The Importance of a Family Meal

“The thing about family meals is they have the ability to nourish your body and your soul.”

Today family is heavy on my mind. The memories, the conversations, the special times we celebrate being in each others lives. One common thread I keep coming back to are family meals – the importance of family meals that have happened and the lasting effects they had. 

One such family meal took place in Durango, Colorado in 2010 (maybe it was 2009?). My aunt, uncle and young cousins from NY, my uncle from Indiana, my grandmother from Arizona, and me from Oregon all descended on my Aunt Jan’s house to celebrate what we lovingly referred to as Whittenpoof. This ingenious celebration was created by one of my uncles for the sole reason that during the busy holidays each of us had our own families and obligations. But after the Xmas chaos had faded away, Whittenpoof was the perfect excuse for us to gather together in one place. 

I was the last one to arrive in Durango and that night I’ll never forget how hard we laughed, the stories we told for hours, and of course, the meal. We had perfectly grilled buffalo steaks (thank you Uncle Todd!), wasabi mashed potatoes, and other delights I can’t quite remember. I’m beyond thankful to come from a long line of great cooks (on both sides of my family), but buffalo? I was apprehensive. I had never had buffalo or thought to put wasabi in mashed potatoes, but you know what? It was heaven and I can still taste it.

The thing about family meals is they have the ability to nourish your body and your soul. They feed you so deeply and create connections that last a lifetime. There is much research that suggests big meals together have incredible benefits for the body and soul. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology at BYU, says, “social eating releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that interact with the opiate receptors in our brains and provide a sense of bonding and feelings of well-being.” Think about that. Food and how we eat it effects our bonds with others. That is quite remarkable and explains why communal eating feels so special. 

One important aspect of this communal ‘specialness’ I believe centers around the family table. It’s a sacred place where we come to talk to each other and share in the intimate act of eating. My aunt’s dining table was the epicenter for that amazing winter night in 2010. Surprisingly, even my kids have a strong attachment to our family dining table. Getting them to eat at it nightly is a chore, but they would never allow me to get rid of it. Their first birthdays were celebrated at that table. Each holiday meal has been at that table. It’s seen celebrations and disappointments. Tears, wine, and probably even blood have been spilled on that table. It’s part of us and its quiet, sturdy frame is a reassuring presence in our home. 

Dr. Nina Radcliff explains the impact of being around the table so beautifully in an article titled Health: Benefits of Eating Together. She says the time we spend together at the table, the act of gathering and sharing a family meal and our time with one another is “architecting the hallmarks of our wellbeing.” It doesn’t get more important than that and it truly highlights the importance of keeping our family traditions alive and well. And what family tradition doesn’t include a meal?

My family has gone through radical change since 2010 and sadly that Whittenpoof was the last time we were all together under one roof. I’m so thankful for that time in Durango and know it’ll stay with me forever. Those bonds are intact. The memories engrained. And this year by god, Uncle Todd and I are going to resurrect Whittenpoof. Buffalo steaks all around!

My challenge to you is this: reach out to loved ones TODAY. Not tomorrow. Start thinking of ways you can create family gatherings that will become your own Whittenpoofs. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion. Create your own and make it count. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t require excessive planning or a lake house rental. Pick a date with your family (or friends) and make a simple, beautiful meal together that nourishes you all. Laugh over silly things, remember those who can’t be with you, and love each other. Here’s to the Whittenpoofs of the past and those still to come! 

Be sure to check out some of the amazing recipes on the Featured Recipe page to try for your next gathering!

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