Set the table

Family theme nights can make the idea of eating together more palatable

There is something profound, even mysterious, about the family meal. Piles of research show that kids whose families eat together on a regular basis do better in school, are less likely to drink, do drugs, suffer from depression and eating disorders, consider suicide, and are more likely to eat healthfully, delay having sex, and feel that their parents are proud of them.

Despite all that, sometimes families need a little push to get to the table. Establishing a “family night” is one way to make it fun.

First, establish some simple ground rules: Leave laptops, cell phones, televisions and all disruptive media turned off, except perhaps for some good music, which tends to enhance togetherness rather than detract from it—that is if you can all agree on what “good music” is.

Then, pick a theme. One idea is to choose a country—or have your kids pick the country and investigate its cuisine—then develop the menu. Perhaps choose some music and an after-dinner movie to accompany it. Bring out a world map or globe and have the kids find where the country is. A few examples.

Russian night

The menu: Borscht soup with rye bread

Words to banter around the table: Pazhalsta (“Please” and “your welcome”). Spaseeba (Thank you).

The music: Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Try Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty.

After-dinner movie: Fiddler on the Roof

TEX-Mex night

The menu: Chicken enchiladas with refried beans and rice, guacamoles and sour cream.

Words: Por favor (Please). Gracias (Thank you). Que rico! (That’s tasty!)

The music: Selena

After-dinner movie: Spy Kids, directed by Robert Rodriguez, a Tejano.

Italian night

The menu: Minestrone soup, pesto pasta and garlic bread

Words: Per fervor (Please). Grazie (Thank you).

The music: Giorgio Conte

After-dinner movie: Cinema Paradiso, the sweet story of a boy, an old man, their friendship and a love of film. (Italian with subtitles)

French night

The menu: Ratatouille

Words: S’il te plaît. (Please, the familiar version. The formal version is s’il vous plait.) Merci (Thank you).

The music: Edith Piaf, or for a more modern taste, try Zaz or Coeur de Pirate.

After-dinner movie: Watch how a rat made what you just ate in the children’s animated film Ratatouille.