Bringing Back the Family Dinner: Books to Inspire Home Cooks and Conversation

Book cover for Dinner with the Smileys by Sarah SmileyFor me, Thanksgiving has always meant dinner with family and friends. When my husband was in the military, we couldn’t always visit our parents for the Thanksgiving feast, but we always spent it with other people either at our house or theirs. There is something comforting about sharing a meal and connecting with the other people gathered at the table, not just at the holidays but at any time of year.

In “Dinner With the Smileys” by Sarah Smiley, a military wife invited numerous people to take the place of her husband at the dinner table while he was deployed for a year. She invited different people each week and documented these dinners with photos and stories. She started out carefully planning everything but eventually realized mealtime didn’t have to be formal or elaborate. She and her children gained friendships, support and awareness of new concepts, activities and ideas from these experiences. The people who attended the dinners not only experienced a good meal but benefited from good company and conversation.  A wonderful community support system was built.

I could relate to the dinner where Sarah’s oldest son was looking forward to asking questions and having a debate with one of their guests who had certain political views. He was excited about carrying on an adult conversation. Fortunately, his questions were welcomed by the adult, and both sides benefited from the conversation. When my sons were younger, they looked forward to being able to join in the adult conversations at Sunday dinners at my parents’ home. They enjoyed the talk while we ate, but they were so proud when they were old enough to contribute their thoughts to the discussions that took place after the children left the table to go play and the adults continued to sit at the table. They learned about current events and what their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles thought about different subjects. Sharing thoughts around the dinner table was fun as well as informative.

Get ideas for strengthening your own family’s ties through talk by picking up “Dinner With the Smileys” or one of these other books that discuss the importance of dinnertime conversation.

For more information about Sarah Smiley and her family, visit the website

About Jerilyn

Jerilyn is a children's librarian at DBRL's Callaway County Public Library.
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