In our home, mealtimes are a really important part of our family time. For breakfast and dinner, the four of us sit down together every single day, and eat as a family. We say grace, (even Reuben holds hands with us, bangs our hands up and down as we say the familiar words, and pronounces ‘A-men!’ at the end), and interact together as we eat our meals. The children eat what we eat and when we eat. At lunch, I sit down to share a meal with the kids too. It’s just what we do.
Growing up, my family did the same. I maybe didn’t value it in the same way when I was in highschool, being woken up at 5.30am so that we would have time to get ready for school, have family breakfast at 6.30am and be out the door and off to the bus at around 7am. We would hold hands and say grace, and have a family devotion when we finished eating. Family dinners always happened around the table, with the TV off. They still do, at my family’s house. Dinner around the Buma Table is a Thing now, and so many of our friends love to be a part of it. My family eats great food, and has great conversation that almost always ends up littered with raucous laughter and borderline inappropriate jokes. But it’s so much fun.
When Pete and I first got married (and both moved out of home for the first time), we did get into a habit of eating our breakfast and dinner on the couch together, while watching TV. When I became pregnant with Mayana, we talked about it and made the decision that this was a habit we had to break when she arrived. And it was such a natural thing to do once she was born. Even when she was a tiny baby we would have her in her lay-back highchair up at the table with us, and as soon as she was eating proper foods she would join us properly at meal times. We have very rarely had the television on during mealtimes since, and we never watch TV in the mornings anymore.
I remember being on a teaching practicum once and talking to the kids about healthy eating habits. We talked about where we eat dinner, and I was genuinely shocked at the number of kids who proclaimed to never eat dinner at the table. Literally more than half the kids (who were around 8-9 years old) always ate dinner from their laps or the floor in front of the TV. Admittedly, we do that on occasion, as a special treat if we are having a family movie night or something, but I know it will never, ever be a normal thing in our household. On one level this could just be out of pure selfishness, because I really do value the concentrated quality time our family gets to experience when we sit down together to share a meal. There are no distractions (other than our food I suppose) and we get to talk, catch up or plan our days, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company. But on another level I really do think that it promotes lots of positive habits and healthier choices to our kids.
I can reflect on this as a person who experienced family mealtimes throughout my growing up years, and also as a mother who also provides the same experience to her own children. Eating together as a family provides an opportunity every day (for us twice a day) for concentrated conversation, where attention is divided only between the people who are at the table together. It’s bonding-time at its best, and most definitely promotes family unity.
There are simple things, too, like table manners. Something that I think is disappearing a little from general society. And if my prac class’s mealtime habits are any kind of indication, it kind of makes sense for people to not have table manners when they’re not eating at a table! Dinner around the table is where we learned the little things like to not chew with your mouth open, and not to have your elbows on the table (I still don’t really get that one, although I have been known to say it to Mayana!!), not to interrupt people mid-conversation (although my family is a terrible example of this… we talk over the top of each other all. the. time, it’s just how we roll!). Mayana has learned already how to properly set the table, with the knife to the right of the plate and the fork to the left, and she also helps to clear the table and tidy up after the meal.
When I was searching for the image at the top of this post, I keyed into Google “families that eat together stay together” and dozens of articles appeared, full of research and quotes and statistics attesting to the truth of the statement. Plus, eating together, talking together, laughing together… it’s FUN!
A few weeks ago, my family celebrated the 50th birthday of my dad and the 21st birthday of my sister. Many of their individual friends and our family friends who jumped up to the microphone to honour them with speeches spoke about our family, our togetherness and hospitality, the way we welcome anyone in not just as a guest but to become part of our family. And pretty much everyone who spoke of these things referenced the way we have dinner together, because most of them have at some point (or maaaaannny times) shared a crazy meal around our table. I LOVED that. It made me so proud, and so much more determined to embed that tradition into our children, and make it a key element of the way that my own little family works, too. I have some great role models in my parents on how to make a family great, and I know that this is one simple thing that can have a huge impact on my family, and our togetherness.
Are mealtimes important in your family? Do you eat around the table often or just for special occasions? Maybe you could challenge yourself to make a point of eating together every night for a week, and see what effect it has on your family dynamic.