younger folks.  The dining room has converted into the project room, a collection-space for our stuff, a landing place for the latest delivery of items from Amazon, and in the world of COVID-19 it is the new office or Zoom room.  For most of us eating at the dining table at home occurred the last time we had guests over or even back when we dusted it off for Thanksgiving or other such holiday occasions. Eating at a dining table is something we do when we go out to a restaurant.  My how we have missed that regular experience during the pandemic!   


Like many of my generation growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, I was a latch key kid.  My parents were divorced, and mom had to work full-time outside the house.  This was a vastly different experience from the previous generations.  Moms in this situation had to be super-women who could do it all.  It permeated our culture with songs, TV shows, like “Alice” and “One Day at a Time”, and commercials like the Enjoli perfume ad where “You bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan”.  Time-saving products and meal preparations, like Hamburger Helper, were designed to uplift this new regular family dynamic as doable and appreciable. 


Thinking back on the ways my mom made the times normal for her three children and saved money in the process was insisting we gathered at the dining table for dinner together almost every night.  While meals that took most of the day to make were a thing of the past, a proper dinner with all the course trimmings and a beautifully set table was a must.  Sunday afternoons for my mom was meal prep time for the week ahead.  All the burners were lit, beef stew in one pot, potatoes boiling, chili in another, spaghetti sauce in yet another, and lasagna, a casserole, and shepherd’s pie going in and coming out of the oven.  She did this to save time and feed us well on a limited budget.  She could simply warm something homemade and nourishing up after a long day at work, while my sisters and I took turns setting the table to her specifications.  Each of us schooled in the art of setting a table complete with flatware, dishes, cloth napkins in rings, placemats, drink glasses, and all the accouterments that went with that particular meal.  I would not say that we were especially fancy all the time pulling out our best china, but it was certainly well done with what we had.  It was made special, and enjoyable.  My mother made it all look amazingly easy because she was thoughtful and planned it out.  Through her actions, she was teaching us valuable life skills for the future, that I am eternally grateful for today.


This was of course back in the days before we had cellphones and other distractions at constant affixation in our lives.  Dinner was a time to reconnect with each other, take a breath from our activities, and enjoy a satisfying meal together.  There was always an emphasis on creating a balanced meal with a variety of food items that looked good and tasted even better.  This was the early days of the food pyramid when carbs were king.  Every plate had meat, starch, vegetable, bread with butter, and a side salad, (even if it was just cottage cheese with fruit), and of course, dessert to follow.  It seems like a lot, but portions were much smaller than they are today.  Sitting at the dining table focused our attention on nourishing our bodies and nurturing our relationships.


Something important that this pandemic has taught me in the wake of forced slowdowns and extended staycations is the value of appreciation I have for those times at the dinner table.  While some people have nearly gone insane to get back to dining in a restaurant to recapture some normalcy, others have taken to brushing up on their cooking and baking skills.  Since you are reading this blog, you are probably like me and are in the second group of folks cooking up a storm.  We found ourselves masked and slathered in hand sanitizer going to multiple grocery stores in a state of emergency only to return home with the last ten-pound bag of flour we found, twenty rolls of toilet paper, a six-bottle carrier of wine, and still needing to order yeast over the internet since we could not find it anywhere!  Not to discount this sad, challenging, and uncertain moment in our history, but if I survive this, I will exclaim COVID-fat a very real side-affliction of this pandemic.  Day drinking has not helped my waistline either.  


Fat jokes aside, in my effort to regain my health, I have made a conscious effort, (as my mother taught me), to reclaim my dining table as a way to recondition myself to make healthier choices for me and my family.  It is a little more effort, but in the long run setting the table, planning healthy meals, and making dinnertime into a purposeful event is so much better than anti-socially slumping in front of the TV to eat.  Take back your dining table, put the cellphones away, and capture the time to savor it together. 

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