October 28, 2010
It has often been said that ‘the family that eats together, stays together’, and my experience of the chaotic existence that comes with growing children, tells me that there is some truth in this statement.
We are all so busy rushing around from one place to another that we sometimes forget the things that are important, like spending time with those we love. Sharing a meal ensures that there is at least one part of the day when a family can get together and talk to one another and it is, I believe, keeping the lines of communication open, rather than what is eaten, that is the key to maintaining a strong bond with our children.
My own mother used to shop daily at the local stores and prepare a nutritious home-cooked dinner every night for which we are all expected to be present. On Sunday, not only would she cook a full roast dinner but a choice of mouth-watering deserts such as apple pie or egg custard. The majority of us these days fall somewhat short of this ideal, in most, if not all areas.
Our hectic lifestyles means that family members often arrive home at different times, particularly teenagers who are hard to pin down, and younger children need to be ferried to and from Brownies or sports activities. Sometimes we are lucky if we have time to grab a sandwich let along conjurer up meat and two veg for the entire family. I have often organised what I call ‘shift dinners’ with different variations on a theme dished out at intervals throughout the course of an evening, but I try to keep these nights to a minimum because I much prefer it when we can all sit down together.
Sharing a meal provides an opportunity to catch up on the day and teaches children about sharing and listening as well as table manners. We have always had a rule of ‘no toys at the table’ and as my three have grown (they are now 16, 13 and 9) we have extended this to include mobile phones because, as anyone who lives with a teenager knows, if one of their peer group wants to contact them, they have to respond – right now!
On days when it really has proved impossible for us to have dinner together we have introduced evening tea, which means that everyone is home at a pre-arranged time for tea and biscuits (not often hand baked I must confess!). My son, who is 9, is usually allowed to stay up a bit later to join in. The TV is switched off and we have an uninterrupted half an hour together before bed, our own modern twist on breaking bread.
When we get the opportunity, we have always enjoyed eating out but the high cost of feeding a family of five means that we are unable to do this as often as we would like. Restaurant meals can be expensive and not all of them welcome families so I am always on the look out for reasonably priced, child friendly eateries. The kind of place where the proprietor is happy to provide a highchair and a children’s menu and the clientele doesn’t turn their nose up at a bit of noisy banter.
So if you have a favourite family friendly restaurant or café get in touch with Essex Mums or share your own tips for eating together.
By Essex Mums Guest Blogger, author of the blog Mum in the Middle