Mealtimes play a very important role in our family. We view eating together as a special time to share thoughts and ideas, and to switch off from the outside world so we can unwind together. Creating a happy atmosphere at our table encourages easy conversation and helps everyone forget about the worries of work, school and those other distractions of the day.
With a family of two working parents, however, this kind of dinner wasn’t always possible. For a long time, dinners were rushed, stressful and often staggered so the kids ate their own food first and adults ate later. Mealtimes felt more like a function of us needing to eat rather than a time where we could be together, laugh and connect.
Things changed after I developed my “I want” list. I see it as my responsibility to help guide my children as they grow to become happy, independent and free-minded adults. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do have this I want list to help me stay on track:
- I want my children to feel happy, confident, loved, supported and enjoy spending time with their family.
- I want them to enjoy taking time out and socializing in healthy and happy ways.
- I want my children to have a positive healthy and meaningful relationship with food.
I credit mealtimes as playing a huge part in helping me achieve my I want list because research shows that connecting over a meal has a lot of emotional and health benefits. It’s also an opportunity for me to help my children learn how to “be” in the world. When we’re spending time at the table together, my children see how I eat, hear what I think and have the opportunity to tell me what they think.
Sharing and talking about stories is one rewarding way we’ve found of keeping the conversation flowing. I speak to lots of parents who want to communicate more at mealtimes but find it hard to know what to say beyond the ‘how was your day?’ This is one challenge where we’ve found stories to be really helpful. My children love being read to and it always sparks conversation. Historically I made my stories up at the table using props to guide me. I know that a lot of my friends struggled with this so I turned my stories into a book! I find the tales really help to generate conversation. For instance, I have a platypus in one story and my children initially did not know what a platypus was or where they come from, which led to a great discussion about Australia. Reading the stories also becomes a participatory activity, as I invite my children to offer input and change the stories by giving the characters magical powers and explaining the reasons why they need them, and/or having them decide what the outcome will be. The Family Dinner Project’s Story by Sentence is another way to use stories as a fun conversation starter at the table!
I know from experience that it’s not always easy to make family dinners happen. I suggest starting with your own “I want” list and then finding the time, as often as you can, to sit down together to eat, tell stories and laugh
It’s worth the effort.
Sarah Gregory is the mum of four and the author of Take Another Mouthful, a system to help parents create fun family mealtimes through the power of stories. Her first book is now available at www.takeanothermouthful.com