What’s for Dinner? Making Time to Be Home for Dinner

By Judith Belasco, Director of Programs, Hazon

“I am not the only mom who isn’t a great cook… I’d like our meals to be more meaningful, connected, and playful,” said one Temple Kol Shofar parent at the launch of Home for Dinner: Hazon’s Family Meals Initiative.

Hazon launched Home for Dinner in 2011 at two pilot schools in the Bay Area.  Why a program to focus on family meals?  American family life, including American Jewish family life, has spun more and more out of control, with overscheduled kids and under-connected families. Dinnertime is a time when adults and children can come together after being apart throughout the day, a unique time for families to break bread, interact and reconnect. Research has shown that when families eat together, everyone is more likely to eat healthier meals. Your kids are less likely to become overweight or obese, are more likely to stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs, and are more likely to get better grades in school. Family dinners make it more likely that your kids will talk to you and that you will hear about serious problems.

But it’s not easy, and shifting habits starts gradually: Families who participated in the Home for Dinner: Hazon’s Family Meals Initiative made the commitment during the 2011- 2012 school year to eat just one more meal together a week than they currently do.

Home for Dinner is a synagogue-based pilot program for late elementary to early middle school students and their parents. The program allows families to engage with the big idea that Jewish tradition, food, and family life are woven together.  As our first season is coming to a close, I had a chance to catch up with some of the parents and kids in the program.  One of the fifth graders at Congregation Beth El in Berkley, CA, who had spent the year learning from Min Ha’Aretz in the classroom and participating with his parents in Home for Dinner programming outside of the classroom, beautifully articulated how all the pieces fit together: “Food is important to survive,” he told me, “but meals are important for being together.” Another Home for Dinner parent expressed this idea when she said, “Food is nourishment — but a meal is social.”

The series of Home for Dinner programs encourages families to explore the dynamic interplay of Jewish tradition, food issues, and the complex realities of their daily lives and schedules. The program explores ideas like brachot: understanding gratitude for what we have; L’Dor va Dor (generation to generation): passing down of recipes, their stories; Shmirat haGuf: caring for your body, health, nutrition; Shmirat haAdama: taking care of the earth, sustainability; G’milut hasadim: acts of loving kindness like feeding the hungry. Parents, the children, and the synagogue community connect that family meals can be the vehicle for transferring values and ethics.

Even the Home for Dinner educators find the experience rewarding.  One Education Director told us, “I greatly enjoyed cooking dinner with the students for their parents.  During our prep time students shared with me stories about their family eating traditions. One student was so excited that the soup we made smelled just like the soup her family makes at home.”

Judith Belasco is the director of Programs at Hazon.  To find out more about bringing Home for Dinner to your synagogue community, contact Judith at Judith.Belasco@hazon.org.

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