My Father’s Gift: Good Food, Great Memories

In honor of Father’s Day, Elizabeth M.Ward, M.S., R.D. reflects on the values her father instilled in her as a child, specifically the importance of healthy eating and family meal times.

Last month, in honor of Mother’s Day, I wrote about how my mother and my grandmother passed down their love of good food and healthy eating to me, and how I try to do the same for my three girls. My father was also an influential role model who, along with my mom, helped me learn to love a variety of foods and value family meals.

 When I was a child, most dads steered clear of the kitchen. Not mine. He loved to cook so much that I thought all fathers did! It wasn’t until high school that I found out otherwise.

When I was growing up, my family was slightly ahead of the curve because my mom worked full-time outside the home, just like my father did. While my mother did the grocery shopping and prepared most of the food, my father would often help with weeknight dinners by setting the table and getting the meal started. But his Sunday meals are what I remember best.

My dad thought long and hard about what to serve every week for the big mid-day meal, which often included beef, pork or poultry, a potato dish, and a variety of vegetables, including stuffed mushrooms, which he adored. (My mom made dessert.)

His Sunday dinners gave my mother a break from the lion’s share of food preparation. Dad always made more than enough food, and the leftovers provided a meal for the next day, a practice I follow to this day to take the stress off of weekday meal preparation.

His food was delicious, and his table manner excellent. He was a great conversationalist who liked to linger over a meal. Dad wasn’t particularly formal or militant, but he did require everyone to be seated before we began eating, probably in deference to my mother who was usually running around getting the last elements of the meal on the table.  My father savored his food, and he ate slowly, another beneficial habit I picked up from him. None of us left the table until he was done eating.

My father was ahead of his time in terms of the huge contribution he made to how I ate as a kid and how I eat as an adult. He was an adventurous eater and that made me want to try new foods, too.

These days, dads do more than ever for their children. With expanding roles as caregivers, who also grocery shop and prepare meals and snacks, dads play a big part in their children’s food choices. In some households, moms may still hold sway over what’s served, but don’t underestimate the power of dads, many of whom like to cook and play an active role in the kitchen.

My dad was far too young when he passed away years ago. Memories of great meals and good times are his legacy. Thanks, Dad!


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