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Columnist
Eating is even better as a family
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/20/2008 12:04 AM

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From the first moments they arrive in the world, kids love to eat.

Some more than others, of course, but in general on the spectrum of things kids like and dislike, eating is right up there on the list.

As my younger son's away message frequently states: Food is good.

What's even better than food is food eaten together as a family. The importance of eating as a family became a sort of public mantra a few years back and of the various parenting trends that come and go, I believe this one is a tried-and-true keeper.

The PR that comes along with the suggestion says research strongly indicates that eating dinner together increases communication, improves academic performance and fosters healthy child relationships. Actually true, I'd say.

But now there is a national event attached. Family Day, "A Day to Eat Dinner with your Family!" is apparently Monday, Sept. 22. For information, visit casafamilyday.org.

Here in Naperville, participating restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to KidsMatter, formerly known as the Naperville Youth Development Coalition. The not-for-profit corporation has done and continues to do a lot of good for Naperville kids and their families. To learn more, check out kidsmatter2us.org.

As fundraisers go, this is as good as it gets - choosing a restaurant you enjoy anyway or have wanted to try, eating with your family and sending some money to a great cause. Simple and positive. And I am always in favor of eating out. But you know there's a "however" coming.

It's a small one. First, my favorite restaurant isn't on the list. I'll have to take that up with them. But slightly more importantly, whenever someone plans an event like this - isn't there a "read with your family" night, and maybe a "watch TV with your family" night? - it gives me a funny feeling.

Whenever we designate one day or night for something, it changes something that should be done for its own sake on a regular basis and turns it into something of a publicity stunt. I get the feeling it is now something on a to-do calendar belonging to Martha Stewart or Family Fun magazine.

I'm not sure I can describe the feeling some of these "events" give me, but the idea is that sitting down at home and having a nice meal and conversation with my family is something I look forward to as many evenings as possible in any given week.

As those of you with younger children will all-too-soon find out, you want to do this early and often because suddenly you will not have the chance, as one by one the places at your dinner table migrate to university dining halls and beyond. You will be left with a lone child staring back at two parents wondering how they get out of joining the conversation now. (What happens when that one leaves is still beyond my comprehension.)

But designating one day to do this seems - fake. It's like families who gather only when a date on the calendar says it's what you're "supposed" to do that day. I'm fully aware this type of holiday could be compared to Mother's Day or Father's Day. And, actually, I think the comparison can hold. Though I have nothing against either holiday and fully enjoy ascending the family throne each Mother's Day, it is sort of a fake day if your kids don't appreciate their mom more often than that.

Isn't that why there isn't a "Kid's Day?" All together now: "Every day is kid's day!"

That's my point. Wouldn't it be strange if suddenly someone proclaimed a "love your child day?" Extreme, yes. But perhaps that explains my logic.

On the other hand, if a family makes an unusual effort to eat together Monday and enjoys it so much that they vow to do so more regularly, then the event has proved its worth and made a grinch out of me at the same time. That's OK with me.

I fully acknowledge my grinchy side coming out. A recent newspaper headline hoped Americans weren't getting disaster weary. I think we're more in danger of getting day weary. There are more and more "celebrate this today!" fake-cheery things that emerge each year that, to me, divert us from the daily goal that comes from within to keep your family close despite television, the Internet, text messaging and smart phones.

Please do go out and eat with your family Monday at one of the restaurants willing to donate to this great Naperville organization. But more importantly, have a family dinner as often as possible.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman writes about Naperville some Saturdays in Neighbor. E-mail her at jonihb@aol.com.