Historically, in many Asian and European cultures, family dining was the heart of the households communication. Around family tables, many problems were resolved, laughter shared and wisdom was passed down, along with the heaping platters of food created with love and respect for tradition.
Many of my former students in my parenting and garden classes, often expressed nostalgia and longing for family customs no longer in use. When I would ask them why they didn’t carry on with their family’s dining traditions, they often looked puzzled and uncomfortable. They often cited work, busy schedules and lack of time needed to prepare a good meal as their main reasons for not sharing meals with their children. How very sad this is for both our children and their parents.
I was raised in a big family where meals were the centerpiece of our lives. Everyone sat down to eat at least 2 meals a day together. This included my father, a dedicated professional who worked 18-20 hours per day. But he was there to share breakfast and dinner during the work week. Weekends were taken up visiting close relatives and spending long leisurely evenings playing games and enjoying French and Spanish dishes, lovingly prepared by my grandmother Josefina.
When I married, my husband and I both wanted this to be part of our lives with our children. And it has. Since birth, they’ve always had at least one parent seated at table with them for almost every single meal they’ve ever eaten. A neighbour asked me once, why I spent so much time in the kitchen creating soups, baking breads and preparing complex dishes for leisurely slow cooking. I told her that the mem,bers of my family were the most important people in my life, honored guests at every meal. Cooking and creating for them is easy because They are the heartbeat of our lives together.
If only we could all treat one another, within our family units, as such honored guests! When we extend such courtesy, such respect for one anothers unique selves, it becomes extraordinarily difficult for communication to NOT flow openly and easily. Instead of the sterile silences found in so many mkodern homes, you hear shouts of laughter, the reasoned tones of civil discourse, music and a sense of harmony that fills a homes spaces with such joy.
One doesn’t need to be a trained chef to share meals with your family. All it takes is a willingness to try. Start by creating very special invitations for your children, like a special soup from the heart dinner party, for example. Stress to them that the honor of their presence is requested at this, your first meal. Create a beautiful table and make certain all phones, TV’s and pagers are off while enjoying your time together. Use this time to reinforce how much you love and enjoy them. Try and avoid criticizing or questioning them about sensitive topics. Meal times should be about enjoying the food, listening to one anothers opinions on family or community topics, and discussing upcoming plans for the day or week.
Make mealtimes enticing, and create strong and lasting neural memories. Create simple soups, you can start before work, or the night before. As the children troop in from school or other activities, they’ll begin to associate home with heartwarming smells and the fragrance of food created from the love there. Before you know it, you’ll have helped recapture a vital and badly needed part of a healthy family’s life. The family table, the heart and soul of your home.