In her new book, The Family Dinner, my dear friend Laurie David talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together, and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day's news. "Dinner," she says, "is as much about digestible conversation as it is about delicious food."
I couldn't agree more. So HuffPost has joined with Laurie to launch a new feature we're calling HuffPost Family Dinner Downloads. Every Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner, our editors will highlight one of the most compelling news stories of the week -- stories that will spark a lively discussion among the whole family.
This idea really hits home with me. Literally. Growing up in Athens, my home life was centered around family meals -- especially dinner. My mother, who was an incredible cook, kept our table filled with a seemingly never-ending array of food.
Just as endless were the conversations my mother, my sister Agapi, and I would have while seated at the table (my parents divorced when I was nine). The three of us would talk about anything and everything -- girlfriends, schoolwork, classmates, teachers, and, of course, boys. We'd discuss personal problems, our hopes and dreams -- and our fears. We'd debate current events, share books we'd just read or movies and plays we'd just seen.
Our kitchen table was where my views of the world began to be formed. And there was something very comforting in the pace of these family dinners. They were leisurely; we weren't rushing -- quickly wolfing down the meal and hurrying off to someplace we'd rather be. Indeed, there was no place we'd rather be than sitting at that table -- eating, talking, laughing, or tearing up. It was the opposite of our fast food culture. And even when the meals where short (there was homework to be done, after all!), they weren't rushed. There were no BlackBerrys to check, no TV blaring in the background (or hypnotizing us in the foreground). We were all very much present. (As my mother would later say, "I abhor multitasking.")
My mother's intimate connection to food -- feeding for her was a primal way of showing love -- even extended to the way she talked about food. She'd get upset if we ever said we were "grabbing something to eat." "Food is not something to grab," she'd say. "It is something to savor."
The importance of family dinners, of taking the time to come together and eat while processing the day, was something I knew I wanted to carry on when I had my own children. So, even if I had dinner plans for the night, I'd have an early pre-dinner dinner with my girls. That remained the best time to talk about our days -- and especially to hear about their days.
Something magical happens when you are talking over a meal -- instead of making a specific point of meeting in order to talk. Your whole body relaxes. The food has a truth serum effect. Things come up and are dealt with that wouldn't have come up anywhere else.
And the family dinner is a wonderful place for teaching and learning. Dinner table learning doesn't come from didactic teaching... pass the feta cheese, please... it's a more natural form of learning... more avgolemono soup?... learning that's unforced and organic.
So gather your family around the laptop, smartphone, or iPad -- or just print out the post and pass it around the table -- and check out our first Family Dinner Download. We hope it will get everyone at your table thinking and talking. It's a great way to learn how your kids see the world, and to let them discover how you see things, too.
Let the eating -- and the talking -- begin.