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Friday, October 25, 2013

THE SACRED RITUAL KNOWN AS “SUNDAYDINNER”

Once upon a time, there was a single girl who went to the gym 7 nights a week, avoided carbs, and ate salads for dinner. Then the she married an Italian-American man. Over time, she came to understand that dinner was not just putting food in your system, it was a ritual to be savored and enjoyed nightly. She learned that Pasta is an essential food group in and of itself, even if the USDA doesn’t know it yet, and that other than the Sabbath, the highest holiest moment of the week is what is known as “SundayDinner,” also known to non-Italians as Sunday Dinner, two words.

Yes, that single girl married her Handsome Prince, they had two sturdy boys, and she is now known as “Mrs. Lo”.
My, how times have changed. Now, when people suggest doing a fundraiser on a Sunday night, I look at them as if they have just asked me to sacrifice a goat in my living room. The Sacrilege! “Sunday night? Have you lost your mind? Sunday night is for SundayDinner.”

Mrs. Lo has come a long way from the barely stocked cupboard of Single Gal days, with Ramen noodles and Wishbone Salad dressing. Now, I have a deep freezer downstairs which always has several trays of “extras”: the Good Lasagna (also known as Mrs. Lo’s Lasagna); the Quick Lasagna (good but lots of shortcuts); Stuffed Shells; Manicotti; Baked Ziti; a few trays of Meatballs, and of course the high holiest of them all: Holiday Lasagna, with homemade noodles, three types of cheese, three types of meat, and homemade sauce. Because there’s never enough time to cook during the week. And because you never know who’s coming to dinner. And you can pretty much tell where a visitor ranks on the LoBiondo Friend and Family Scale by which Lasagna I defrost for your surprise visit. Don’t worry if you’ve never seen the Holiday Lasagna: unless you’re a member of the Clergy or Sister Frances, no offense, but you’re not going to see it.

Scientific studies have proven that eating together as a family will do everything from raise your kids’ SAT scores to improve their ability to bond and trust others. We just do it because we enjoy each other’s company and it brings us together once a day.

Our kids, who are in 4th and 8th grade, are required to do well in school. It is their “job.” As we have always said to them, you see Mom and Dad go to work every day. We have a job to do and we do it well. Your job is to get top grades and get yourselves accepted into good schools. Period. Sports? That’s a treat you get to go to if your grades are top tier. Their reward for good grades is never money or objects. Instead, we let them pick out their favorite meal and I make it for SundayDinner. The most complicated request I ever got was Zuppa di Pesce, from Christian in 4th grade. But generally speaking, Christian will choose Spaghetti and Meatballs and Michael will choose Meatloaf. (“Mommy, I know I can pick whatever I want but you make the world’s best meatloaf.” Who can say no to that?)
Could the dinners actually be helping with the grades?

According an article published in USA Today: “The more dinners a week the better. With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics.”

The idea behind the many studies is that families stay bonded when they have dinner together every night, children’s language skills are boosted by engaging in conversation with adults, and their self confidence and trust are cemented. Personally, I think it’s just as important for the parents, as it helps to keep up with what’s going on in your kids’ lives. Also, the structure and the tradition are what keep kids stable.

This semester is critical for Christian, our 8th grader, as he’s applying to some high schools with pretty high academic standards. He has consistently made the “Principal’s List”, our school’s equivalent of the High Honor Roll and we would like him to stay there. But I’m not upping the ante. If he makes it, his reward will still be getting to choose SundayDinner. He has been looking through my Giada cookbooks the way I have seen people look through BMW brochures, picking out his top choices. What will he be choosing for his reward should it come to pass? He’s really going outside the box on this one, the other day I saw him fold down the page for Eggplant Parm.

Have a great day, everyone, and remember to Count Your Blessings and enjoy Sunday Dinner!  Mrs. Lo