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Food and Family

Around the Table

The holidays are just around the corner. And gathering friends and family for a big, sit-down dinner is more meaningful than ever in these calamitous times.

"Eating with family and friends is the best way we have to build our sense of community and security,'" says FoodFit founder Ellen Haas. "By coming together for meals we are both preserving traditions and creating new ones for the future."

"In the dark days after September 11, hanging out with my grandchildren kept me sane and renewed my faith in family," recalls San Francisco chef, teacher and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein. "In times like this, dining with friends and family is most important. Serving favorite recipes; encouraging family tradition has a centering effect."

"Family dinners are the premiere time to talk about important issues. Dinnertime is a great setting for dialogue and for calming fears to show that life is still basically the same and the family is a safe haven," says Steven J. Wolin MD, a Washington psychiatrist and co-author of "The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity".

Building Memories

The holidays are about building memories. Grandmother's pies, games played by young cousins, the sound of men cheering over the football game, the smell of turkey roasting, the heart-warming sight of loved ones together again—they are all pieces in the holiday mosaic.

"Ever since I was a little girl, the holidays have been a time when all the generations gather at a long table and bring together not only family but people who might otherwise spend the time alone," reminisces award-winning novelist Susan Shreve. "We used to have a huge meal with turkey and dressing and two kinds of potatoes and a multitude of vegetables and cranberry sauce and all kinds of pie.

"This year, my family and another with whom we share the holidays are gathering at a long table at their house—grown up children, grandmothers and our in-between generation—to celebrate, what in this time of war and fear and worry must be in households all over the country, a triumph of family over adversity, togetherness over isolation, friendship over fear."

Family Traditions

For many, heading home for the holidays will have a bigger pull than ever. The majority of you who have taken our holiday poll have told us that you're traveling to be with family this year.

A big holiday dinner is a great opportunity for the entire family to contribute to the meal because the wide-ranging menu offers opportunities for everyone to pitch in.

"My grandchildren, who are still young, whip the cream for the pie (more vanilla, grandma!). They adjust the oil and vinegar ratio in the salad dressing, even thought they don't eat salad," says Goldstein. "My grandson loves to serve the food and put it on people's plates just so. He wants to be a chef and has announced he has the 'Goldstein mouth', taking after his father and his grandma."

"There are traditions and roles—who does cooking and cleaning—you want to maintain because it makes you feel like you can be effective and keep life similar," advises Dr. Wolin. "We need traditions to matter."

Get the kids involved not just in cooking, but also in planning, shopping and even setting the dinner table. Rally the family together for an afternoon of baking. It's a great way to teach your kids cooking skills and create wonderful gifts from the kitchen at the same time.

Food Bonds

Gathering with family and friends for a meal is nourishment not just for the body, but also for the soul and should be enjoyed often, not just at major holidays. The love and comfort it radiates should be part of everyone's daily diet.

"Sharing a meal together... can provide the context for many to feel better and help encourage the process of social and individual healing that is so necessary right now," says Solomon Katz, professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and a FoodFit Advisory Board member.

Colorful napkins, candles, and bowls and dishes in unusual shapes and sizes can make a simple, everyday meal seem special. Seasonal decorations like pine cones and paper snowflakes are another way to make the table festive.

"Often we meet new people at such gatherings," says FoodFit Chef Bonnie Moore. "By breaking bread with people from a different cultural background or a different part of the world, we can build bridges."

— Leila Corcoran

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