BOOK REVIEW: 'Home for Dinner': An Impossible Dream: Having Family Members Get Together for Meals?

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

Reading Anne K. Fishel's "Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids" (Amacom, American Management Association, 240 pages, foreword by Michael Thompson, Ph.D; notes, index,  $16.00) I was intrigued by a book that seemingly wants to turn back the clock to a 1950s sitcom era, when Robert Montgomery and Donna Reed ruled the TV world.

Fishel is a Ph.D. psychologist, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project, among many other acomplishments. She's the mother of two young adult sons, so she's aware of the challenges facing anyone who wants to round up family members for dinner together.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Home for Dinner': An Impossible Dream: Having Family Members Get Together for Meals?

The book is replete with stories of people who want to do something about the fragmented world of smart phones, social media (I often think of it as "anti-social" media!), ballet lessons and soccer matches, long hours at work and long commutes and have family dinners. It's the kind of challenge Amy Chua's "Tiger Mother" would  be hard pressed to achieve.

The stories in Fishel's book should appeal to readers who have their own memories -- good or bad -- about family dinners. I personally have few such memories, because in our house when I  was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I don't recall any family dinners! With my mother, divorced and working hard to keep the family together in a series of low-paying factory jobs, if you wanted to eat, she pointed to the kitchen. 

Fishel provides many recipes and advice about making food interesting -- in an era when food is often viewed as generic fuel to keep overbooked people going. With so much to do, she writes, dinner has been bumped to the back burner. Fishel says that research shows that family dinners offer more than just nutrition. Studies have tied shared meals to increased resiliency and self-esteem in children, higher academic achievement, a healthier relationship to food, and even reduced risk of substance abuse and eating disorders. 

"Home for Dinner" makes a passionate and informed plea to put mealtime back at the center of family life and supplies compelling evidence and realistic tips for getting even the busiest of families back to the table. 

The book explains how to: 

* Create quick, healthy, and tasty dinners; 

* get kids to lend a hand (without any grief); 

* adapt meals to the needs of everyone - from toddlers to teens; 

* inspire picky eaters to explore new foods; 

* keep dinnertime conversation stimulating; 

* add an element of fun; reduce tension at the table; 

* explore other cultures and spark curiosity about the world. 

Mealtime should be a place to unwind and reconnect, far from the pressures of school and work, Fishel writes. As the author notes, family therapy can be helpful, but regular dinner is transformative.

For one thing, you'll have to curb technology at the table, she says on Page 109, writing that "a 2011 survey found that there are two sets of standards at the dinner table. Parents use technology at the table at twice the rate their children are allowed". What's good for the goose, she says, isn't so good for the gosling!  She suggests the best solution might be a total ban of technology, i.e. phones, at the table…Similar to the pleas in movie theaters about phones.

"Home for Dinner" is a provocative book, a book of family dinner advocacy that should be read by everyone concerned about the state of the family in a world where people are trying to do too much.


Anne K. Fishel
Anne K. Fishel

About the author

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, teacher, blogger, and family therapist. She is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she has won many teaching prizes from psychiatry residents and psychology interns. She also has a private practice focusing on clinical supervision, and individual, couples and family therapy. 

Dr. Fishel is a co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit group that works on-line and in person to help families overcome the obstacles that get in the way of family dinners. She speaks, consults, and publishes widely on a range of issues to do with families and couples.

Dr. Fishel is the author of Treating the Adolescent in Family Therapy: A Developmental and Narrative Approach (Jason Aronson, 1999). She writes a blog on, "The Digital Family," and has also blogged about family issues for NPR and PBS. She is an editor for the Harvard Review of Psychiatry and Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. She lives outside Boston with her husband, and is the mother of two young adult sons.