We all know the importance of family mealtime, yet in today’s world, it just seems to be getting harder and harder to make time for it. Long hours at the office, after-school activities, homework, tend to keep us all apart, eating leftovers from the fridge, or warming up frozen dinners alone and different schedules. And there seems to be absolutely no time to cook a balanced meal, let alone get everyone unplugged and at the table together.
Eating together as a family has incredible benefits. It’s a time for communication, for bonding, for stress relief. It’s when kids can try new foods, learn table manners.
Just as importantly, it’s a time when your kids can watch the most important people in their lives interact. How you and your partner treat each other, how you speak to each other, respect each other and help each other, sets the foundation for their future relationships. Mealtime is the perfect opportunity to teach them these values, by showing as opposed to telling.
Ok, I already knew most of that, you say. But how realistic is it to think you can get your family to actually be at home at the same time every day? Not to mention the challenge of someone cooking a well-balanced meal. Here are a few simple ways to make the dream of family meal a reality.
It doesn’t have to be every day
First of all, it doesn’t have to be dinner and it does not have to be every day. Set a Saturday lunch date, a Sunday dinner, a Friday breakfast, whatever works for you, and make sure everyone in the family understands that this is just as important as a playdate, a work meeting, basketball practice or ballet class. If not more so. Tell them why. And make it an actual date.
Second, get everyone involved. It’s much easier and quicker to cook when you’re not doing it alone. Discuss what you’re going to eat together. Look up some healthy recipe ideas. Kids love to help in the kitchen. If yours are old enough, ask them to help you chop the veggies. If they’re younger, let them wash the potatoes, snap the asparagus stalks in half, help set the table. If your partner is the barbequing type, let them contribute by grilling the meat, fish, poultry. If not, ask them to cut the salad, or supervise and help out with whatever the kids are doing. Yes, this may result in a mess, but this mess is fertile and precious, and you can always clean it up together.
Mealtime is not screen time
Make sure everyone understands that mealtime and screen time don’t match. When everything is ready and everyone is seated, make sure that electronic devices are in the next room. Turned off. Eating takes less than an hour, so unless you or your partner are expecting something extremely urgent to come beeping into your phones, the unplugged rule applies to everyone. And then you talk. Whether it’s about your daughter’s favourite toy or your partner’s office crisis, or the stain on your black pants, or the saltiness of the mashed potatoes. It makes no difference. Just talk. And listen.
Don’t let it end here. There is one more step to a fulfilling meal; clean up. When everyone is done, and very likely the kids have run off in different directions before you had a chance to finish your food, get everyone back together. It’s time to clean up. One adult clears the table and stacks the leftovers in the fridge, the other runs water over the dirty dishes, while the kids grab the dish soap squeeze drops on the sponge and dishes, and watch magical bubbles make the grease disappear.
And there you have it. You’ve had a family meal, with all its benefits. We promise you, the family will be begging for more.
Got any tips on how to make family mealtime happen?