What's the Big Deal About Family Meals?
When I was a child, I enjoyed our family meals. In my family, everyone was a big talker. It was hard to get a word in edgewise! Everyone had something to say about just about everything! My mom was a great cook, so we all enjoyed her home cooked meals. In the 1950’s when I was growing up, fast food hadn’t been served yet. We had many sit down meals every week. Believe it or not, a big treat was something brand new-- TV dinners! Frozen in aluminum trays, and heated in the oven, we did something revolutionary at the time. We watched our small black and white television while eating our Swanson’s turkey dinner on trays! Wow!
In those days, kids were expected to play outside and entertain themselves. We ate out rarely because we didn’t have much money and restaurant meals were expensive. Sports were less organized and more impromptu. There weren’t as many organized activities or classes.
But of course everything is different today. While we all honor and respect the age old “family meal”, sitting around the dining room table, eating on good china, with steaming bowls of mashed potatoes, vegetables, and meat loaf—this blissful family get together is rare. No one has the time.
More likely, Mom makes a pit stop at the kid’s favorite fast food spot, and hits the drive through. The kids are in the back seat scarfing down tacos, burgers, fries, or whatever they like. On better days, dinners at home might be eaten in shifts, depending on who is being picked up or dropped off. It is no surprise that childhood obesity has become epidemic.
And then, what about Mary? She’s a vegetarian and won’t eat meat. Michael is gluten intolerant and can’t eat spaghetti. Billy will only eat pizza and mac and cheese. Joey won’t eat meat, but will eat chicken. At least everyone loves dessert! And the list goes on. Mom and Dad might be preparing three different meals at every dinner!—not very relaxing.
A recent Harvard Medical School and NPR poll on family health reported the following findings:
“Most children are in households where a parent says it is important that the family eats together, but for almost half (46%) this is difficult to do – largely because of work for the adults and extracurricular activities for the children. The busy schedule of American families appears to be cutting into family dinners together. Among the children whose families did not have dinner together the night prior to the poll, the top reason was that an adult was at work (50% of this group). Children’s extracurricular activities (such as “participating in a team or club or taking music lessons”) played a role for 27% of children who themselves had such activities and for 31% whose siblings did”
Sound familiar? During these hard economic times, employed adults are working harder and longer hours in order to keep their jobs. Longer hours at the office mean fewer hours at home. Kid’s activities keep everyone on the road, especially around dinner time. So what can parents do?
Plan, organize, and insist on at least one meal a week where everyone eats together. This can be an opportunity to cook together, sit together, and clean up together. Kids with special dietary needs can help prepare their meal. It can create an opportunity to teach your children about meal preparation and cooking. It’s a great time to catch up with each other. It can also be a venue for family meetings, which are great ways of improving family life (more about family meetings in a future post).
Make it a family tradition and stick to it. Eventually everyone will look forward to an unhurried, relaxing meal at the family table. Check out an interesting piece on this subject on NPR.
What are your family meal rituals?