February 1, 2012

Family Meals

Growing up mealtime was never a structured event and nothing like what I saw pictured on television or at friends' houses. There was just my mother and I,  and while she enjoyed cooking and baking, eating was an activity where we did our own thing from very early on. Sometimes we would sit at the table or I would sit there alone, but more often I would perch on the end of my bed with a plate balanced on my lap in front of my very own black and white TV. I typically requested whatever I wanted for each meal. Luckily my mother is also an amazing gardener, so we had tons of fresh veggies and usually some combination of cheese and bread and beans. I ate pretty well, but on my own terms. I was never forced to sit until I was finished or to eat something that I didn't like.

Now that I have my own family, I've started to talk to some friends and read about the importance of the family meal. It seems like many people really do think it's a big deal and that skipping this ritual can result in everything from bad relationships with food and diet to being more likely to try drugs or not finish college... that's a lot to load onto gathering at a table! Still many of my friends believe it's important enough that their husbands do find ways to be home for a 6PM daily dinner.

For our little family eating together during the week just doesn't work. Big Smith works crazy long hours and doesn't get home until Little Smith is already asleep. They spend some time together in the morning and have breakfast but I don't come to the table because... well I'm sleeping or just lying there enjoying my one half hour to myself. I have thought about trying to get up and do breakfast as a family but selfishly I also do cherish that short time in bed alone (or really with the cat). At lunch Little Smith and I eat at the table, just the two of us. I'm not sure that he really cares whether we're sharing a meal but I do make an effort to set this routine.

Our only time for family meals is on the week-end. It is fun to sit at the table all together and have food thrown at us share some food. It's also nice not to have to clean up and heat things up twice, so I do get that it makes sense on a lot of levels, but it's logistically really hard for us.

I have some guilt and concern over whether we are setting the tone for bad eating habits by not having more structured meals. I debate whether I should ask Big Smith to get home early a few nights a week... but I also know that would put a strain on him and the way that he works and I'm just not certain that it's worth it - yet. And although among my friends we are the exception, I know we can't be the only family skipping dinner. I think about fathers or mothers who travel all the time for work or who are in the military and don't share dinner together each night, but somehow are still raising well adjusted kids. I also reflect on my own life, I had the most loosey-goosey childhood mealtimes and my relationship with food is wonderful- I would say it's healthier than average. I didn't get into drugs, I did finish college and even grad school... either the family meal wasn't key for my development or possibly I could have gone that much further with some communal breaking of bread (oh if only!).

 When I step back, what was important for me and will be important as we raise our son is providing time and opportunity every day to communicate. I didn't talk to my mother during meals but we did talk, sitting on the floor painting with watercolors or digging in the garden... we had daily rituals, they just weren't about eating. I've started to lay out similar routines for Little Smith and as he grows those will change. I'm certain that we can create a family open and connected enough that communication does happen- even if it's on the go instead of sitting down.


  1. Lilly, I loved this! I read somewhere that little boys actually talk more when you are doing something side-by-side (like gardening or walking, or playing soccer in the backyard) rather than during a sit-down school or dinner type of situation. So... on the go might be just as good, if not better, for Little Smith!

    I grew up with sit-down meals, and they were great, but when the kids are very small, I really don't think it matters as much... and with all the food-flinging, it's downright stressful! When my boys get older, I do want to sit down to dinner every evening as a family. But right now, with bedtimes and work schedules, it's just not as do-able.

  2. I hear ya. I think for many families meal time is possibly the only time they have to communicate with one another uninterrupted, making it more important. I know that in our household due to our unconventional sleep/work schedules we don't eat many meals together am I'm pretty okay with that. That type of scheduling doesn't work for everybody and personally, I don't think it's a big deal.

    We get lots of time together to do tons of other important family bonding activities, so I'm not too worried about it. I think the benefits of sharing a meal is that you will potentially be consuming something nutritious (if you're taking the time to all sit down and share in it) and that you are creating the opportunity to talk as a family. If you are eating well and chatting it up I don't think it really matters whether that happens around a dining room table.

    I love your highchair btw! So cute (and Little Smith looks so adorable in it)!

  3. Great comments! I really appreciate both of your thoughts. I think it's something that I'll feel more guilty about as time goes on and more conversation could happen at the table but I'm sure we'll figure it out.

    Also Tara thanks for the compliment about LS in the highchair- funny thing is that I had the tripod set up at the end of the table with the camera programmed to take pictures every few minutes. He was totally obsessed with the camera and couldn't even eat... he just stared at it! We had to take it away pretty fast so as not to ruin our one family meal :) How do those kids on reality shows do it?

  4. I grew up with family meals and my husband did not. He ate on the couch practically his entire life. So when we got married this was a big struggle. Family meals are so important to me. I love the calmness it brings no matter the time of day. For me, food is sacred, and I spend a lot of time cooking it every single day, and getting to share it with my family means a lot to me. I just love eating at the table. I don't feel comfortable eating it in the living room. My husband has a crazy work schedule, so we are usually able to share one meal together.

    But do whatever you feel you like best! I really don't know if it matters when it comes to the communication aspect. But I do feel my son eats better when he is at the table.

  5. We do scattershot family meals, too. A lot of times we feed the kids early, and then eat dinner ourselves after they're in bed. I think that it's probably more about the quality time you spend with the kids rather than the actual eating together. But that's my 2 cents :)

  6. AMEN, mama. Connecting is connecting. Some people do it over the dinner table, some in bed at night, some in the car. Please, mamas, no guilt. There are plenty of insane moments in parenting that might justify guilt, but having "meaningful meals or else" mentality is bogus.

    We're a homeschooling family. We're together allll freakin day. My husband goes to work late in the morning so he can have time with our son while he's still fresh. Dinners are sometimes all of us, sometimes just my son and I, and sometimes the kid eats at the computer and my husband and I dine leisurely alone. HORRORS! It's wonderful, actually.

    Pressure to do something that doesn't really work for your family for whatever reason is to be relinquished into the guiltless universe!

    Ta da.

    PS I looooove eating dinner in front of the TV watching a movie. Loved it as a kid, still love it at 50.


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