One hundred and eighty pairs of eyes stared at me as I stood in front of the microphone, hoping I didn’t look as nervous as I felt. But then again, I didn’t think that was likely, since INSIDE I was quietly passed out on the floor.

“Can anyone guess what I have in here?”

The ordinary box, covered in shiny silver paper, held something very marvelous, indeed. Something that could do the most amazing things, using only common household ingredients.  This mystery THING I held in my arms could lower a child’s risk of obesity—while increasing their vocabulary! It could help bully-proof a child by strengthening their resilience—and lower their risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and behavioral issues at school at the same time! But wait, there’s more! This THING could give children better grades—plus make Mom and Dad more satisfied in their marriage!

Families leaned forward in their seats, trying to catch a glimpse of this wondrous invention as I raised the lid. If I’d had a drum I would have rolled it. Reaching into the box, I slowly pulled out……an ordinary place setting of Corelle dinnerware.

“Awwww, it’s just dishes!”

I was here at Plentywood Schools’ Family Night to talk about The Family Dinner Project (, a grass-roots movement to encourage families to connect over the dinner table for Food, Fun, and Conversation. Study after study has shown that something as commonplace and ordinary as eating at least one meal a day together is one of the single most powerful interventions families can use to promote the health and long-term welfare of its members.

Just dishes? Not even close! I knew firsthand how powerful family meals could be.

Scene 1: The morning sun streamed through the windows as the intoxicating smell of fresh pancakes filled the house. It was a quiet Sunday morning, or at least it had been until the siren song of food awoke the four of us kids. Dinosaur stampedes made less noise than we did (I know—I’ve  seen Jurassic Park!) as we trampled each other, trying to be first to the table. Pancakes were my dad’s love language, and every Sunday became an impromptu competitive eating contest, with my broomstick-thin older brothers walking away the champions week after week. Winning didn’t matter anyway, because we all left the table satisfied, stomachs filled with a love we could taste and see.

Scene 2: My grandpa, an absent minded genius, was known as the King of Ice Cream. A child of The Depression, sweets had been a rare treat and he spent the rest of his life making up for lost time. On this occasion, Grandma and Grandpa were both over to our house for dinner. I don’t remember what was on the main menu, but dessert was going to be ice cream and we had all the toppings set out on the table—whipped cream, strawberries, sprinkles, chocolate and caramel syrup—the works. Grandpa was the slowest eater in the family, and quite possibly the whole world, so we were all well on our way through our own delectable piles of creamy deliciousness by the time he finished and headed out to the kitchen to make his own treat, heaped high with toppings.

After eating about half the bowl, he commented that his ice cream tasted a bit funny, and did ours taste okay? Further investigation revealed that he had filled his bowl with Blue Bonnet margarine from the tub still sitting on the table. AND THEN EATEN HALF THE BOWL BEFORE HE FIGURED OUT ANYTHING WAS THE MATTER! Thirty years later, we still collapse in helpless laughter at the mention of the advertising slogan “Everything’s Better With Blue Bonnet On It.”

Scene 3: Fast forward a few years, and childhood had been in my rear view mirror for quite some time. I was busy building my own home and family through an adoption journey full of ups and downs. Things weren’t always easy—in fact, it was a rough time for us, with lots of tough stuff. But no matter what craziness was going on in our lives any particular day, we still gathered around the cozy thrift store treasure I’d spent hours lovingly refinishing. Its shiny surface didn’t stay nice for long with three active kids in the house, but every dent, scratch, and chip became a visible memory of our lives. When it was time for us to move across the country, and many favorite possessions were sold or given away, there was no way that precious piece of furniture was staying behind! The very fabric of our family had been woven around that little table.

Just dishes? Just dinner?  No way.

Tina Kahrs
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Plentywood, MT