The Hour That Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal

The Hour That Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781414337449
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 09/06/2011
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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the Hour that Matters Most

By Les Parrott Leslie Parrott Stephanie Allen Tina Kuna

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Les and Leslie Parrott and Dream Dinners
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-3744-9

Chapter One

Creating the Safest Place on Earth

Home is an invention on which no one has yet improved. ANN DOUGLAS


It was a typical November day in the Pacific Northwest: gray and damp outside, and cozy inside. My daughter, Karlene, was home for the first time since leaving for college. We drove up to Anacortes, Washington, on Fidalgo Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, where my parents live. Along the way we picked up Karlene's "grammy," my mom's mom.

There we were, four generations together, in the kitchen making dinner. With a tea towel over my shoulder and the palms of my hands covered in flour from rolling the dough that would soon become flaky biscuits, I peered into the living room to spy Dad building a crackling fire in the fireplace.

As we gathered around the table that evening, all seemed right with the world. I was home—the safest place on earth. And I realized this feeling is what family is all about.

* * *

When you're home, you want to breathe deeply, lower your shoulders, and relax. There's a feeling of belonging, acceptance, and contentment. At least there should be. Healthy homes—homes that function as they should—refresh, recharge, and renew. They become places where children's identities find flight and values take root.

For Stephanie Allen, her own home was none of these things. As a busy working mom of two active kids, it was all Stephanie could do to keep up with the demands of the daily schedule. Church youth group, soccer practice, and school activities meant lots of time in the car, and very little time for real interaction among family members.

Stephanie longed for the kinds of relationships she remembered with her own parents and sibling when she was growing up: relationships built on conversation and connection—often forged around the dinner table. She remembered the way her family would linger after a meal just to talk and catch up, and she wished her own family could do the same. But after a long day at work and a couple of hours shuttling kids from one activity to the next, who had time for making elaborate meals? Some days it was all she could do to keep up with everything and get a meal on the table for her family. She realized that she needed a game plan.

Stephanie started meeting with a friend once a month to assemble meals for their families. "It was a great time for us to talk and laugh," Stephanie remembers. "And at the end of the day, we each had a month's worth of meals in our freezers, ready to pull out when we needed them. One less thing to stress about." Those monthly "assembly days" provided a sense of liberation from the dreaded daily chore of scrambling home after work to pull together a wholesome dinner for the family.

This practice continued for seven years, and before long, other friends were asking for tips to help them do the same. In 2002, Stephanie decided to host a "monthly meal-prep night" with a group of friends. The response was overwhelming, and it didn't take long for Stephanie to see that she wasn't alone in her desire to share home-cooked meals with her family. After that first night, friends started talking to friends, and e-mail requests for more events started pouring in.

"So many moms are working hard and trying to keep up, but it's really difficult," she says. "The bottom line is that we just want to raise great kids." As it was turning out, the practical solution to getting a regular meal on the dinner table was helping Stephanie and her friends to do just that. "Suddenly, we were having conversations with our kids like never before. They were opening up and lingering around the table. The dinner hour was quickly becoming the hub of our home." And Stephanie was hearing similar stories of building stronger family connections from the other women in the group too.

Without knowing it, Stephanie and her band of "sisters" had stumbled onto the power of an age-old practice that has been slowly slipping into extinction. Like so many other women in twenty-first-century families, Stephanie had all but given up on having a regular dinnertime with her family before she tried her assemble-and-freeze method. But getting a meal on the table without undue stress wasn't the biggest discovery. No, Stephanie and her friends had tapped into a power that gets to the heart of a healthy home—a power that creates the safest place on earth.


Chicken noodle soup, meat loaf, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread pudding, brownies, doughnuts, apple pie. These are commonly referred to as "comfort food," and with good reason. Most of us find great comfort in a tasty meal we've grown up with, a meal that doesn't have to be explained by Gourmet or Saveur magazines.

But true comfort, the kind that heals emotional hurts and turns around bad days, involves far more than our palates. One dictionary defines the word comfort as "a feeling of relief or encouragement," or "contented well-being." A quick review of the word's origin, though, uncovers a deeper meaning. We get the verb to comfort from the Latin com- + fortis, meaning "to make strong" (that is, like a fortress).

So to comfort literally means to make someone stronger. And that's exactly what you do for your children. Comfort fortifies their spirits. Whenever you encourage your children with uplifting words, console them with a tender touch, relieve their sorrow with your mere presence, support them with heartfelt praise, or provide a wholesome meal and the love that's served with it, you are helping to make your children strong.


If you could press a magic button to instantly strengthen your home, what would it do? We don't mean the physical house. We mean the feeling, the chemistry, and the climate of the relationships within it. We're talking about the spirit of your home.

Would you want it to include more laughter? Meaningful and engaging conversations? Vulnerability and respect? Mutual support? These are the things most parents mention. And if you're like the hundreds of parents we've surveyed, you're likely to sum up the desire you have for your home by saying you want it to be the safest place on earth.


Thriving families don't just happen. Merely going with the flow or taking what comes is fatal to the heart of a home. Healthy and happy families are the result of deliberate intention, determination, and practice. Every family expert will tell you that a healthy home is the result of a proactive parent.

The largest study ever done on family life was conceived on Interstate 40 where it runs through the rolling hills of Oklahoma and the prairies of western Texas. That's where University of Alabama professor Nick Stinnett was driving with his wife, Nancy, when, in the midst of their discussion on families, he determined to find out what healthy homes were doing right. Up to that point, family researchers were focused exclusively on dysfunctional and fragmenting families. Dr. Stinnett wanted to take a different approach. He wanted to know how people in healthy homes handled conflict and power struggles. He wanted to know how they communicated, and so on. In short, he wanted to know the secrets of healthy families.

That was in 1974, and his study took more than twenty-five years and involved more than fourteen thousand families who were ethnically diverse, had many kinds of religious beliefs, and came from all fifty states and twenty-four countries around the world. The one thing these families had in common was a thriving, successful, and strong family unit.

What did the world's largest, longest, and most comprehensive study on family life teach us? First, that thriving families are not immune to trouble. They suffer financial setbacks, chronic illnesses, and all the rest. But in spite of the strain and stress of daily life, they create pleasant, positive places to live where family members can count on one another for support, love, and loyalty. They unite to meet challenges and solve problems. They pull together. They feel good about themselves as a family and have a deep sense of belonging with each other, a sense of "we-ness." At the same time, they encourage each person's uniqueness and potential.

In practical terms, the study found that thriving families share six qualities. These are the "secrets" of creating the safest place on earth:

1. Commitment: Members of strong families are dedicated to promoting one another's welfare and happiness. They prize their family and value the relationships.

2. Appreciation and Affection: Members of strong families are thankful for each other. They don't take their special relationships with one another for granted.

3. Positive Communication: Members of strong families spend a lot of time talking freely with one another, doing their best to be understood and to understand.

4. Time Together: Members of strong families spend generous amounts of time with one another— quality time—creating memories and building bonds.

5. Spiritual Well-Being: Strong families, whether they attend formal religious services or not, have a sense of a greater good that gives them strength and purpose as a unit.

6. The Ability to Cope with Stress and Crises: Members of strong families are not fragmented by tension and trouble. They use those experiences to learn and grow together.

There you have it. Six qualities that healthy homes and thriving families all have in common. Look back over the list. Those qualities seem profoundly simple, don't they? But that can be misleading because the fact is, understanding what makes a healthy home is not the same as building one. That requires being proactive. And in the pressure cooker of our busy daily lives, being proactive is where most of us get bogged down. When emotions are frazzled, bills are mounting, and time is in short supply, doing something proactive can be the last thing on our minds.

But what if that doing were actually easier than you imagined? What if it took less time and were simpler than you could even believe?

That's where the hour that matters most comes in. Countless studies have shown that if parents could take only one proactive and practical step to engender family commitment, appreciation, affection, positive communication, time together, and all the rest, it would be to establish a regular dinnertime around a common table without distraction. One hour a few times a week. That's it.


Have you ever given your children "the blessing"? Blessing someone says that you love and accept that person unconditionally. And that's exactly what you give your children when you tune in to their world over a family dinner or any other time. Similar to building them a campfire on a dark night, you draw them toward the warmth of genuine concern and love. And because of it, they'll be drawn to you years down the road.


Keeping the lights on when an older child is out for the evening sends a message that you care about your child, that you are waiting for him or her to return, and that your home is a welcoming and safe place. In the same way, a healthy home "leaves the lights on" by providing a safe place for the family to speak honestly and express their feelings without fear of condemnation. There are two ways a parent can keep the emotional lights on. Let's look at them briefly.

1. Stay Cool

Let's say your seven-year-old blurts out a few shocking words. Or your teenager starts talking about getting a tattoo. Or your twelve-year-old tells you of a plan to stay overnight with a friend you disapprove of. Whatever your child's shocking statement is, your job is to play it cool. Muster your inner strength, stay calm, and give yourself some time by saying something like "That's interesting" or "Tell me more about that." You may be cringing inside, but do your best not to show it. Giving yourself time helps to keep the situation from becoming a major argument or escalating into a shouting match.

The idea is to create a safe place—a place where your child feels free to say whatever is on his or her mind. You can probe, clarify, and explore, but the moment you pass judgment without listening is the moment your child begins to clam up. Of course, this doesn't mean you don't set rules and boundaries. It just means you let your child be heard before you lay down the law. It keeps tears and tantrums to a minimum and, in the process, earns your child's respect.

2. Keep a Confidence

What happens at the dinner table stays at the table—or in the car or wherever you have heart-to-heart conversations with your children. You may think that only adults prize the confidence of others, but it holds true for kids, too. All that needs to happen is for them to hear you talking about them to a friend, saying something that may seem harmless to you but is embarrassing to your children, and you have instantly lost trustworthiness in your kids' eyes.

Let's say your son tells you about feeling lonely on the playground or inadequate in art class. You're talking to your girlfriend about whatever comes to mind and you mention your son's name. He pricks up his ears even though he's on the other side of the room watching television. You don't give it a second thought as you tell your girlfriend how your heart is breaking for him during school recess. Your son immediately turns off the tube, goes to his room, and closes the door. What just happened? you wonder. He might tell you at some point. Then again, he might not. He may just decide then and there not to talk to you about his feelings again. Like everyone else, he wants to know that his confessions are held in confidence. If they're not, home doesn't feel so safe anymore.


Without knowing it, Stephanie and her band of "sisters" had stumbled onto the power of an age-old practice that has been slowly slipping into extinction. Before trying her fix-and-freeze method, Stephanie, like so many other women in twenty-first-century families, had all but given up on having a regular family dinnertime. Darting in and out of fast-food joints between work, school plays, and soccer practices, Stephanie didn't realize that she was forfeiting more than just a wholesome meal. However, as she began practicing the fix-and-freeze method, it dawned on her that she was beginning to gain the most treasured sixty minutes of her day.

Late one night, after a group of moms had gone, Stephanie and longtime friend Tina Kuna were up to their elbows in soapsuds. They began talking about the positive difference their little system was proving to make and wondering where it might go. After all, neither felt right turning anyone away. Yet they were getting more requests than they could handle. As it turned out, what began as an attempt to draw their own families together around the table eventually led to a partnership with each other and the founding of a business they call Dream Dinners, a fix-and-freeze company reaching more than one million families each year.


Dream Dinners was founded with a mission of bringing families together around the dinner table. Food and families are at the heart of everything Dream Dinners does as they provide guests who visit their locations with all the ingredients they need for a great meal. Dream Dinners offers freedom from the hassles surrounding the planning and preparation of meals night after night and allows families to come together at the end of the day to eat a delicious, healthy meal. Little could Stephanie and Tina have known just how powerful that one hour around the table would be—both for their own families and for so many others.


Excerpted from the Hour that Matters Most by Les Parrott Leslie Parrott Stephanie Allen Tina Kuna Copyright © 2011 by Les and Leslie Parrott and Dream Dinners. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Once upon a Mealtime....................ix
1. Creating the Safest Place on Earth....................1
2. The Family Meal: Why Bother?....................15
3. Recovering the Lost Art of Eating Together....................31
4. The Heart of Great Table Talk....................47
5. How to Listen So Your Kids Talk....................61
6. Curbing Conflict at the Table and Beyond....................77
7. Enjoying More Laughter....................95
8. Cultivating Deeper Values....................107
9. Instilling Gentle Manners....................129
10. Counting Your Blessings....................145
11. Starting a Fix-and-Freeze Club....................159
Conclusion: The Good-Enough Family Meal....................167
About the Authors....................179

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The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
elbiddulph More than 1 year ago
Part parenting guide, part cookbook, part therapy, the book helps parents "nourish and nurture" the family through regular shared meals. There is also a storyline that threads through the book, based on the lives of Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, founders of Dream Dinners. The book starts out explaining the benefits of a shared family meal. Healthier meals, real conversation, good company, laughter, stronger bonds; all outcomes of a family meal. Much of the book provides tips on how to have good table talk; starting a conversation with your kids, the importance of listening, how to curb conflict, how to share more laughter how to instill values and thankfulness. Throughout the book are easy and delicious recipes; Chicken Fajitas, Sloppy Joes, Garden Patch Soup, Mac & Cheese, Sausage and Potatoes and several more. Further inspiration is shared through quotes about families and parenting, and numerous short stories interspersed throughout the book. One of my favorites is the very first one: "Other things may change us, but we start and end with family." -Anthony Brandt If family and food are on your list of favorite things, buy this book! I think it would also make a great gift for a young family, just starting on their journey of family meals. Note: A free copy of this book was made available to me through the literary agent. In no other way was the content of this post influenced. The opinions listed here are entirely my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recently read "The Hour that Matters Most" by Les & Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen & Tin Kuna. I have read several books by the Parrotts and was excited to delve into what they considered the importance of dinnertime. Staggering statistics reveal that the idea of a family eating together at the dinner table on a regular basis is quickly becoming a dying concept. Recently married, I have been on both sides of this issue. Growing up, we always ate what was the quickest to prepare, frequently fast food, in front of the t.v. The only time I really remember eating at our dining table was when we had guests over or it was an important holiday, such as thanksgiving. When my husband and I married, we decided that we would not allow ourselves to become the typical American family today. We wanted to cherish our time together by having quality conversations and creating lasting memories with our children. We promised to always eat together at the table, except by rare occasions something special was occurring. We've loved it and really enjoyed it. With a young child, and another on the way, I've become less proficient though at creating wholesome, well-planned meals, which why I was very excited to read this book. One of the chapters is about freeze and fix-it meals, something I have long wanted to do with my family. It motivated and encouraged me to start planning meals ahead, so when things get crazy, my family isn't eating frozen prepacked meals made by a company, but rather something good I created. This book is great, although I defiantly think it would be better for someone with older kids. I felt as if I couldn't relate to many of the chapters because my daughter is so young: "cultivating deeper values," "how to listen so your kids talk," "curbing conflict at the table". Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, sub authors, own a prepare and freeze it company, "Dream Dinners" and I felt throughout some of the book their company was pushed forward a little too much. They did include some recipes in this book, but I think I would be more willing to share this book with others had there been more. Overall this is a great book for a working mom who is desiring to have home-cooked, nutritious meals but just needs a little motivation and encouragement.
rtwins More than 1 year ago
Before fast food ruled the world, people used to sit around the dinner table, leisurely eating home-cooked meals and enjoying good discussions, laughter, debate, and uninterrupted conversation. After all, there weren't many options. But that all changed beginning in the late 1950's when a few self-made men in Southern California defied conventional opinion and began setting up stands where people could buy food on the go. From their cars. Fast. It wasn't long before the fast-food industry transformed not only our diet but our landscape, economy, workforce, and culture. ~ excerpt from The Hour That Matters Most How often each week does your entire family gather around the table for a meal? When I was a full-time teacher, I asked this question during the first Parent-Teacher conference. The answer spoke volumes, providing information about the structure and schedule of that child's family. The authors discovered the impact that something as simple as sharing a meal together can have on a family. Reasearch shows that and hour each day around the dinner table can really bind a family together and help you raise happy healthy kids. The Hour The Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna was written to help families begin the habit of family meal time. It is also the inspiring story of two mothers who founded Dream Dinners, a business whose goal is to bring families together through easy meal preparation. This book's focus is not nutrition or healthy eating, although that is mentioned as a fruit of family dinners. Instead, the focus is giving you ideas, schedule and cooking plans, and recipes to bring your family together for one hours each day. Remember that this family meal does not have to be in the evening. If work schedules or activities prevent the family evening meal, why not make breakfast, or lunch, the family meal. The ideas in this book are very doable, easy to understand, and easily put into practice. Concluding each chapter, Stephanie and Tina share a delicious recipe. I am looking forward to making them for my family in the near future. This book includes ideas to: ?make the family table a safe place ?reasons to have family meals ?how to recover this lost art ?how to have great conversations ?how to really listen to your children ?ideas to curb conflict ?how to laugh during meals ?cultivation deeper values ?instilling gentle example ?counting blessings ?encouragement to begin a fix-and-freeze club in your area Do you need a little assistance and new ideas for family meal time? This book is for you. If you already have regular family meals, or need a jump-start, read this book to bring inspiration to your most important hour of the day. Your family will thank you!
Nene3 More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like The Hour that Matters Most a lot more than I did. That's not to say that it is a bad book, in fact it is most definitely not bad at all. The premise behind the book is excellent - that the dinner hour is the most valuable hour a family can spend together. Subjects range from talking to your children, instilling manners, and cultivating dinnertime wisdom. The authors talk about how the dinner table should be a safe place for your children, a respite from the world that they can come to each and every day. I really appreciated the psychology behind why eating as a family is so important, I have to say that I agreed with almost everything the authors said. Still, I feel like the authors fell a little short of the mark in the actual execution of the book. It basically reads like a magazine, with little tidbits here and there that gloss over issues but provide no real subject depth. At times it felt as if I were reading article after research, let's just say that cohesiveness is not this book's strong point. I was also disappointed with the scant recipes that were offered. For some reason I was left wanting more ideas of how to create meals that the family actually wants to sit down for. For some people the hardest part about family dinners are the meals themselves. The Hour that Matters Most does offer wonderful ideas for creating a happy family mealtime. I find it hard to fault a book that is trying to resurrect the long lost art of eating dinner as a family. If anything, this book does a great job convincing the reader that it absolutely does matter whether you sit down to eat with your children. I cam away convinced of the value of eating together and determined to continue this practice within my family. If you're interested in why this is so important, or just need a kick in the pants to get started, this book is for you. Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I learned a lot from this book. It is worth reading
QueenJody More than 1 year ago
I've always believed that dinner was important. Some of my favorite memories of growing up are from sitting around the dinner table, talking & laughing so I was happy to find a book that encouraged others to do the same. As a parent I had been struggling to have a set dinner time for my girls because of how important I thought/knew it was, so after reading this book I found myself working harder to make family dinner time happen. The recipes were easy and wonderful to have on hand. They are also recipes that children can help to cook, if they are interested in that kind of thing. If you read this book for nothing else than the recipes, it's worth it.
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