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Bringing back Sunday dinner
A Southern tradition may see a resurgence with new generations
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When Sabrina Mitchell was growing up in North Carolina, there were two things that were guaranteed to happen on Sundays, no matter what.

"Our Sunday mornings were always spent in church and the afternoons were spent at grandma’s for a big dinner," said Mitchell, an Oakwood resident.

"Come rain or shine, we always had a big family dinner on Sundays. Sometimes my mom or my aunt would do the cooking, but we always gathered at my grandma’s for dinner."

With with today’s increase in technology, fast-food restaurants and other distractions, fewer families find themselves able to share meals on a regular basis.

Getting back in the habit of coming together for dinner on Sundays isn’t just an opportunity to build traditions; it’s also a chance to give kids a healthy foundation.

According to an article in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, children who share a meal with their families at least three times per week are more likely to be in a healthy weight range and have healthier eating habits.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse also reports that children who share a meal with their families at least five times per week are less likely to abuse or experiment with drugs and alcohol.

A Columbia University study in 2005 linked family dinners to improved school performance among children. Such research was the basis for a book by Miriam Weinstein, "The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier."

For Mitchell’s family, it wasn’t just the coming together that was a staple; the menu itself was a tradition.

"We always had fried chicken, some kind of peas, rice, greens and cornbread," Mitchell said.

"If it was Easter, there would be a ham, too. And we always, always had dessert. Most of the time it was pound cake or peach cobbler, but sometimes they would mix it up and somebody would bring a big coconut cake."

Eventually relatives moved, her grandmother passed away and the family dinners became fewer and farther in between, until they basically stopped.

"I miss those times," Mitchell said.

Her story isn’t an uncommon one. For many families, particularly in the South, the Sunday meal was a weekly ritual.

"When I was a kid, there was nothing like Sunday dinner," said John Steiner, a Buford resident.

"It was the highlight of the week because there always so much food and so much family. As I got older, everyone started their own families and started doing their own thing.

"We still get together for the holidays, but we don’t have big, weekly dinners anymore. Everyone is just too far away."

For those without extended families around to continue the tradition, there is an alternative. In recent years, some individuals and groups have decided to pick up the torch of Sunday dinners.

Elizabeth Fletcher, owner of I Do Events in Atlanta, has helped to organize a special "Sunday Supper" at Lake Rabun in Rabun County. Although attendees who gather around the dinner tables for the event in October are more likely to be strangers at the beginning of the evening, by the end of the communal meal everyone may feel more like family.

For the Rabun dinner, guests are invited to bring their favorite dinner plate and "gaudy" wine glass. Instead of grandmotherly figures, the farm-to-table meal will be prepared by area chefs. Local farmers will also be on hand to "discuss the goodness of locally grown food."

Sara Brown says home-grown produce is what got her back to her Sunday dinner roots.

"I didn’t start making a big fuss about Sunday dinner with my own family until a few years ago when I decided to start my own vegetable garden," said Brown, a Gainesville resident.

"Going out there, picking those tomatoes and okra reminded me of helping my grandpa pick stuff from his garden when I was a little girl. We were always so busy during the week, but on Sundays we always made time to go visit my grandparents.

"And when we went, my granny always had something good cooking. Those were special times and memories. I didn’t want my kids to grow up without those same kind of memories, so now we have a big, family meal every Sunday."