People in the United States eat alone more frequently than they ever have before, according to The Atlantic.
“From February 2018 to February 2019, 45 percent of American meals were eaten alone. Researchers have compared isolation’s impact on health to that of smoking cigarettes, and Americans are deeply lonely.”
“WHAT'S FOR DINNER?” MIGHT BE ONE OF THE HARDEST QUESTIONS TO ANSWER.
Sure, we all know someone who has dinner menus planned out for the next month, and they post their weekly menu on a letterboard in the kitchen and have their
dining table decor done in true Pinterest style. But that’s a small percentage of the population, to be sure!
The majority of us come home tired from a long day of work. We feel emotionally and physically tapped out, and the dinner menu is the last thing we want to worry about. When you’re tired, it’s easy to fall into the trap of fast food – where the main course is wrapped in paper and the side dishes come in cardboard boxes.
While I remain a passionate fan of the cheeseburger, I believe that with a bit of planning and effort, we can create not just meals but experiences that nourish our soul and our relationships.
Canadian anthropologist Gillian Crowther says, “Commensality – sharing a meal with someone, eating and drinking together behind the same table – is one of the most important manifestations of sociality in all cultures. Eating together confirms the sense of belonging, being part of a community.”
SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
Preparing and eating meals together, while healing and enriching, can be a thankless enterprise. Recently on Netflix I watched “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” with American chef and food writer Samin Nosrat. In the four-part series, she visits different continents and learns techniques and customs for preparing and eating delicious food. I felt immediately inspired to do better for me and my family by eating more meals together. Her words at the end offer a great perspective:
“For me, cooking has never been about the food. It’s about what happens at the table. My ultimate goal is to make people feel comfortable and taken care of so they can enjoy the moment and maybe, eventually, pass that kindness on to others.”
Transforming a meal into “a manifestation of sociality” that “makes people feel comfortable and taken care of” is the goal. I have some ideas that I hope will make a difference in the way we all approach this daily ritual.
HAVE A PLAN.
I have a friend that keeps a list of recipes she likes in the Notes section of her phone. Every week she looks through the list and picks out the meals they haven’t had in a while or the recipes that require seasonal ingredients.
She makes a quick trip to the market to get what she needs, and it’s all done. She doesn’t hold herself to a strict dinner menu plan; if her family suddenly decides to order pizza at the last minute, they do. She might be the only friend I have that isn’t tortured by the concept of the dinner menu.
DON’T DO IT ALONE.
Occasionally it’s fun to do all the work and pamper the ones you love, but it’s not a sustainable model. Sipping wine, sharing about your day, and chopping and preparing food for dinner is just as essential to the overall success as sitting and eating the meal together when it’s all ready.
There is camaraderie in making a dinner menu together, and the food always tastes better when you take part in making it. Just another benefit of eating meals together.
HAVE FUN WITH A THEME.
Taco Tuesday, Friday pizza night, breakfast for dinner – I love a themed date night menu or family dinner menu! It adds the element of fun and tradition to a regular Tuesday night. Settling on a few themed dinner menus every week or month is fun and easy, and everyone looks forward to it. It also cuts down on the need to think up recipes, making the meal prep even easier.
SET THE TABLE.
Don’t skip this step. A well-appointed dinner table with great tabletop decor of dishes, linens and lighting sets the mood for a chance to connect at the and of the day. A benefit of eating together with candlelight can make everyone more present during the date night meal (you cannot sneak a peek at your phone during a meal lit with candles).
Presenting the food on the dinner table in beautiful ways (notice I didn’t say fancy) seems to make the food taste better and more appreciated. Wiping your hands with a soft cloth napkin feels special and comforting. Setting a nice dinner table with inspiring tabletop decor is like setting the stage for us to remember where and with whom we belong.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
Once your date night meal is done and it’s time to clean up, it’s all hands on deck. I like to play music that is sweet and mellow so I can still have a conversation with everyone else in the kitchen. It’s another chance to connect, make plans for the next day, talk about your dream vacation, listen to a podcast together, or DANCE.
Now I know we aren’t all like my above-mentioned friend with a long list of recipes in our arsenal. So I reached out to The Dowry team and asked each of them to share a favorite dinner menu or date night menu with us.
PRINT OFF THIS BLOG FOR A DATE NIGHT MENU REFERENCE, OR COPY AND PASTE THE DINNER MENUS IN THE NOTES SECTION OF YOUR PHONE.
Night One: Dinner and Netflix
Kate, our digital marketing lead, says, “My husband and I like to eat dinner and reconnect over old sitcoms like 'Seinfeld' and 'Always Sunny in Philadelphia.' Cooking on the grill outside is a way of changing up our routines and celebrating when the weather gets warmer."
Grilled ribeye steaks served with mushrooms and onions
Wine: pinot noir (for Kate)
Beer: New England IPA (for husband)
Strawberry cheesecake with whipped cream (my favorite!)
Night Two: Dinner Al Fresco
Ashley, our artist and product lead, says her family of four enjoys healthy, clean meals. Her two busy kids especially love Taco Tuesdays!
Gluten-free tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa
Chicken tacos on gluten-free tortillas with lettuce, tomato and avocado
Cocktail: Ranch Water (for the adults)
Night Three: Takeout
We all have our favorite takeout dinner menu, whether it’s Greek, Chinese or good old-fashioned pizza. It’s important to support our local restaurants and give them regular business, so we love the idea of giving everyone a break from cooking with takeout.
Pizza with toppings of choice
Green salad (add something healthy)
Beer: any local brew will do
Wine: must be red with pizza
Night Four: Picnic Dinner
Tonia, our content writer, loves to take her kids and the dog to a nearby park to enjoy picnics together. “We all have a bit of ADD, so the dinner table meal is always disrupted by someone getting the urge to do a handstand or just walk laps around the dinner table. Spreading out a blanket at the park gives us all a chance to enjoy eating together and do handstands in free-form. I like a dinner menu that is delicious both warm and cold.”
Five-cheese tortellini with roasted veggie salad
Fruit salad with watermelon, strawberries, blueberries and grapes
Toasted flatbread with garlic-Parmesan spread
Wine: rose (try to find one in a can!)
Night Five: Date Night Dining In
Megan, our founder and CEO, says that date nights with dinner at home with her fiance is nourishing in every way. “We like to be ambitious in the kitchen, so when we cook, we go all out with the main dish but buy the side dishes pre-made. Our recent favorites include pecan-encrusted halibut and bacon-wrapped scallops. We open up a bottle of wine while we cook and try to unplug. We always have music playing.”
However you choose to do your dinner menus, invest in the opportunity to make it feel special with pretty table decor, with food and a menu that makes you happy, with the people you love. Bon appetit!