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The Art of the Family Dinner

For a moment, hit the pause button on whatever you are doing.

Peruse your memories and pick a few that conjure much joy. Chances are, those memories involve some important relationships. Whether they are with family or friends, some of life’s best moments hinge on strong relationships.

When it comes to cultivating lasting family ties, embracing dinner time is a great way for families to transcend living as a group of strangers, to become a family that truly does life together. Rather than viewing the family dinner as an obligation, what if it was viewed as an art worth cultivating and savoring?

Family dinner is a great time to cultivate relationships

Though carving out space for family dinner may be easier said than done, recent research that cites its benefits may motivate you to make the effort. Below you’ll find more on the undeniable benefits of breaking bread together and some guidelines for making this practice a reality, as well as a favorite family recipe from Nicholas Arnold, our executive chef here at Garden of the Gods Club.

Reasons to Revive Dinnertime
If you need some motivation to start making family dinners a regular occurrence, recent research should catch your attention. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University conducted research on the benefits of family dinners by comparing the responses of adolescents who had family dinners three times a week with those who had them five times per week.

It turns out that those in the latter group were half as likely to smoke marijuana or cigarettes, one-third less likely to try alcohol, and were also less likely to have friends with these habits. Further, they were more likely to claim that their parents were proud of them, and were more apt to confide in their parents about serious problems. Plus, adolescent girls who regularly ate dinner with family were less likely to use diet pills or develop an eating disorder.

What the research really boils down to is that dinner time can serve as a space to get much-needed personal interaction. It helps to facilitate communication about what happened during one another’s days, enables a family to share laughs and difficult moments, and fosters genuine relationships.

“We found that dinner time was a great opportunity for us to open up to our kids and vice versa.  It was an opportunity to really mold them,” Deana Runza, a guest of the Lodge at Garden of the Gods Club, recently shared with me. ”Now they are 18 and 22, and we still like to have family dinners when possible.”

Making a Great Idea Reality
Though family dinners might be an excellent idea, without practical steps to make them a reality, they will remain just that – an idea. If you’re like most families and struggle to find time to enjoy family dinner, here are some practical tips to help you make a great idea a regular practice:

• Aim for quality over quantity. Even if you don’t have much time to devote to dinner, you can still enjoy the company of family. What matters is that you begin to cultivate the practice of gathering together and sharing life happenings. Even if you order a pizza and eat for 20-30 minutes, that’s still valuable family time. And, if you can’t make dinner a reality every night, shoot for at least a few times a week rather than zero.
• Eliminate distractions. It’s difficult to get face time if everyone’s faces are buried in text messages, laptops, or the TV. Make it a priority to unplug and really engage. Show your kids that social media isn’t the only ‘social’ activity that exists.
• Start when the kids are young. If family dinners are a regular part of your family from the time your children are young, they’re more likely to appreciate them later on. Further, you can instill great eating habits in young children by giving them healthy foods. Of course, any time is a great time to start making more space for family relationships. Even if you haven’t had family dinners in the past, you can always start now. 
• Let everyone in the family take ownership. Rather than having one person in charge of family dinners, make them an opportunity for everybody to pitch in. Children can help choose the menu and clean up. You can even get creative and have themed family dinners. Make them a time the entire family looks forward to, rather than something they have to do.
• Let somebody else do the work for you. It’s nice to let somebody else do the cooking and cleaning every now and then. At Garden of the Gods Club, we offer various themed dinner nights, where the family can come and enjoy a delicious dinner in great surroundings. “At the Club, our themed family dinners are no hassle. Chef Nicholas creates healthy menu options, so you can enjoy a great meal and family time,” Tracey Kalata, director of membership at Garden of the Gods Club, pointed out.
• Embrace the art of listening. Learn to really listen to those in your family and understand who they are as individuals. Instead of forming an immediate response in your head, just listen. Model respect, courtesy, and love to your family members. 

Tested & Approved Recipes
Nicholas Arnold, jexecutive chef at Garden of the Gods Club, has very fond memories of family dinner time growing up. “Family dinner means so many things to me. This is how I started cooking – with and for my family,” he said. ”The scent of my father’s freshly-baked oatmeal cookies still lingers in my memories of being a very young child.”

Here is a favorite family recipe from Chef Nicholas to pique your creativity and inspire a great dinner time:

Fettucini with Tomato Sausage Basil Cream Sauce
Serves 6

For the sauce:
8 oz.  Italian sausage (mild or hot), casing removed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3  shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup white wine
½  lemon, juiced
4  large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 cup heavy cream
10  basil leaves, cut into thin strips
Shredded Parmesan cheese as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Render sausage until golden brown; drain excess fat and reserve. Add a little of the reserved fat back into the pan; sauté garlic and shallots over low heat until fragrant and caramelized. Deglaze the pan with white wine; reduce until almost dry. Add lemon juice and reduce until almost dry. Add diced tomatoes and sauté, crushing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cook until all water is evaporated and tomatoes are of a sauce-like consistency. Add heavy cream and reduce until thick. Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over cooked fettucini and garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.


Strong family relationships can make a positive impact on all involved. Ultimately, making time for family dinner is really about carving out more space for valuable time with family.  Good luck!


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