Gather ‘Round the Table

”Being present with one another at the dinner table is a gift that will keep on giving for many years to come.”

“Being present with one another at the dinner table is a gift that will keep on giving for many years to come.”

That’s what Carol Mastroianni shared with me recently when we were talking about the importance of sitting down for family meals. Mastroianni is the executive director of the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition, which takes a youth-driven approach to raising awareness of and preventing substance abuse among youth. She’s seen how dining together as a family can boost a child’s self-confidence, stability, and more. In fact, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reports that eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a child’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs.

It’s not just families who benefit from sitting at a table when the dinner bell rings. Anyone who takes the time to actually sit down and enjoy the pleasures of dining will benefit, say health experts. It’s best, they say, to slowly savor each bite — and the food should be on a plate in front of you, rather than in the palm of your hand or in a take-out container over the kitchen sink!

(I’m reminded of a friend who hurriedly digs through grocery bags upon returning from the store to find her to-go sushi container, and then scurries to the sink where she can quickly pop a few seaweed-wrapped nougats into her mouth. I knew we would be fast friends when I was on the phone with her one day while searching in my own grocery bags for a quick sushi fix — she was doing the same thing!)

But back to the table. Nutritionists say that seeing the food on the plate in front of you allows your brain to comprehend how much you’re eating; once you’re done, you’ll feel satisfied.

As a child, I definitely saw the food on my plate. Not only were we required to sit at the table together (especially on Sundays), but we also had to make a speech. And when I say speech, I’m not kidding. My father would ask us kids to stand up (one at a time) and share our thoughts on the day, what we did, what we learned, etc. If we were caught laughing at one of our siblings (there were eight of us!), we had to leave the table, and our dinner would be an apple. As much as I thought it was completely stupid to talk about seeing a turtle in the woods or biking to so-and-so’s house and helping their mom clean corn, I realize now that my dad gave us the gift that Mastroianni refers to — the table keeps things stable.

In this issue, you’ll see dinner tables galore, from bright and glossy to rustic and distressed. Check out the glamorous Dining by Design table in the Bulletin Board section; creative centerpiece ideas from Marla Millar of the new Yellow Dog Marketplace; artist Weatherly Stroh’s simple setting with her cool placemats (what else does the table really need?); and the high-backed, velvet-covered banquette in “Bejeweled.” More on tablescapes awaits in the holiday stories beginning here.

Then there’s the young family in Bloomfield Hills in “Cooking Up Modern” who always takes the time to sit down and dine together, thanks to Dad’s great cooking. If they keep that tradition up, it’s a pretty good bet that their toddler-age daughter will someday appreciate the sense of support and connection she has with her family, all because of meals around the table.