Why Eating Together as a Family Is so Important for You and Your Children!
I grew up in a large family where evening dinners and Sunday lunches were the norm. In fact Sunday lunches often included extended family: grandparents, aunts and uncles. My parents had their own business (still do) and worked hard for their family. Mum would come rushing through the door of an evening and throw herself into preparing a nutritious family meal: always a good cut of meat and plenty of vegetables. We also enjoy pasta dishes and homemade meatballs or burgers as a treat. Saturday would be a steak dinner with all the trimmings and Sunday a full on roast lunch complete with apple pie and ice cream.
Conversation flowed albeit sometimes not the right kind of conversation for the dinner table especially where my older brother was concerned. There was always a bit too much laughter and a little swapping of food to the horror of my poor mother. My little sister would always spill something while the other one would be trying desperately to stay awake (neither of them ever changed). My older sister would engage in more appropriate meal time topics to the delight of my parents and eventually calmness would settled over the table encouraged by the rather convincing tone of my father.
Meal times as a family were very engaging and everyone usually had something to share. It was good to be together and chat about our different days: exchanging experiences was an important thing for us all growing up. Our family dinners were part of the moulding my parents used to instil etiquette and social skills. We grew as a young family and meal times were something we looked forward too. To this day that hasn't changed: there's just a lot more of us. Cooking and eating together as a family is the norm in my world but I realise it is not the norm for many and I don't understand why! I am not talking about hours around the table nor I am suggesting expensive or time consuming meals: cook up some pasta and sauce, stick a chicken in the oven, make omelettes and salad. I am talking about sitting down as a family and eating dinner together: I have heard all the excuses and they just don't add up.
Why Eating Together as a Family Is so Important:
Interacting as a family over a meal is a relaxed bonding session. Chatting about your day is very important especially for children. Sharing thoughts and ideas, expressing themselves and inadvertently letting their parents know how they are doing: in school with teachers, lessons, activities and with their friends and peers for example. Is your child enthusiastic and excited when talking about their day or are they quiet and uninterested or perhaps indifferent and aloof. There is much to be learned by sharing a meal with your child. Their personality and opinions can be drawn into conversation: your child may not talk a lot or care to express themselves put you will know that this is perhaps their way of addressing the world, maybe they are like you or another family member! Your child could be the life and soul of the party, a joker and an incurable messer and you will laugh along knowing they are just like your uncle or maybe this is a new and fun family trait.
Watching how your child behaves while eating can throw a light on how they are really doing. Not eating much or pushing food about and/or not engaging in conversation could highlight a problem. Your child may be anxious about something or someone. A change in their food behaviour could be related to a food disorder. I am not suggesting you watch your child with an eager eye across the table and analysis every little thing, no of course not, but you will notice things. And it is noticing your child that is the important thing. Children can be moody, changeable and unsociable but there is a big difference between your child growing up and your child suffering or being smothered by life. The consequences of not knowing about your child's average day, their friends and peers, their teachers and other adults in their lives could be detrimental to your child.
Eating together as a family encourages a healthy involvement in each others lives. Conversation while eating is far easier to do as apposed to sitting opposite each other and asking questions. Dropping a line of probing context or asking a question while also asking someone to pass the salt creates a relaxed environment. Conversation will flow easier and of course fun subjects and jokes can be enjoyed even planning things as a family at the weekend or chatting about movies, books or games. If eating together as a family is new to you, give it a go. I have no doubt that eating and engaging with your family with a little effort will become the key to conversation and more importantly add a little fun to the end of your day.
I understand only too well how work and extra school activities eat into our family schedules but you also have to be honest with yourself: you don't work seven nights a week and you don't work seven mornings a week. And this is where you have to make some effort to fit your family and your family eating time together. If you miss a few dinners catch up with lunches or breakfast. It is all about sitting down together and chatting about your lives. Make time for that! Knowing your child and how they spend their time will help you understand who they are and engaging with every day life on a regular basis will highlight changes in your child as they grow up and while many changes are very normal including the annoying ones some changes may need a little attention. And there is the key: family time.
Homemade Is Healthier: Meat Lasagne
Homemade Is Healthier!
Eating together as a family has another benefit: healthier eating. Making a home cooked meal is far healthier than buying ready meals or take out and less expensive too. There is no doubting that a roast chicken with vegetables is far cheaper than fast food alternatives as is a homemade lasagne or homemade meatballs and pasta or a stew. I could go on but the list is endless. I cook a lot and I shop around and I compare prices. You cannot buy fast food for a family of five cheaper than you can cook for a family of five. Take away pizzas or Chinese or Indian is not cheap. Ready meals in the shops are not cheap either most average two euros/pounds/dollars for a small portion.
Encourage your child to be involved when you cook. You will be surprised how much they love to eat something they've helped prepare: of course really easy meals can be fun too: chicken fajitas for a Saturday night help yourself supper, add some tortilla chips and guacamole for extra fun and follow with pancakes and ice cream. Sunday morning with strawberries and fresh orange juice followed by scrambled eggs on toast should keep everyone smiling.
Eating together is a big part of being a family. Preparing and cooking food can be rewarding when everyone helps bring the family meal to the table. My six year old loves making meatballs, and she does a great job. Her favourite thing is making sausage stuffing for our roast chicken on a Sunday. While she's busy with her hands she tells me all about her school, teachers and friends.
Occasionally I miss evening meals due to work but I fill those gaps with breakfast, lunch, snacks, picnics in the garden and even hot chocolate and cookies at night. What I don't miss out on is my daughters day and what's going on in her little life. The funny thing about kids: they don't always talk too easy but once they start they're even harder to stop. Of course, don't stop them, let them chat and listen: laugh with them; cuddle them; high five them; tell them you love them and always ask about their day. I know you don't, but never take your child for granted: children can be difficult, stubborn even mean but we all behave badly at times. Make sure your child goes to bed every night knowing that you love them more than all the trillions of stars in the sky. Let your child know that you are their safety net and that you will always catch them when they fall.
© 2019 Gabriel Wilson