For most of us, the idea of everyone sitting around the table for a home-cooked meal every night was nothing but aspirational — that is before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled school, sports, commutes to work. How about now?
Our daily dining practices seem to be in flux, at least according to 23 Clark County residents who responded to my inquiries.
Most families said they aren’t sitting down together.
Jessica Roth and her husband have two teenagers at home. At first, she did what she normally does: planned meals for the week, took meat from the freezer to thaw, and tried to gather everyone to eat at a certain time.
After a month of quarantine, things changed. The kids snack during the day and prefer a frozen dinner to anything scratch made, Roth said. Her husband got sick of leftovers.
“Eating is really the only excitement during the day,” she said.
The only time the family sits down to eat together is when they order takeout. They order food three to four times a week from places the kids request — Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Five Guys and the like.
In some households, dinner still competes with evening activities and parents working. At Liz Gering’s house, her daughters Zoee, 14, and Lilee, 12, take Zoom classes four nights a week from their dance studio. Her husband, Darin, a nurse at Providence Portland Medical Center, returns from his hospital shift at 8 p.m.
“My husband eats when he gets home from work at the hospital, and the kids eat when they are finished with classes. Our eating often happens in different rooms as we are at different stages of our evenings,” Liz Gering said.
Less than half of those who responded by my family-dinner inquiry said they sit down together every night.
Dawn Seaman, who works for YWCA Clark County, has always had family dinner with her husband, Chad, and their two children. Chad usually plans the menu on a day-to-day basis. However, now that they are only going to the grocery store once week, he plans further ahead.
Some families are rotating who has responsibility for dinner. Erika Beyer and her husband, Christopher, have two children, 14-year-old Fuller and 13-year-old Chelsea.
Erika Beyer was happy that the family had time to sit down and eat dinner together, but wasn’t that excited about cooking every night. Fortunately, her children wanted to learn how to cook. Fuller and Chelsea each prepare two meals a week. On the nights they don’t make dinner, they clean up the dishes.
“By letting Fuller and Chelsea choose what they make, they seem more invested than if I told them what they were going to make,” Erika Beyer said.
At Jeri Moffat Swatosh’s house, the family dines together. Jeri and her husband, Joe, her 27-year-old son, Drew, and her 22-year-old son, Park, as well as Park’s girlfriend, Yejee Jeong, all gather. Each night a rotating group of two cooks dinner for everyone.
Other families also include older children at dinnertime.
At the Koks’ house, Laura and her husband, Jeroen, dine outside with their daughters, 30-year-old Monica and 32-year-old Katrina, as well as their daughters’ boyfriends, all spaced 6 feet apart. The other daughter, 22-year-old Krista, recently moved to Ellensburg and joins the family through an online video call. Meals are home-cooked or takeout with the occasional dessert of s’mores made in the fire pit.
At Chrisie Goode’s house, the family is honoring another less celebrated American tradition: eating in front of the television. Partly as a joke, Chrisie bought TV trays. Her funny purchase created a new family ritual. Chrisie, her husband and three children (ages 15 to 21) eat in front of the TV.
“We have enjoyed many family dinners watching something fun together, ‘The Last Dance,’ to name a favorite,” Chrisie Goode said.
Brian Grambow lives with two other attorneys. The pandemic has disrupted their jobs. With extra time on their hands, the roommates have been experimenting in the kitchen, and discovered that they really like to cook duck.
Amy Brubaker has been perusing old cooking magazines that she saved in hopes of someday having time to try the recipes. Old issues of Chocolatier Magazine and Food Network Magazine have yielded some delicious results. One of her favorites has been a lemon pasta with shrimp from Giada De Laurentiis from a 2017 Food Network Magazine.
Other households are reaching out to neighbors. Gini Jones started a meat extravaganza night at her condominium complex in Vancouver’s Ellsworth Springs neighborhood. Her husband, Brad, fires up the grill so neighbors can cook their own meat and sip cocktails while social distancing. Each family takes the cooked food back home and eats it. The grill — a ceramic-egg-style cooker — was given to the Joneses by their neighbor Penny Runyan when her husband, Steve, died several years ago.
“Steve would have loved that it was being used in this way in the neighborhood,” Gini Jones said.
After months of hunkering down under pandemic stay-home orders, each family has created their own new type of family dinner. Whether alone or shared with others at a table, around a fire pit or in front of a TV, eating dinner remains a ritual that provides sustenance, solace, and a sense of normalcy during unpredictable times.