Bring mealtime rituals to the family dinner table
Photo: Joshua Huston
Great food is a good lure, but it's far from the only reason Seattle mom Leika Suzumura and her husband Silvio Dos Reis gather their family around the table.
Mealtime for this family (which includes Saiyana and Oxani) is designed for connection. It's a time for sharing food, eating and life values, passing on traditions from past generations, and exploring the family's Japanese and Brazilian heritages. Suzumura, manager of Seattle Tilth's Community Kitchens Northwest program, says that program strives to achieve the same.
"Helping families and communities create connection and share food culture is a fundamental piece of our work," she says of Community Kitchens Northwest.
Suzumura is a registered dietitian who studied at Bastyr University, but she prefers to call herself a "nourishian" in her family and work: "It's so much more fitting for what I truly see the role that food and eating can be in our lives, as a path to health."
Toward this goal, Suzumura says her family sits down to breakfast together most days and does their best to gather for dinner, especially on Wednesdays. We asked Suzumura to reflect on her family's mealtime experience.
SC: Beyond nutrition, why is it important that your family sit down together to eat?
Suzumura: For us, it's a time to connect. I believe strongly that our food is more nourishing when we eat it with intention and in a space of love and connection. Mealtime is one of the rare times we slow down. We are gathered in a circle, we are engaged with one another, and we are unplugged — meaning no electronics are sucking our attention away!
In what other ways is mealtime about more than food for your family?
It's one of the ways we can connect with the land — by simply eating and acknowledging that our food came from the soil. I suppose for me, through my lens as a nutritionist, a meal starts with the food as a source of nourishment that is then celebrated and honored through the act of sitting and sharing it together.
Photo: Joshua Huston
Does your family have any mealtime traditions?
Our table is built around traditions! Before we eat, we say "itadakimasu" which is a Japanese tradition. We said "itadakimasu" when I was a child. I always understood the phrase to mean "thanks for the food and to the cook." I've more recently learned that it can also be translated as "I humbly receive," stemming from a Buddhist philosophy that we should be thankful for all the plants and animals that gave their life for us. This extends the thanks to the cook/farmer/hunter.
Our most cherished family dinners are on Wednesday evenings. At this meal, we hold hands and give thanks for something in our lives. We've also been trying to incorporate more focused talks at this meal, exploring teachings and values that Silvio and I want to share and discuss with the kids.
Finally, we have our "Taco Tuesday" tradition. We invite friends (usually friends who have kids) to join us for dinner, and all of us contribute some of the ingredients. We cook together, a mini-community kitchen of sorts.
Are mealtime traditions from your own childhood part of mealtime with your kids today?
There is another Japanese saying: "mottai nai." To me this always meant something along the lines of "What a shame that you're wasting."
If we didn't eat all our food my mother would say "mottai nai." Or if we left the water running while we washed the dishes. We use it in our family today too, because I want the kids to know that our resources are precious and they shouldn't be wasted.
How do you represent the multiple heritages in your home at mealtime?
We have an evolving blend of how we incorporate both of our cultures into mealtime. For example, we use a Brazilian-style mortar and pestle for all our cooking to crush garlic and salt — it comes from my husband's Brazilian cooking heritage. We have noodle nights where we make one of a variety of noodle soups (ramen, udon, soba). And Brazilian barbeque is a special treat for parties and birthdays.
What do you hope your children take from the table into adulthood?
We both work and have so much going on every day that we value deeply the cherished family meal that is intentional. I want my kids to feel the connection the family meal creates and pass that on to their kids when the time comes.
Want a taste of a Community Kitchen? The program hosts a regular Community Dinner at Rainier Beach Community Center on the third Sunday of each month from 2 to 5 p.m. Arrive by 2 p.m. to help cook. Dinner starts at 4:15 p.m.
For information on Community Kitchens’ after-school cooking clubs or other opportunities, go to seattletilth.org.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in September of 2014.