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In England, it's called Sunday lunch, but where I came from, it was Sunday Dinner, the Lutheran/Congregational/not very observant Episcopalian Lord's Supper, made more formal than the ordinary weekday Family Dinner by the size of the main dish, the formality of the China and silver, and the number of people involved. Nowadays, it might be overshadowed by Sunday Brunch (non-evangelical), or The Fellowship (evangelical), but I would like to present this custom as being a foothold into more interesting and important fields, such as The Family Dinner (non-Sunday) and Thanksgiving (where you might have to display your immediate family's manners to others). The meal in the Four Freedoms poster is not Thanksgiving, but this meal, and a tradition well worth keeping.

I would make a case for this meal, if only because any time I start talking about The Family Dinner, everyone sighs and wishes that 'twere but so, but children's obligations don't end with the school day anymore. They have sports, they have music, they dance, they have lessons, they have to be somewhere else, doing something, since without them, where would they be? Blocking off Sunday afternoon, when no one is going to be doing much, anyway, is a good compromise. This is a throwback to older tradition, when the main meal was at noon, with a "supper" (where you had soup) when we usually have dinner.

First, everyone sits down to the same table. Hanging out in the kitchen, while Mom makes things like a cooking show, is not what you do. If this means that you each have a job in putting together a table in the Great Room, that's what you do. Everyone has a task, either before or after, whether it's podding peas or preparing the gravy. Everyone wears the best clothing they have. The best tableware, the best cutlery, the table has a tablecloth. You are on best behavior. Everyone washes their hands. Say "please" and "thank you". Saying grace is optional, but encouraged. I've never had to hold hands around, but I find the custom extremely charming.

The TV is off. The phones are off. (Horrors!) If this means awful silences the first couple of times, this is how it goes. What happened during the week is the general topic, making this interesting is everyone's business. Otherwise, everyone can talk about the food, the weather, and, again, if there are a few silences this is how it is. You can also play 'icebreaker' games, if this helps. You ask to be excused if you need to get up from the table. (And have a good valid reason, too. Igottawatchthegame, and texting that your senile-demented parents have roped you into an archaic ritual designed to take precious social time away from your peers and direct it towards their boring siblings are not good reasons.) Picking at your food and claiming that you're going to eat it later isn't allowed either -- cheerfully tell them you're happy they're done early, and you'll be glad to toss it all out. Meanwhile, could they grace us with their presence just a little while longer, until everyone else is finished? Thank you.

The traditional menu is a large roasted beast or bird, with traditional sides: turkey has stuffing and cranberries and fewer sides than Thanksgiving, roast beef has cabbage (England), Yorkshire pudding, and peas (American), roast pork has applesauce, lamb has mint jelly, and chicken has sausage (English), or any kind of grain, really (American). If you're vegan, you might think in terms of a Tofurky or a really big gluten-free lasagne or loaf dinner, dressed up with soup and salad. Service is what's called French-style, in the old cookbooks: ample tureens, bowls and platters, to be passed hand to hand, and if you don't have enough dishes or cutlery, this is what people used to give people for anniversary presents. Save room for dessert!

At which point, the menfolk used to go off for a smoke and the women hung around the table before washing and putting things away. Nowadays, this is also a group project. There ought to be leftovers, some of which can be given to the cat.

If you've done your job right, everyone will be in a nice mellow mood, suitable for reading the Sunday New York Times or a current novel, viewing sporting events, classic movies or listening to jazz from the relaxed distance of an adult beverage, or walking around the neighborhood. Let the kids go back into cyberspace, if they will, while the adults spoon to "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed...

About six to eight, people will get hungry again. You'll need to feed them. Here's where you pull out your secret weapon: the Supper. Adamantly guard the fridge and the microwave. Soup and/or hot sandwiches are in the offing. Welsh Rarebit is a natural.

Here's where you can actually use that kitchen island you insisted the builders put into your prewar Colonial. If you don't have hot soup, you might decide this is Omelet Night (tres Viennnese) or any number of smaller dishes.

And to bed, and Bon appetit!


As with all family ways, it's easiest to institute this when the spouse and epsilons are young and pliable. A good way to begin is to start with a romantic early dinner, as a couple, and reserve the afternoon meal for guests. However, as soon as the kid can sit with the parents, you have the makings of a good weekly ritual.

Beware of a spouse that has the Man Cave habit. These yabbos declare that weekends are to be spent, from sort-of brunch to late night nachos in a state of infantile torpor watching men who do a lot of working out and women who don't eat very much and have a lot of surgery (or at least animations of them) claiming that this is "ME" time. Unable to conceive of food as being anything but an on-demand proposition, they'll have sardines and orange juice (from the carton) fifteen minutes before dinner, and then not eat. Fellows like that should have their Man Card rescinded, and left to gibber, impotently, until such time...

As stated, non-conditioned children are the worst culprits here, and this is as due to the post-modern notion of food being instantly available, heated/chilled instantly, and easy to eat as any electronic distraction. (I could talk about the awfulness of kitchen islands here, but no.) Resist the idea that cooking for a family will 'take you away from them'. You are not a celebrity cook on TV. Instead, get everyone into the act, (This is why Gran'ma has a kitchen table, dear.) prepping, stirring, and plating appropriately. Encourage artistry in salads, and creative thinking: if red food coloring goes with applesauce, why not yellow, green, or purple? Make decorative swirls in the sauce dish, and center pieces of veggie sculpture. (You can always photograph them, send on social media, and, of course, eat them.) Something they've seen made is more likely to be eaten, too.

To sum, it's probably not going to be Freedom from Want, at least to begin with. But it's not going to be like the movies, Festivus, or anything like a family sitcom. It's going to get better. A lot better.

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