Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal

Recently, I was sent a copy of The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal by Les and Leslie Parrott, and Dream Dinners' founders Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna. The book's back cover states that "Researchers across the board are finding that an hour around the dinner table can really tether a family together and help you raise up healthier, happier kids." The book aims to show you "how to nourish and nurture your family through regular meal times," and it includes recipes (with photos), basic cooking tips, and conversation ideas to use at the table.

This book was much different from what I expected...but in a good way.

At first, I was thinking--after reading the first chapter--that the book was geared toward families who have never experienced sharing dinner together, those who want to make it happen, but--night after night--run a mini-cafeteria for the kids and other family members, who grab individual selections and eat on their own at a place of their own choosing. I really can't relate to that, since we make dinner together a priority in our family.

But that is where authors Les and Leslie Parrott were at with their two boys. Similarly, Stephanie and Tina were also finding it difficult, because of busy schedules, to manage dinner as a family each night. They didn't like it; they wanted to spend more time together. They set out to make it happen. Then they discovered the power of sharing evening meals together and wrote a book about it--this book.

So, although the first few chapters seemed redundant to me (since I already appreciate the value of togetherness at the table), the book quickly caught me off-guard. Who knew it would be a book about dinnertime that would cause me to have a major reassment of my parenting, and my relationship with one of my children, in particular?

It was shortly after the birth of my fourth child that I was reading this, so granted, I was sleep-deprived and extremely emotional. But in a chapter called "How to Listen So Your Kids Talk," I had an emotional break-down while reading what the authors' wrote about active listening and empathy (the Parrotts are relationship experts). I realized I had been too harsh with my son in far too many areas. I was jumping to my own conclusions about certain things and wasn't really listening to him, giving him a chance to explain--from his perspective--the "why" behind the "what."

A book that I thought I didn't need surprised me by showing me how much I truly did need what it had to say.

Beyond patching up the rough spots in my relationship with my son, the book also gave me some great ideas to make meal-time more enjoyable. A chapter called "Enjoying More Laughter" suggests ways to get everyone smiling, which makes dinner more fun, and thus, more anticipated as the hour that matters most each day. My boys really loved the jokes printed in the book (ideas can be found by doing an Internet search  for "clean kid's jokes," or something similar).

There are also practical tips on: setting a positive mood, curbing conflict at the table, teaching manners, instilling values, and starting a fix-and-freeze dinner club (although it is a relatively short chapter, so if you are looking for more in-depth information, I would guide you to books written exclusively on that topic). Each chapter ends with either a never-before-published Dream Dinners' recipe, and/or a family recipe.They look great. You'll find one below, along with two questions I asked Les and Leslie Parrott. 

Slow-Cooked BBQ Short Ribs
3 pounds boneless country-style beef short ribs
1/2 chopped onion
2 T. oil
In a heavy skillet over high heat, add oil, onions and ribs, browning ribs by cooking 2-3 minutes per side. Combine sauce ingredients in slow cooker:
1/4 c. vinegar, 2 T. sugar, 1/2 c. ketchup, 1/2 c. barbecue sauce, 3 T. Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 2 tsp. salt
Add browned ribs and onion to slow cooker. Cook 6-8 hours. If you are pinched for time and/or do not have all the sauce ingredients, you can combine raw short ribs and an entire bottle of barbecue sauce in the slow cooker and cook.
Taken from Hour that Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna. Copyright © 2011 by Les and Leslie Parrott and Dream Dinners. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Since the focus of the book is getting your family to spend more time at dinner together, I wanted to ask Les and Leslie a few questions to help us moms with young children (and short attention spans).

Q: "In the debate between quality time and quantity time, when you encourage families to make spending an hour at the table together, are you intending for a literal hour? Or is it the principle of being together to share a meal and conversation (whether it's twenty minutes or an hour and twenty) the goal we're striving toward?"

Les and Leslie responded:
"The magic is not necessarily found in a literal 60 minutes. It’s the simply the pattern of having this routine that the family can count on. So no need to set a time or a start a stop watch. Focus instead on simply making that time together happen – and then being fully present for it."

Q: "In encouraging families to spend an hour (or more time than is currently being spent) over the table together, what tips could you share (beyond what is already in the book) to help families with small children and short attention spans get beyond the eat-and-run stage?"

Les and Leslie responded:
"The goal with small children at the dinner table is to make it as pleasant as possible for everyone else – including you. So don’t make this the place for power struggles. If you want your little one to eat something specific and you’re getting the toddle stiff arm, save the power struggle for later (when the rest of the family isn’t trying to enjoy their meal together). And to help you manage the short attention span of these squirts, have something at the [table] ready to entertain them when they grow tired of the table talk. You want to keep the time around the table as pleasant as possible for everyone – a safe place where people linger (not where they watch a small one dominate the time)."

So although reviewing the power of the family meal didn't surprise me, there is plenty in this book that did. While we already make dinner a priority in our home, this book renewed my excitement for just how valuable that togetherness time really is, for each of us. It encouraged me to think not only about the food I'll serve, but how to make the time fun for everyone--what jokes and table-talk topics can I bring to facilitate laughter and meaningful conversation? There are some great, free resources available at, including coaster topics that you can print off and laminate (or put contact paper over), table setting guides (for kids), and more.  

"Thriving families don't just happen. Merely going with the flow or taking what comes is fatal to the heart of a home. Healthy and happy families are the result of deliberate intention, determination, and practice."--The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal

So where are you at with family dinners? Do you make them a priority in your home? Would you like them to happen more frequently but are having trouble bringing everyone together? I encourage you to take a step, wherever you're at, to be more intentional about eating together--and enjoying it.

Disclosure: I was sent a promotional copy of this book and requested, but not required, to review it. I've reviewed it solely at my discretion, with no monetary compensation, because I truly enjoyed it and believe in its message.

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