Gone are the days when the family meal was an everyday ritual – the symbol of shared family life. Lack of time, work demands, busy social lives, scheduled activities of the children and moreover increased opportunities for eating away from home are among the factors militating against the practice of family meals.
Family life often comes with a busy schedule. It isn’t always easy to put a meal on the table and get the whole family to sit down together to enjoy it; but a regular and fixed family mealtime is worth the effort. Lunch has largely disappeared as a family meal, and breakfast may not be far behind as most of the parents report a lack of time to prepare breakfast for their children and kids not willing to drink the glass of milk every day.
Family Meal has firmly established itself as a cultural ideal, something to be aspired to and emulated – the ultimate symbol of perfect family unity and stability. Whether it’s the regular dinner or even a special Sunday lunch, sharing family meals gives everyone a chance to catch up, connect and communicate with each other. It organizes the family, regularly bringing family members together and contributing to their physical, emotional and social well-being. This can be especially important for busy older children and teenagers.
For young children, ‘table talk’ may be the main source of exposure to family conversation and the expression of thoughts, ideas and emotions.
The presence of a meal on the family table represents the outcome of time-consuming and skilled activities that involve both mental decision making and physical work. This work of “deciding and doing,” which applies to all steps of getting a meal, from planning menus to shopping, preparation and serving, is largely invisible and taken for granted.
While this work is still predominantly performed by women, men are increasingly taking on a larger role in family meal preparation compared to the past. Cooking a family meal can be an enjoyable and fulfilling task, but it also demands trade-offs in time, money and emotional capital.
With all the work involved, the provision of a family meal is a symbolic demonstration of the care of the meal provider. It may veer more toward love or toward duty, but it always shows commitment to the family group. By sharing meal-related tasks, from shopping to food preparation, table-laying and clearing-up, all family members can participate in this exercise of responsible family solidarity. Get everyone involved in meal preparation. Kids love to help to prepare food. Letting them help prepare food will help them feel valued and part of the family.
Turn off the TV and do not answer the phone during family mealtime. Instead use this time to talk, connect, and make memories together. It is a lesson your children will use for life.