Growing up in a rural Midwestern town in the 60's, I remember family meal time at dinner very well. My favorite meal as a child was great northern beans fixed with a ham hock and eaten with corn bread. There were 6 of us, and usually, we were all there at dinner and ate whatever my mom prepared. (Admittedly, there were just a few things I didn't like as a child, and more than once was required to “sit there until you eat it.”
My husband and I upheld the tradition of the Family Table, especially at dinner time throughout the raising of our four children. We can all look back fondly at some of the fun dinnertime moments, and even some of the meals...like the time we had just moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. We had $80 to our names to spend on groceries for two weeks and we had to buy even the basics like salt and flour. I bought a bag of pinto beans and some flour and we ate a lot of bean burritos (with homemade tortillas). Instead of a hardship, our kids, especially our son, who loved bean burritos, was in hog's heaven.
Then there were the “Special Nights”. This was a tradition I started when the kids were very young, and we kept it up until they were mostly all moved out. Every family member had his or her own special night in sequence from youngest to oldest. They got to choose the meal (usually Friday night) and an activity (usually a game, since we were often stationed overseas and there wasn't anything else to do). In addition to the relationship building we had at dinnertime, this provided wonderful fun, memories and connection. (I'm pleased to say that my youngest daughter has continued the tradition with her husband and two young children. Her activities are a little more varied than ours were.)
If I haven't inspired you yet with my reminiscing and rambling, then allow me to share some thoughts with you about why the Family Table is so important. Studies show that the benefits of eating together as a family include better relationships, better grades for kids in schools, and kids being less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. Wow! With results like that, why is it that the majority of Americans eat fewer than five meals a week together? It seems to me that most young Americans have been seduced into the current trend of eating out, buying prepackaged foods and eating individualistically instead of in unity. The trend follows the current mantra: Instead of “Out of many, one”, it's “Out of one, many”. We find ourselves busy, separate and alone; being swept along by the tide and not even realizing the consequences of our actions.
The solution? A return to the Family Table. That means that we must make it important in our lives and a priority. That also means that some meal planning, shopping and preparation will support the Family Table habit. It may even mean working less overtime, taking time to plan ahead, and letting go of some of those after school activities. But it's worth it!
Here are some other benefits of the Family Table: Better relationships (given that you take the time to talk); Learning social skills (things like don't speak out of turn and chew with your mouth closed); Social graces (don't complain about the food and eat what is served); Developing a varied palate (children will learn to eat a variety of foods when served a variety of foods); Better digestion for all (especially if you take plenty of time for your meal and enjoy a relaxed environment).
As mentioned before, supportive measures for the Family Table include meal planning, shopping and meal preparation. These activities also lend themselves to corporate activity. Allow children to be involved in these activities as soon as they are able. This also generates more skill and relationship building.
One other benefit that we can extrapolate from the Family Table is better health. Fast food and prepackaged meals are notoriously fraught with chemicals. When you plan and execute your own meals, you can greatly reduce this threat. In addition, with some careful planning and consideration you can also greatly reduce your exposure to pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in food by choosing organic and avoiding plastic packaging when possible. This will equate to better health, fewer doctor's visits, better behavior in school and possibly a drastically different outcome in health down the road.
I encourage you reverse the trend toward separateness and build your family. Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Resist the trends of the day to go in separate directions, eat different things, eat out frequently and avoid family meal planning, preparation and sharing. Build a “together” family, one meal at a time.
You might also enjoy this online article titled, “The Importance of Eating Together”: