In our fast-paced, hectic lifestyle, it seems that the family meal may become an endangered tradition. With children coming back from school early and adults closing from their different places of work at different time, most families often find it very difficult to eat together.
As hectic as our schedules can sometimes be, the family meal is a good way to get everyone to keep in touch after a busy day and to share upcoming family plans or events.
The family meal can also be a comforting ritual for parents with young children as it gives them a sense of security. There has even been research on the link between family meals with healthy child development, better school performance, better nutrition and increased consumption of fruit and vegetables.
Because of the importance of this, some families try to work towards making time to eat as a family on a pre-designated day of the year.
Apart from the fact that eating together as a family strengthens the love within the family, research has also shown that frequent family dinners, like five or more a week, are associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking, and illegal drug use in pre-teens and teenagers when compared to families that eat together two or fewer times per week.
Even as older children’s schedules get more complicated, it is important to make an effort to eat meals together.
It has also been observed that children do better in school when they eat more meals with their parents and family.
Teenagers who eat dinner four or more times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.
Simon, a bachelor, said he tries as much as possible to eat together with his family whenever he is with them. “The last time I travelled home was during the Easter celebration and we had our meals together on our dining table”.
Speaking on the importance of family eating together, he said, “It increases the bond within the family, because it gives each member an avenue to learn the likes and dislikes of one another. In some families, there are people who don’t like salt, pepper and some other things like that.”
Simon also added that eating together as a family creates avenues for children to communicate with their parents on issues that are bothering them, because they feel parents are more relaxed when they are eating.
According to him, “there is a bond that eating together enhances as it is a good time for every member of the family to express themselves. In my family, I feel freer to speak with my dad, because eating together is like a communion. A family that eats together, prays together, stays together forever.”
Bunmi Ojo, on her own part, said eating together breeds and strengthens the love within the family, because members of any family that does that have time to interact with each other. “I enjoy eating with my family, because it gives me so much joy and strengthens the love among us.”
Conversations during the meal provide opportunities for the family to bond, plan, connect, and learn from one another. It’s a chance to share information and news of the day, as well as give extra attention to your children and teens. Family meals foster warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging. It can be a unifying experience for all.
In addition, family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to display appropriate table manners, meal etiquette, and social skills.
Keep the mood light, relaxed, and loving. Try not to instruct or criticize – lead by example.
It has also been observed that meals prepared and eaten at home are usually more nutritious and healthy. This is because efforts are made to include additional nutrients such as fibre, calcium, vitamins A and C, and foliate.
Home cooked meals are usually not fried or highly salted, plus soda and sweetened beverage consumption is usually lower at the dinner table.
Most importantly is the fact that eating together gives children the opportunity to be self sufficient in terms of knowing how to prepare meals. Children today are missing out on the importance of knowing how to plan and prepare meals.
Basic cooking, baking, and food preparation are necessities for being self-sufficient. Involve your family in menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. Younger children can peel vegetables and set the table.
Older children and teenagers can cut vegetables, wash rice or blend pepper and tomatoes. Working as a team puts the meal on the table faster, as well as makes everyone more responsible and accepting of the outcome. Improved eating habits come with “ownership” of a meal.
It is time to bring the “family” back to the dinner table. Sharing dinner together gives everyone a sense of identity. It can help ease day-to-day conflicts, as well as establish traditions and memories that can last a lifetime.