What comes to mind when it comes to eating with your family?
In this day and age, it is not easy to get the family to eat together. Everybody is under the same roof anyway and sees one another in and around the house. What’s the deal with having to dine at the same time? Is eating together as a family overrated? Why Eat Together?
Doing Double-Duty: Filling your Stomach & Catching up
Family meals are more than filling the stomach. Mealtime is a good opportunity to connect with one another. It is a space where the entire family can interact as a whole rather than one on one. Regular check-in cultivates relationships for children of all ages. Especially for the younger kids, family meals may be a time they look forward to seeing the rest of the family and a consistent routine they can rely on.
Teaching & Modelling
The family table is a dynamic ground for teaching and learning through observation and modelling. Children learn communication skills through expressing themselves and listening to the sharing of others. The same goes for cultivating healthy habits, such as good dietary habits, table etiquette and how to wait for one another. It can also be a place where values are instilled. When parents make regular mealtimes important in their schedule, it shows to their children that family is a priority. It models for busy teenagers that they can also learn to make the commitment despite their activities. Setting aside distractions such as the TV or phone also cultivates respect and attention to another. The mealtime can be the identifying factor that anchors everyone at the end of the day.
Studies and recent news advocate that regularity of the family mealtime is related to behavioural and social improvement. Kids who eat at the family table are less likely to be depressed as they have a regular avenue to share, gain support as well as garner a sense of belonging. Consistent parental presence also helps to deter destructive habits such as drinking and smoking.
What Can We Do to Have Successful Mealtimes?
Look at everyone’s schedules at the beginning of the week to identify regular mealtimes that can be shared. It can be once or twice a week. Expect that adjustments will have to be made to fit everyone in together.
Consider preparing some meals ahead of time such as freezing or using the slow cooker. The mealtime does not have to be a festive spread! Utilising recipes with similar ingredients in the week can help save on preparation time for consecutive meals. Different members may also help to set-up the table or warm up food. Preschoolers can tear lettuce, peel bananas and set the table. Older children can pour drinks, peel vegetables and scoop out rice. The family meal can be a simple affair that everyone takes ownership in.
Mealtime conversations should be pleasant and light-hearted. It is not a time to nag one another, confront problems or take out a person’s stress or anger. Refrain from reminding children of their assignments. Make the mealtime a place where members can relax and enjoy the time together.
The mealtime does not have to be cast in stone. For example, the family meal can be breakfast if it is what suits everyone best. It can be Thursday night for this month and Sunday lunch for next month. On days when it is not possible to cook, buying dishes to eat together is also a convenient option. Even with planning, it may not be possible for all family members to dine together at every meal. If you are absent at mealtime, encourage your child to sit with you when you eat or vice versa.
Setting a family meal routine may not be easy and may even not work out at times. Don’t get too discouraged ultimately what is important is the team effort to prioritise the family and the quality time spent together.
The simple ritual of eating together yields tremendous benefits for every family member. As the children grow older, this will be a much more difficult task to accomplish as projects and extracurricular activities seep in. Especially when the children are young, utilise these fleeting years to dine together as much as possible. You will never know the magic weaved at the family table until you experience it for yourself!
By Som Yew Ya
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine