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Reclaiming Dinner Time



The anchor of family time

Dr. Padma Garvey/The Plant-Based Doctor Mom

Reclaiming Dinner Time

My mom cooking, 1980 Pittsburgh

Growing up, my mom worked fulltime as a librarian.  She would take the bus for her hour long commute.  My dad, likewise, worked as a biochemist at the University of Pittsburgh. His commute was also about an hour. Despite their busy schedules, there was always breakfast and dinner.  My mom would usually make a simple breakfast like upma or mung dal and rice.  Like a brat, I would turn my nose up at the breakfast and opt for a bowl of cereal instead. I was so stupid!  We had dinner at home every night around 6 o’clock.    Dinners were traditional South Indian meals, involving multiple courses of food.  There was always a lentil dish, a vegetable curry, a soup course, rice, a chutney, and yogurt.  Don’t ask me how or when my mother did this.  She just did.

My mom, dad, and grandmother at the dinner table, 1982

Dinners were mostly about eating because we were all hungry.  But looking back, I realize that there was some talking, some checking in about the goings on in all of our lives, and at least one hour where we were all together.  This must have imprinted on me because since then I have always needed a real dinner.  Even as a medical student, living on my own, with hours and hours and hours of studying each night, I always cooked myself a real dinner.  After I got married, if I wasn’t on call, I made dinner.  Dinner didn’t necessarily have to be the multiple course meals that my mother made, but it couldn’t be some prepackaged, frozen concoction.   Those precious nights when my husband and I were both home involved a real sit down dinner. It was as much about being together as it was about the food. 

Joe Joe, 4, and Radha, 2

By the time my son was born, I became more aware of the importance of dinner time.  My husband and I were working and our son spent most of the time with his beloved nanny.  I had the usual pangs of guilt about not being around him during the day. Dinner became the anchor of our family time.  When the kids started school, I remember getting upset when school functions and activities crept into dinner time.  I purposefully limited their extracurricular activities because the kids’ overscheduling led to less time together as a family.  It was a very active decision on my part to protect dinner time.  Whatever activities my young children were involved in had to be on the weekends.  Most evenings when I wasn’t on call, I would cook dinner, while my two kids watched Sponge Bob in the kitchen.  While dinners together as a family dropped off somewhat when they entered high school, dinner together still continued to be the norm and not the exception.  In my opinion, the habit of dinner together, as a family, in the home, is worth the effort.

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