From Family Dinners to Family Diners

My mother is my hero. She worked every night at her local diner as a waitress to put herself through high school so she could afford college. Then she graduated top of her class as one of the few women in her program at the University of Iowa. She put in tireless hours each week at the office as a young lawyer until she grew into her own practice, which eventually led to her working fifty to sixty hour weeks. Something I will never forget is coming home from after school daycare and although she was tired from an endless day of work, she began to cook our family meals so it would be ready when my dad arrived home at six-thirty sharp. My parents, brother and I would then gather at our dining room table, say grace, and eat dinner together. We would discuss our days, our highs, lows, our on-going dramas, or good times with friends. When dinner was finished, my brother and I would clean the dishes (after much protest on who would wash or who would dry) and together we would turn on a family primetime comedy or our favorite show Jeopardy! These small daily routines became so ingrained in my brain that when I left for college in 2009, I realized that I missed these family dinners deeply. Whenever I would go to the dining commons, I would refuse to attend alone. Instead I would knock on almost every door of my friend’s dorm inviting them to join me for dinner, this way my family away from home could continue the tradition my mother had instill in me from childhood.

When I moved into my first apartment alone it was a turning point for me. I began to realize I did not need to eat with others. This is also when my bad eating habits began. I started eating a lot of fast food and junk food. As a young working professional, it was whatever food felt convenient at the time of purchase, which usually consisted of high carbohydrates, sugar and sodium. During this time my taste buds also evolved. Having grown up in the Central Valley where there are a limited number of choices in restaurants and having been raised on my mother’s Midwestern style cooking, my palate consisted of mostly meat and potatoes, and Mexican cuisine. While living in Sacramento, I began to experience Mediteranean, Japanese, Indian, Southwestern and many more styles of food. By expanding my palate, I realized although I ate out of convenience, I truly enjoyed finding foods I had never tried before to see what I would enjoy. I wanted to find a way to expand my palate and try new foods, but stay within budget.

Eventually, I began graduate school at California State University, Fullerton and again the opportunity to try new and exciting foods were before me. For the first time I tried Poke bowls, Korean BBQ, Ramen, Cajun, Fusion styles and so many more! Graduate school also showed me how much I began to miss my family style meals. In between undergrad and grad school, I had been living and working in Merced to help my parents with caretaking for my grandpa who passed away in 2017. During the three years I was home, I had countless family dinners, including some with my grandparents that built some beautiful memories. I believe that these wholesome memories are tied to wanting to eat in a family dinner like atmosphere. 

To combat this, I discovered a local diner in Fullerton where I visit once a week to do my weekly Homework readings. The staff know me now and allow me to stay in the diner for many hours and even greet me by name. This friendly and inviting atmosphere is only part of the reason I go. Diners have been a safe and inviting space to me growing up, and when I was older I would treat my grandparents to dinner at local diner called Paul’s Place weekly. The beauty of a diner is it serves something for everyone (breakfast, lunch or dinner). I have included photos of some of my favorite foods I get at local diners, they are larger portioned so I feel I am getting more for my money. Something else I enjoy about this diner, it is affordable and it is very “American” in it’s portions, which to me means there is enough food left over for lunch tomorrow. Finally, I enjoy that even though I am studying, I can look up anytime, and see a family sharing a special meal or a smile with one another. This comfort provides me with the atmosphere my mother provided me growing up, a shared, wholesome, welcoming environment where everyone can enjoy themselves and share their thoughts.

Fish and Chips, my Grandpa’s favorite dish, I usually order it on his birthday in honor of him.
French Toast is my favorite breakfast combo.
Sometimes you have to “treat yo self” to a sundae if it’s Sunday!
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