As a child growing up I remember both my mom and dad working literally all the time. They’ve had to immigrate twice in their lifetime, first in 1991 from the Soviet Union to Israel, and then from Israel to Canada in 2005. Life wasn’t easy for them and us, I hardly ever had time to sit and talk with my dad as he was preoccupied with making a living, providing for us, surviving… My mom was there for us physically, but mentally her mind was concerned with how they’d pay the bills, how are they going to afford these dance classes that my sister and I so longed for or how would they pay to the math tutor my little sister needed so much in order to pass that annoying math exam.
Life wasn’t easy or magical for us, and yet there was one thing which I think saved our family from disjoining and complete chaos – eating together as a family every day, no matter what. At the time my mom and dad didn’t refer to it as a sacred time or even as a special time in the day, but as a grown up today contemplating about my life as a little girl, I do realise how sacred and vital this time was for us, the kids, to get an opportunity to sit down daily with our parents and eat together. Sometimes, we haven’t exchanged even one word during the day besides during this meal.
These family meals weren’t gourmet nor did my mom spent the whole day preparing them, and yet the fact that we had a homemade meal eaten together as a family every single day saved our family from falling apart. My mom & dad would catch up on how the day was for us, homework, friendships we had, our progress at school, if there was anything we needed help with etc. Monday – Thursday at 6pm life has virtually stopped and we’d sit down to eat together. This cycle has been a part of my life for twenty years!
No wonder as a young mom myself today, the family meal is a non-negotiable in our household. I don’t really have to think about it or work hard to make it happen, because thankfully this has been engraved in my veins as a ritual and habit for so many years by my mom.
Why Is A Family Meal Time So Sacred?
There is something special in that moment of breaking the bread and talking about the day. This was the time we all complemented my mom about the food and savored it together. As women we all crave these compliments (especially from our husbands) – how’s the rice, chicken, seasoning, and is the salt OK? Because of the rituality of it, I think my mom’s needs were met daily.
For my dad, having food at the table daily meant feeling proud of himself as a man that he is able to put food on the table daily, and also being respected as the patron of the household since he was always sitting at the head of the table. He also has an opportunity to interact with us daily without constantly thinking about work.
For us the kids, this meant having that time each day to engage with our parents, and see them stopping and relaxing from the craziness of life and focusing solely on us. It definitely had a therapeutic and healing effect on both my sister and I.
Due to the consistency of the family meal we were able to thrive as a family, have a so called normal childhood, and enjoy life in a safe and protective environment.
Unfortunately, Most Families Don’t Eat Together Anymore…
Did you know that “the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week” (1). This is a sad reality and in my opinion, these families are missing out on the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with their loved ones and spend quality time with family members. Moreover, these data has both physical and psychological ramifications for both parents and children.
Statistically, children who do not regularly share meals with their families are significantly more likely to be absent from school and are 40 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those who do. On the contrary, children who do eat with their families at least five times a week have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often, according to a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
10 Tips On Establishing The Family Meal Routine
In my private practice, often time I encounter about 40% of families who do not have a daily family meal together. This is due to various reasons, such as conflicting schedules of mom and dad, cranky kids who must eat right after coming home from school or daycare, women having long work hours and are exhausted to even think of planning the meal let alone cooking.
I do not come from a place of judgment, but rather from a place of possibility and would like to share a few tips with you on how you can make a family meal happen in your life as well.
- If you are a busy mom, make sure you take the time to plan your meals ahead of time. I am a subscriber to two meal planning platforms which I like, one is Real Plans and the other is Super Healthy Kids. The reason I use more than one is because although the Real Plans platform is very easy and convenient to use, their meals tend to be a little bit too strong in terms of flavour and spicing, whereas Super Healthy Kids’ menu plans have fairly simple meals and are quick and easy to make. They also offer a weekly video where they show you how to prep each meal ahead of time and how to store it for the upcoming week.
- Keep your meals simple! The focus here is on the family time together, not the meal. As long as you make the meal at home it is likely to be healthier than eating out, so no need to spend loads of time on fancifying the meal. For example, when I look for recipes I have a rule, if the meal takes more than 30 minutes to make I skip it!
- Keeping a well stocked pantry, fridge and freezer is a crucial step in creating healthy meals for your family. In fact, this is such an important step and I used to spent a huge chunk of time going over people’s pantries, fridges and freezers and educating them about the food choices they make. In order to streamline this process and also make it more affordable for parents, I’ve created an online program for busy families that teaches how to detox your kitchen in 6 easy steps, it’s called The Ingredients of a Healthy Kitchen, you can find more information about the program by clicking HERE.
- Get into the habit of cooking more, and freeze half of what you cook, so that you can cook once but eat twice!
- A family meal doesn’t have to be a dinner! In some households a breakfast or lunch can work better in terms of schedules which is just as good. The purpose is to have at least one shared meal in a day, and it can be either a breakfast, lunch or dinner whatever works best for your family!
- Turn off all cell phones, TV, radio, tablets, and any other technological devices and focus on your each other. Children grow up so fast, before you know it they will be in college, so don’t miss out this opportunity right now. Disconnect from technology and connect to your wife, husband and children.
- Resist the urge to discipline or punish your kids over a family meal. This is not the time for that. Keep conversations meaningful but at the same time light and make this time of day fun for everyone, including yourself!
- Family meal is important but who said that it’s mom’s job only? Keep everyone involved in the kitchen and allow them to share the load and responsibility and experience what it takes to put food on the table.
- There is nothing wrong about dining out occasionally, but I do recommend to eat at home as much as possible, even if this means serving store-bought food in your own plates at home.
- Dump the guilt. Family meals may not happen every day, and that’s ok. Make the most of your family meals when they occur.