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Family Dinners Are a Casualty of Hard Times

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, News Feature, Various Authors Posted: Apr 09, 2009

Editors Note: The ritual of family dinner has been eroded by hard times, but young people say the idea of sharing food and conversation with their family still remains an iconic one. These contributors are interns with YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and The Beat Within.

My Family Dinner Is Just My Brother and Me

For me, dinnertime is traditionally connected with the family its a time when all the family members eat together. Right now my family is my brother. Our parents are in Russia, so were eating together like it was back home.

My dinner ritual has changed over the last couple of months, but not because of the economy. In Russia, where I am from, the economy is way worse than in America. It is because our living situation has changed. When we were staying in the shelter, we had staff cooking dinner for us and we couldnt choose what to eat. Now that we have our own place, I can just take whatever I want from the fridge and cook.

If its a weekday, I come back from work tired and very hungry, so I dont have much time and patience to cook something special. On weekends, if we dont have something else to do, we usually cook a complete dinner with meat, vegetables and dessert. We usually cook together and if we need something to buy, we also do it together. After dinner, we both clean our own stuff.
- Lisa Kolesnik, 20

Dinnertime Ended When I Left Home

Right now, I eat dinner with about 30 women a night. I am in a shelter and we all have a set time for dinner. If you dont eat at that time, then you dont eat.

Its a lot different from when I was younger, because back then I ate with my family and my mom would cook for us. It normally went like this: My mom would go to the store and buy a lot of food, but not junk food, actual stuff you could make into a healthy meal. She would buy a lot of chicken, dont ask me why, I guess it was her favorite meat. She would buy fruit, vegetables and a lot of other stuff. Every night we would have a three-course meal, like chicken, potatoes and green beans. Back then, I was a lot healthier and in better shape than I am now. To me, dinnertime meant a time that we would get to talk about our days and our problems, or who we liked or didnt like. It was just time that I spent with my sisters and brother and I liked it.

When I was 16, I moved out. When that happened, I was eating at McDonalds a lot, because a cheeseburger was $1, and when you only have $20 you cant spend $5 on a pack of chicken. The money that I did have for food would go much further at McDonalds then at Luckys.
- Anastasia Freeman, 18

Weve Tightened Our Food Budget
I don't really have dinnertime at my house. Nobody is ever at home at that time, since we are all working people. Sometimes my mom leaves food cooked for me, but usually I'm at work eating something or just going out to eat with a friend. The only time my family ever really sits down to eat dinner would be on special occasions like Christmas, birthdays or Thanksgiving, because that's when we have time for each other.

My mother is from Nicaragua, so we usually eat Nicaraguan food. She likes gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together), with chicken or beef. I don't like leaving the dishes for my mom to clean, since she has done all the cooking.

The way the economy has been heading, I think it's been rough for my family mainly for my mother who is a single working parent. She doesn't make enough to support two kids and a household. So she has to cut down on some budgets. I don't really mind her cutting down on the food budget, because I understand our situation. As long as my little sister has food in her mouth, I'm cool.
- Karla Serrano, 17

There is No Dinner Ritual in a Shelter

Dinnertime for me is not something that is pleasurable. I dont have any rituals or anybody to cook for me. I live at a shelter, so I try not to be there that much. If I want to eat dinner, then most of the time I will just buy something or eat a Cup-a-Noodle or ramen or something like that.

When I was little I used to eat with my family sometimes, but most of the time we never really ate together and never really had any set time to eat. Everybody was pretty much on their own to find what they wanted to eat and cook it for themselves.
- Chris Tamaru, 18

Watching Our Food Budget

Dinner in my home is not a family gathering. The food gets cooked and whoever is hungry eats when they want. If there isnt anything cooked, then you warm up whatever you want when youre hungry. The only day that we all eat together is on Sundays. Every Sunday, since I was young, its tradition to help cook, clean, and eat at the same time. We might not all be at the table, but were all eating.

In our house, we eat chicken and beef and rice. We eat Samoan food like taro, sapasui, and bananas. We also eat a lot of frozen burritos, cereal and Top Ramen. If the food is cooked, my step mom cooked it. After everyones done eating my step mom, my little cousin, my step moms little sister, or me clean up. We get our food at Foods Co. most of the time.

Dinner has changed considerably because of the economy. When I was young, I ate whatever I wanted because money wasnt an issue. Now, were watching our budget and we eat whatever is in the kitchen. We try to eat whats cooked and when there isnt anything cooked, then we eat frozen foods. We eat leftovers the next day if there are any. We also recycle cans and bottles, which is something we never did when I was growing up.
-Dazy Fuamatagi Afalava, 21

TV Dinners

My family eats dinner together in front of the television, either watching horror movies or comedies. This tradition of eating in the living room in front of the TV has been going for as long as I can remember. Home cooked meals usually come once or twice a week, but usually its take-out night Round Table pizza, Chinese food, Subway sandwiches and any other fast food place you can think of. My mother is usually drained from work, so she doesn't have the time nor the energy to cook for me and my little brother. She used to say, Thank the good Lord for McDonalds, and now that were older we don't really need her to cook anything for us. Knowing that cooking isnt often done in my house, my mom buys microwavable food for us if we get hungry during the week like frozen buffalo wings, frozen fish, and frozen burritos.
- Sean Shavers, 17

Scraping Food
Honestly, I have to say that dinnertime isnt a matter for me, meaning I dont have a specific time to eat. I dont eat with friends or family. Some nights Im fortunate to scrape some food off of someone else like last night I had two sausages at my partners house around 8 something, then I had two Cup-a-Noodles later on. Right now, at this point of my life, I hope to always receive a plate no later then 6:30 p.m. Dinner is always an issue I mean who doesnt get hungry? I just thank God Satan hasnt pushed me to do something off the wall just to receive my last meal.
- Mike Wright, 22

Not Like the Farm Anymore
I live with my sister now and we both eat at separate times, and cook our own food. I usually cook at home and almost never eat out. Sometimes Ill make dinner with our roommate Shannon because we eat the same foods. My sister is a vegan and only eats raw food. This is different from living with my parents back in Vermont, because we would all eat together and my mom would make dinner. Now dinnertime means making a salad and eating it. I buy my food at Trader Joes and usually get such things as cereal, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, salad etc. We all take turns cleaning up the kitchen after dinner.

At home it was easier because I live on a farm and we grow our own food, like vegetables and fruit. We also raise cows, pigs, and chickens and they are our meat source. I dont really eat meat a lot though, only chicken and fish. I stopped eating beef and pork a while ago because I just dont like it. I think because of the economy I dont go out to eat as often and am not as wasteful as before.
-Aliza Pickering, 16

Dinnertime Aint Special

I live with my mom and my brother and we rarely eat dinner together. Sometimes, one of us will cook, but usually my mom is tired and she goes straight to sleep after she gets off work, so she really dont cook, and my brother and I arent around so much. If one of us does cook, its usually pork chops, steak and chicken, sometimes spaghetti. We eat the same meals every week. My mom buys the food and she shops once a week at Wal-Mart or PakNSave.

Usually when Im hungry, Ill just go find something to eat like Jack in the Box or McDonalds or Burger King or a Burrito truck or something. Or I just eat some snacks from the store.

No matter who cooks at home, I gotta watch TV or sit down and relax or something. Its cool. But mealtime dont really mean nothing to me. Its just eating. It aint special. I dont feel like the way we eat has really changed that much with the economy, but the way I dress has been affected.
- Damarius Brown, 18

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