In our household growing up, family meals were sacred. As kids, my sisters and I weren’t aware of how significant this tradition was. We just knew that it was expected that we would be sitting at the table when dinner was ready, all of us coming from separate directions to meet in one place to enjoy our meal together. Sometimes this was the only time that we were all together as a family. We used this time to catch up on each other’s lives, share the highs and lows of our day, and continue staying involved in each other’s lives as we grew and changed. This was especially vital when we were teenagers, when our words more closely resembled grunts and nods. A good meal had the power to open up our vocal chords to include a few words in between our caveman speak.
With my own family, I have continued this tradition. With the busyness of our schedules, there are some nights that we don’t sit down until 8pm. But as a rule, we are all together, using the table as a sounding board for everything that is going on in each other’s lives. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity to improve table manners, including appreciation for the meal and clearing the table when finished. It is when difficult situations at school are brought up by one of my kids so that we can tackle it together. It’s when we share a laugh, or discuss a frustration, or just go over the schedule for the week. Sometimes we even come up with a topic for the night and discuss it wholeheartedly together (Trisha Novotsky had some great suggestions for that in one of her forum posts). There is no TV on, cell phones and computers are put away, books and newspapers are not invited. It’s when we take a break from the go-go-go and enjoy a meal together in celebration of the tight-knit unit we have become.
Of course, family meals aren’t always the perfect picture of the Rockefeller family. For those of you with toddlers, I know you have a totally different image in mind. Noses turned up at what’s set before them, food being catapaulted across the room, their idea and your idea of when dinnertime should be a totally different time, mom or dad up and down during the mealtime to cater to each child’s needs. Believe it or not, this is when it is vitally important to insist upon family meal time. Toddlers learn from imitation, and if they are witness to what it looks like to eat a meal together, they have the opportunity to learn how to calm their mealtime antics and eat properly.
And as an added bonus, eating together can help fight obesity. Think about it, if you’re talking with each other during mealtime, everyone is eating slower. And your body has more time to process food and let you know when you’re full. Consider that piece of diet advice free of charge.
If your family has strayed from the tradition of a family meal, let me urge you to pick it back up. There is something magic about sharing and enjoying food with those you love around you. Celebrate your family, and gather around the table tonight!