A New Year’s Resolution: Reinstating the Family Meal
The beginning of the year is synonomous with new beginnings, new habits and new resolutions.
As I proclaimed in my previous blog post, I’m not one to set resolutions. Rather, I prefer reflection. This particular reflection is close to my heart. In 2020, I witnessed my son’s independence grow exponentially due to COVID lockdowns.
The neighbourhood was suddenly quiet enough to allow the kids to ride around freely on their bikes. By the time lockdown was over, he had become so accustomed to spending his time like this that he has continued to ride around with his friends. He now takes himself to school and back on his bike. 2021 will see my daughter start Kindy. Our kids are growing up quickly. Before we know it, they too will have their own schedules and commitments (as if they don’t already!).
In our home, as with many others, it can be difficult to find time for the whole family to sit down at the dining table and enjoy a meal together. Any number of reasons seem to get in the way such as schedules that don’t coincide or meal times that don’t match practice schedules.
My reflection for 2020 was that we didn’t do family meals often enough. With the kids getting older, now is the best opportunity to make this a family ritual.
Like so many parents, I know that I really enjoy being with my family together at the dining table. It is a time for togetherness and cohesion over good food. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to check in with the kids and with each other. Often, the kids tell us stories that they probably never would have otherwise.
We’ve also noticed that our youngest listens intently. She is learning how to contribute with her own inputs. Meal times not only nourish her body but also support the development of her social and vocabulary skills. Family meals invite conversations that require a little more time. Our eldest will voice a frustration that happened at school and mealtime conversations allow us the informal time to offer him solutions to avoid situations like that the next time around.
Over the school holidays, when everyone is a little slower and when extracurricular activities cease, we love enjoying a few meals together. Sunday mornings are a firm favourite. We are lucky that our kids are young enough to simply join in. I can imagine that this ritual would become more challenging to enforce with older children, who have life itineraries of their own. Nevertheless, here are a couple of tips that I love using in my home to encourage the communal meal (which I will be using a lot more of in 2021!)
Make it a habit: If you are lucky enough to find a weekly slot (or slots) that work for everyone, lock them in! For us, Sunday mornings are reserved for extra-special breakfasts. We’ve been doing that for as long as I remember. There are no questions asked. It is simply the expectation. Habits come with repetition and joy. Keeping the family meal informal, fun and inclusive is so important.
Just show up: Set aside a designated time that works for everyone. There will be weeks when some members can’t commit to an hour at the table, for example, but stress the importance of just showing up. Family meals are a time to reconnect. Even if it is only the fifteen minutes you need to eat your meal, it’s the fifteen minutes that you probably wouldn’t have spent with your family otherwise. As the kids get older and busier, it is going to get harder to set a time duration around a family meal. To combat this, stress the importance of making an appearance, just like every other consistent habit in your life.
Make an effort with what is served: Family meals are a wonderful opportunity to unite over delicious food. We love serving a giant and colourful fruit platter and a buffet-style cooked breakfast during our Sunday morning breakfasts. I wouldn’t have time to do this on a weekday, so it makes this breakfast extra special. Make someone’s favourite dish, try a different recipe, or use special crockery to bring some magic to your dining table.
Make it feel special and inclusive: Drawing a border around the family meal, setting it apart and providing it with some rituals, marks it as something special and worth showing up for. It goes without saying that phones and other devices should be left elsewhere. Small efforts, rituals and traditions will make your family feel unique. Growing up, my mom was good at making little extra efforts like setting the table up differently for a special meal (I vividly remember our Hot Pot nights!). Our kids love being part of the process on Sunday mornings by choosing the tableware that we are going to use and by allocating everyone’s seats at the table. It’s those extra frills and ceremony of it all that makes it feel fancy, special and unique to your own family.
I wish you and your family all the happiness in the world over good food, through funny and heartfelt conversation and that lots of memories are to be made this year.