“Dinner’s ready” is a simple phrase that embraces a powerful invitation to celebrate the central formative nature of our relationships. This time of breaking bread and sharing the cup has created opportunities throughout history and our lifespans to strengthen family and community connections, share the gift of time and develop a sense of belonging. This dinner tradition stimulates conversation around the table and challenges participants to reflect upon shared values and world events.
Formerly a pastor within a farming community, I appreciated the deeply rooted meal traditions within families and communities. Because many rose early to begin chores, noontime created an opportunity to eat a hearty, home-cooked meal prepared with food raised and produced on the farm. Weekend pancake breakfasts during the winter season provided an opportunity for connecting with neighbors and building community support. Sunday potlucks and church mission and ministry fundraisers offered a banquet of homemade foods, especially freshly baked pies. Fellowship, food and conversation nourished relationships and strengthened the sense of community.
The importance of dinner for people of all ages to share a meal within a family or community continues to tremendously impact our modern society. Over the past 15 years, research studies through The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit organization currently operating from the offices of Project Zero at Harvard University have identified specific positive values.
Sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem. Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression. We also believe in the power of family dinners to nourish ethical thinking.
Say What? Dining Services vs. Dietary Services
Our Say What? series discusses the importance of language and how words can and do make a difference. The word dining is one of the words that is replacing the stark nature of what was formerly known as dietary services. Years ago, as the medical model of healthcare developed a strong presence within society, the words dinner or dining were replaced by a more clinical term, dietary services. The department’s primary focus became the preparing and serving of large quantities of well-balanced nutritious food in a healthcare setting.
The concept of dietary services does not reflect the importance of the whole person and the core values of compassion, hospitality and respect within United Church Homes. Our I LIVE It program rollout, through the word of the week, has replaced the phrase dietary services within the language of our communities.
Vital Role of Nutrition
Replacing the concept of dietary services with dining services more clearly aligns with United Church Homes’ commitment to identify and address the needs of the whole person. Good nutrition continues to be central to quality food service. Most importantly, we understand the deeply-held tradition and significant nature of dining, especially with others in community.
Mealtime creates an opportunity to possibly meet new residents, enjoy interesting conversation and develop meaningful relationships. This fellowship also allows space for sharing stories, learning and reflecting upon experiences from different perspectives. Please join with us at United Church Homes as we remember the dinners of our past and celebrate potential meaning-making and fellowship opportunities of the future through dining services within our communities.