When I look back on my family memories as both a child and as a parent, some of my fondest recollections revolved around our traditions for the family meal. It was the daily ritual of our family meals that pulled us all into the same orbit at least once a day, all week long. It was a place for common ground.
A good family meal is nourishing, restorative, allows for conversation and simple exchanges to take place. It marks a beginning and an end to a day of work and activities, and it allows families to touch base, tell stories, connect, laugh, and be supportive about the day ahead.
In our fast modern times, slowing down for a family meal can be a bit of a challenge. Busy schedules, longer work days, and eating on the run can deprive home life of this special time. Here are a few tips that encourage this time-honored ritual and help to keep the family meal running smoothly.
1. Prepare simple healthy, tasty food.
Add variety each week so meals aren’t totally predictable. Serving good food is essential to making this ritual stick.
2. Share and assign tasks.
It’s no fun, not mention exhausting, to be the solo cook, organize all the meals, and clean up, too. In my experience that only leads to burnout and frozen food!
Spouses, partners, and kids can share in the planning and execution of the family dinner. Making salads, peeling carrots, pouring the water, setting the table all contribute to the final organization of the meal. Get your kids to help you at an early age. Very young ones can be taste testers.
3. Serve meals around the same time every day.
Setting an established time for meals sets the internal clock for stopping all activities, and it promotes a healthy eating habit. Eat early enough to ward off major snacking before hand.
4. Have a moment of silence before eating.
Whether it’s a prayer, a pause, or simply silence, this always sets a tone of appreciation for the meal.
5. Promote the art of conversation.Photo by Woodley Wonderworks
Ask about your child’s day. Teaching children that their opinion and experiences matter is invaluable. Each person should have a turn to speak up at the table. Eventually, the ebb and flow of conversation will develop naturally and kids can come to expect a mini platform in which to express what is happening in their lives and in their play.
6. Share ideas, news, and stories often.
Many important stories can emerge during the course of a good family meal. I have always found it to offer a window into my child’s world.
7. Families can learn to build food values by discussing food quality.
Use the family meal as an opportunity to evaluate the goodness of the food that is being served. Discuss the food on the table, which foods have lots of fiber, which foods have good fat and bad fat.
Serve fruits and vegetables with a conversation about how they are grown, where they are from. Discuss where the family might improve on their good eating habits. This type of assessment helps us all prepare and eat better meals.
8. When the meal is over, have everyone help clear the table.
This simple act of courtesy signifies an end to the meal. Dashing off without being excused somehow sends the signal that is okay to disregard the effort that was just made to feed the family.
9. Keep trying.
It’s an effort to create a consistent and good experience for the family meal. It doesn’t just happen by luck. In fact, children and busy schedules work against this concept. It’s worth the work.
My family sits down for breakfast and dinner every night, and whether it is a fritata or a several course meal, we eat together. We eat, talk, get goofy, clean up, and move into the daily rituals with some sense of restoration.
How do you make your family meal sacred?