When I was young, my mother always made an effort for us to be sitting down around the table together by six o clock. Most memories I have from when I was a kid are that from the dinner table. We would share how our day went, talk about how life was going, and just unwind from a crazy day. Sure, it wasn't always perfect, but it was a common space, a neutral place for us all to gather and share about our lives. I am so grateful for this example my mom made happen in my younger years. It has taught me to also make an effort in my family to keep the tradition alive, even if it takes an extra effort on my part.
Why are family meals so important?
As humans we associate specific memories with taste, smell, touch and all of the five senses. Food is something that ignites those senses and makes a basis to which memories are centered around. When those memories are good ones, you can bet that when the smell or the name of a meal comes up from your past, you are immediately taken back to that memory, and caused to think about and reminisce on. So, how perfect is it to create an environment around food that is positive and encouraging for your family at a mealtime together that will stick with them for their entire lives? Unfortunately, this can go both ways. If those meal times are spent fighting, then it could possibly become a relation to negative memories. All the more reason to make the moments special and positive for everyone involved.
How to plan ahead and set yourself up for success
Life is busy, crazy and complicated. You know that. You experience it every day. So how is it you're supposed to make time to prepare a meal, set the table, and coerce everyone else into coming and sitting down at a specific time? My best advice is to make a plan. A meal plan in particular.
Make a meal plan for the whole week, and shop accordingly.
It will save you so much time and effort to prepare beforehand. It will also encourage you to not skip out on making a meal, knowing you will possibly be throwing food away what isn't utilized. Keep it simple and whole, as to not stress yourself out.
Make yummy food that everyone will want to eat
Be intentional about your questions at the dinner table
Don't ask rhetorical questions like "Did you have a good day?" but rather, "What happened today that was funny?" or interesting, or scary. How are they treating other kids? How are other kids treating them? Show genuine interest in their day's with asking questions that lead to more than a yes or no.
Make your kids help with setting the table, cooking, or cleaning up
My little guy loves to cook with me. It not only gives us something to experience together, but also helps him with his motor skills, learning how to cut veggies in a safe environment, and preparing him to take care of himself someday. Wouldn't it be great not to have to worry about your son eating nothing more than ramen every day in college?
Having your kids help with chores and cleaning up, will enable them to succeed in something while also learning that they aren't entitled. It will teach them discipline, responsibility and awareness that life isn't always easy. We live in a society that is continually moving towards self-gratification instantaneously. We are moving away from taking time to make healthy and whole meals, towards shortcuts which leads to processed foods, and unhealthy choices.
Don't expect perfection
I know it's hard when expectations aren't met, but it's important to have grace for yourself and your family in these moments as well. Life happens, and just because you don't get to sit down every single day to a meal together, doesn't mean you are a bad mom, or that your family is falling apart. Some days we are just so tired (usually Friday nights) that we end up baking a frozen pizza and watching a documentary together while eating off of our coffee table. These memories are some of the best ones I have! So cut yourself, and everyone else some slack if things don't go according to plan every single time. That's also a part of creating a good environment when it comes to family time. You don't want your kids to get the impression that they need to please mom, and that's the only point of family meals. You want it to be something they want as well.