A couple of days ago I went to spend a couple of days with an old friend of mine. The aim was to get some R&R and what better way to get that than spend it with a close friend? I come from a school of thought where food is the ultimate connector so I went ready to reconnect with my friend and get to know her family armed with some of my choicest recipes. Imagine my surprise when I saw that mobile phones and the television had taken over dinner table conversations and connections. For most of us, T.V dinners are a part of today’s reality. Family dinners are slowly becoming obsolete… a thing of the past that exists in the memory of people of my generation. Now, this is not a post that take a long meandering walk on the path of the ‘good old days’. I completely understand that in today’s times where both the parents are working and children have packed schedules with activities and homework, gathering everyone at the dinner table can be a task. At some level, even I sometimes give in to the temptation of letting my kids zone out with their smartphones as long as they get the food off their plate. But is it really wise to do so?
There are enough number of studies published that echo my school of thought that emphasize the multiple benefits of family meals. As most families struggle to find quality time to spend with each other, the 30 to 45 minutes spent eating together gives them the opportunity to do both. Eating together gives the children a sense of stability and security and a positive environment which help them grow up to become healthy adults, both physically and mentally.
During my growing up years, we used family meal times to update each other about our individual lives and that, I believe, kept us more connected. It was a place where healthy discussions took place, from politics to art, to literature to the latest music…we talked with each other and not ‘at’ each other. Of course, we have to credit our super strict parents who wouldn’t even allow a book at the dinner table, leave alone have the T.V blaring.
Being disconnected from everything else also helped us connect with our food. We ate seasonal foods and were regaled with stories connected to the food that was on our plate. I only understand the concept of ‘Shravan’ because at one meal my sibling had kicked up a fuss over wanting to eat fish when my mother insisted that for the next couple of days we would have to satiate ourselves with the vegetarian fare (it was delectable, of course) since we didn’t want to mess with the breeding ecosystem of our underwater buddies.
I can go on and on about why families should have at least one meal together. At the same time, I, like most others, face the challenge of getting everyone together at the dining table. I realized that dinner was the best time to get everyone together on most days. So here are a few super simple tricks to make sure that everyone gets together for one meal.
Eat only at the dining table
Serve dinner only at the dinner table. Use this time to take a break from work or studies and to talk to each other. You’ll be surprised how much even the quickest of dinners had with your family can help you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
Whether the whole family is present for a meal or not, make your dinner table a technology-free zone. It might take a little coaxing and even threatening, but the effort will be well rewarded.
Make a menu
While cooking fresh each day or planning an elaborate meal might not be everyone’s cup of tea (I know it is not mine. I hate deciding what I am going to cook every morning) making a meals menu is a one-time effort that goes a long way. Take inputs from your family members to make the menu and stick it on your refrigerator door. This not only cuts the cooking time in half since you can prep in advance, it also keeps your family looking forward to the meals. Have ‘theme nights’, cook your children’s favorite meals using healthier alternatives, remake old recipes and get your kids to participate in the learning process. Smart planning always works when you want to make every meal special.
Fancy meals don’t have to come from a restaurant always. Give the roti- subzi a miss once in a while and look up simple recipes that are easy to cook and fast to make. Try a Thai curry instead of making your regular vegetable curry or make a hot-pot. Variety truly is the spice of life on the dinner table. You don’t have to be a culinary goddess to make simple meals that taste like heaven. Really.
Just like we put in effort in everything else that we do, building a habit of eating together will also need a little bit of effort. Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey says, “If it (eating) were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube. A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.” Food for thought? I certainly think so.