Is Dinner Over? Will America stop eating meals?

02.10.11: Leo's 33rd Month

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I think we’ve stopped eating. I mean, none of us are going to bed hungry, but somehow, all the shopping for food, planning, cooking and consuming meals that we used to do? Not so much. What happened?

I love my new job: serving healthy lunch to little kids is my kind of gig. I’m moving around constantly, working hands-on with lovely, healthy ingredients and encouraging kids to be good eaters. Then, when they’ve all eaten, I sit down with my two co-workers to a gorgeous lunch before we clean up. I pack leftovers to bring home and sit on the subway just relishing the feeling of…sitting. Ahh.

So there are some leftovers from work. I guess we eat those. And on weekends we occasionally make an enormous bean-based something-or-other that Leo won’t even try, and then it malingers in our fridge all week. If I buy chicken, then I stew it last minute when I notice it’s expiration date approaching. Tonight, Leo snacked on fruit and cottage cheese when he got home. His late-afternoon snack is fast eclipsing dinner, both because it’s earlier and usually simpler, which he prefers. An hour later, he had whole wheat spaghetti with leftover chicken stew, and he and I shared some broccoli with olive oil and parmesan. Now, Leo’s asleep, Aaron’s home, we’re both sort of hungry, and I’m roasting a sweet potato. Maybe there’s some leftover chili in the back of the fridge.

At the risk of sounding snobbish, it seems to me that if I—who love preparing and eating whole foods and work part-time—can’t gather my family each evening to enjoy a shared from-scratch-meal, well then, is there hope for good food in America? Children learn about food by experiencing the process—shopping, cooking, sharing—over and over again. And while I think the kids who I serve lunch to are gaining valuable exposure to healthy, seasonal food, I worry.

Is the current food movement—which comprises education, gardening and better access to healthier foods—going to reverse the great damage that our rat race–, convenience-oriented lives have created? Will nightly family meals and from-scratch cooking be a reality or a nostalgic memory for Leo when he’s grown-up? I feel like all I can do is try harder; there’s so much at stake! Tune in next week, when I aspire to offer you a recipe that doesn’t look like this: steam broccoli, douse with olive oil and grated parmesan, serve to half your family at a time.

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.