Blog Series: Nutrition and Mental Health – The Importance of Sharing a Family Meal

Article by Philippe Rey, Psy.D.
Executive Director of ACS

I would like to begin this series by quoting Marion Cunningham, an advocate of home cooking who just recently died in her 90’s:

“Too many families seldom sit down together; it’s gobble and go… eating food on the run, reheating it in relays in the microwave as one dashes off to a committee meeting, another to basketball practice. As a result we are losing an important value. Food is more than fodder. It is an act of giving and receiving because the experience at table is a communal sharing; talk begins to flow, feelings are expressed, and a sense of well-being takes over.”

In my tenure as Executive Director of ACS, most of you over the years have heard me emphasize the idea of sitting down and sharing a family meal together at the communal table. With our busy lives in Silicon Valley making us run around on our quest to be better and to work harder, we have sometimes lost the appreciation for the basics. One of the most basic things we have forgotten in our daily lives is the importance of sharing a meal as a family unit. My parents, both of whom were busy managing a hotel and two restaurants, made having dinner together as a family a requirement. I clearly remember hating to have to come home and sit for dinner with them every evening when I was a teen. I remember resenting it because it took time away from hanging out with my friends and, at times, from studying for exams.

Twenty plus years later, I now look back on those years fondly and give appreciate my parents for forcing me to dine with them. I can look back at those moments and realize how important they were because so much more was shared and experienced in those moments than food. Conversation, moral support, and the sharing of a common love for home cooked meals occurred on a regular basis. Of course, sometimes teen/adult arguments took place but resolutions were achieved and we would continue sharing our fears and disappointments as well as our dreams of the future. The dining table became the safe gathering point for the family to gather and grow and good food enables a family dinner to take place, which leads to a nourishing and calming experience for the whole family.

Adolescents need so much more than we realize. Just because they look like us physically they are still children inside with emotional needs they look to you to meet like; acceptance, belonging and unconditional love. Nothing expresses that love more than the warm welcome of a home that smells like food. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or fancy, any meal shared together around a table offers your teens a respite from the frustrations, fears, pressures and disappointments of the rat-race they navigate each day on their way to adulthood.

Adolescent Counseling Services is proud to support the 2012 Bay Area Tasting Week. This event is an extension of the French festival La Semaine du Gout [The Week of Taste], which has been an annual event in France since 1989.  Bay Area Tasting Week is a celebration of food, flavor, taste and gastronomy with the purpose of educating children and adults to appreciate the tastes and flavors of fresh, healthy, locally produced food. This year, Bay Area Tasting Week is happening October 15th to the 21st, in schools and restaurants throughout Palo Alto.

The event was initiated by a group of Palo Alto parents and businesses who believe that educating children about taste is the best way to get them to love food and fight obesity.  The event has also sparked an initiative to work with school administrators on improving PAUSD school district’s hot lunch program and promote healthy eating habits. This is another partnership we at ACS are proud to have forged as we promote healthy lifestyles for all children and teens in our communities.

For more information about Bay Area Tasting Week 2012 go to the site http://www.tastingweek.com/welcome/ and mark your calendars to celebrate Bay Area Tasting Week in October.

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One Response to “Blog Series: Nutrition and Mental Health – The Importance of Sharing a Family Meal”

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