12 Adults, 16 Kids, 8 Years of Family Dinners

[Ed. Note:  This post was written as part of the wonderful Blog for Family Dinner project, where it is cross-posted today. This month’s B4FD theme is “All Kinds of Families.” ]

On TLT I write a lot about the importance of family dinner, but I know all too well that for busy working families, getting everyone fed on a weeknight is often easier said than done.  Sometimes a little out-of-the-box thinking is called for.

That’s why I love this story of twelve adults and sixteen children who’ve been sharing a weekly “family dinner” together for the last eight years.

The 16 youngest members of the Thursday Night Dinner set, ranging in age from 3 to 12.

It all started when two sets of parents met through their children’s public school in Washington, D.C..  Another parent at the school, a Mediterranean chef, offered a “meal of the week” each Thursday as part of her catering business.  The two sets of parents — who happened to live across the street from each other — started buying and sharing the meal together.  Over time, three other families on the same street also bought the meal and joined in the  Thursday communal dinner.

But then the Mediterranean chef moved on.  Writes Sue, one of the original founders of Thursday Night Dinner:

We panicked.  We ordered pizza.  We ordered Chinese.  We ordered pizza again.  We wondered if we’d be able to keep it together.  Somehow, we did.  The food wasn’t as good, the planning wasn’t as seamless, but by this point Thursday Night Dinner was as much a part of our collective vocabulary and routine as school and work.

A replacement chef was hired to cook the Thursday night meal until he, too, moved on:

After two tragic breakups, we were resolved:  we weren’t going on the market again. We didn’t need a (wo)man to make us feel complete;  we had each other!  We had kitchens!  We had passable culinary skills!  We had no choice!

So, here we are, in themed pot-luck mode.  These 8 years have brought with them a few more kids, 1 new family added to the mix, and three moves off Fessenden Street, but we’re hanging in there.  And happily so.

As documented in a new weekly blog, Thursday Night Dinners, the group brings a spirit of quirky fun to the project.  For example, the first meal of 2012 had a Mayan theme, one meal was entirely raw, the next made entirely in Crockpots (including the beverage and dessert!), and there was even an homage to that 1980’s favorite, the Silver Palate Cookbook (entree: Chicken Marbella.  What else?)

Firecracker Chinese Nachos from a "Fusion"-themed dinner.

I asked Sue [full disclosure: a dear friend] about the ground rules for Thursday Night Dinner.  She told me that the families alternate hosting according to a set rotation, with the host family setting the week’s theme, preparing the entree and sometimes also a theme-appropriate cocktail.  The other families bring the rest.  No limits are imposed on spending and Sue acknowledged that the host family has to spend a fair amount to make an entree for 28 people.  On the other hand, she said:

In the long run, it probably saves us money because (1) we’re all cooking in bulk every Thursday, and (2) that’s one day of the week we’re always eating quality, multi-course meals and never, ever giving in to the lure of takeout or a restaurant.    It’s also one day a week with sustained adult conversation at dinner and free (i.e. built-in) babysitting, so maybe there are some hidden savings there.

Logistics aside, this sort of communal weeknight dinner seems like a great way to share the burden of getting a good meal on the table, with the added bonus of socializing with friends.

But whether you decide to partner up or go solo, be sure to check out the Thursday Night Dinners blog, which includes photos and recipes for most of the dishes served, along with amusing commentary.


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  1. Karen says

    We are doing something similar, with one other family, as a way to facilitate achieving the attendance requirements for certain 12 year old girls at CBS Friday night services this year. Every other week one family hosts Shabbat dinner and the other family attends CBS services with their daughter and this frees up at least one parent of the host family to bring THEIR daughter to CBS. I admit there was one time where I was hosting dinner and my daughter attended CBS without any of her parents and she came home with our partner family. So far so good! It’s great to read about such a large group of families doing a weekly dinner together.

  2. Mary says

    My mother just moved out of my house after six years. She had been an integral part of the attempts at family dinners during the week. We are now moving to one night a week to ensure we stick together as a family in some way shape or form. The story is very inspirational to me and I hope others find that it inspires them as well.

  3. O. Delancy says

    Heartwarming communal dinners are on the rise of late…at soup kitchens and shelters. You affluent food snobs wouldn’t know it, of course, but there is a serious economic recession burdening a large segment of our American society. No luxurious food snobbery for these downtrodden folks, they are just happy to be able to have a decent meal once a week. Why don’t you yuppie showoffs tone down the Thursday feast hoopla and make some serious donations to a couple of local food pantries, soup kitchens or shelters? That’s what most compassionate Americans want to read about. We don’t care to hear over-privileged folks bragging and rubbing salt in eyes of common folks.

    • Scott says

      Angst Soup

      – 2 lbs. LFTB – pre-processed – should be a lot available these days
      – 3 carrots, diced – pretty cheap or easily aquired at community gardens at night
      – 2 stalks celery, diced – see carrots
      – 1 onion, minced – please, everyone has onions
      – 1 potato, peeled & chopped – seriously… you folks are mostly midwest
      – mushrooms, chopped – free from the woods – just (please) don’t eat the ones that will kill you
      – seasonings – you probably have some in a cupboard somewhere
      – some filler – rice or pasta works good here

      Simmer LFTB in a pot with 6 quarts H2O (that’s water for most people), for several hours. Skim any FAT/scum/nastiness from the top of the broth. Remove whatever is left, separate any meat part and reserve. In a separate pot, saute (that’s a cooking term for using a small amount of oil in a pot over almost high heat to cook something) carrots, celery & onions with a bit of S&P (<-self-freakin-explanatory), and maybe an herb (basil, oregano, or thyme might be good here). About 4 minutes into it add the mushrooms, saute (our big cooking word we learned earlier) another 5 minutes. Add the reserved "meat", stir for a few, then add the "broth". Bring to a boil, add the potatoes. Reduce heat simmer for 1 hour, taste & reseason during that hour. While your soup is cooking, prepare the rice/pasta filler according to the box directions – minus 1 minute!!! Add to the soup ten minutes before the "1 hour" is up.

      Enjoy alone or bring to your favorite communal dinner!

  4. Scott says

    This is something I’ve always wanted to do. We seem to gain the momentum during the summer months, but after school starts back up it’s always difficult to maintain.

  5. Adam says

    I just love reading about over-privileged self-indulgent gluttons who are completely out of touch with economic realities lived each and every day by the majority of Americans. It does get the blood pumping!

    • Mary says

      Your complete lack of ability to see the article for what it is: peole sharing with one another for the greater good of that community as a whole, shows you as what you really are. A simple bigot.

    • Laura says

      How sad that people can be angered by the coming together of families to share a meal together.
      I wish you well –

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