Mealtimes: Eight Facets Of A Healthy Family Culture

Bless, O Lord, this food to our use and us to Thy service

And make us ever mindful of Thy many blessings

Amen

(Blessing from my husband’s side of the family)

Father, we thank Thee for this food before us

Give us strength to do Thy will

Guide and protect us in Thy heavenly path

For Christ’s sake

Amen

(Blessing from my side of the family)

Mealtimes are a vital place to slow down, to bring together different traditions from your side of the family and your partner’s side of the family, to protect and nurture and linger together.

Studies show interesting connections between children’s behavior and whether or not they ate family meals.  Many studies show, for example, decreased rates  of childhood drug use and depression and  better school performance in families who have consistent meals together.  This was an interesting link that gathered much of the research on family meals together (the part about the effect of family meals on children of alcoholics who were now adults was especially  interesting!):  http://nutrition.wsu.edu/ebet/background.html.  See also this link: http://parenting.families.com/blog/why-families-should-eat-dinner-together

Some say as the children grow older, a big obstacle is outside activities scheduled at dinner time.  I often wonder if this happens in countries outside the United States; if you are one of my overseas readers please do feel free to leave a comment below!  I  really do understand!  My oldest child is busy in rhythmic gymnastics several days a week around dinnertime. However,  even with her gymnastics schedule, eating meals together is a priority. Every day.  I truly think it can be done if it is a priority of the whole family.

Eating whole foods is also a top priority.  Some mothers are so fabulous with culturing their own foods, grinding wheat or other grains to make their own bread, and cooking from scratch. Other mothers are just starting their journey into healthy, whole food eating, and I applaud them.  We are all on this journey, and some of us really did grow up without family meals or without meals made from scratch, so this is new territory.

If the idea of eating from scratch daily is new to you, or if  you are just headed into menu and meal planning, try this back post for some help:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/08/january-focus-on-the-home-meal-planning/

I really enjoyed Season of Joy’s post regarding eating whole foods on a budget (for a family of eight!).  You can read that post here:  http://ourseasonsofjoy.com/musings/whole-foods-journey-when-the-questions-change/

Besides the complexities of cooking, eating and sharing a meal with small children can be challenging.  Some mothers have told me this post was helpful to them regarding age by age expectations surrounding mealtimes:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/10/17/back-to-basics-realistic-expectations-for-mealtimes/

As children grow, mealtimes become a way to teach children manners and proper eating. Show your children how to pass the bowl of vegetables, how to create conversation during a meal.   Rightly done, mealtimes involve children in the preparation of healthy food and cleaning up from a meal.  There is so much more to mealtimes than just eating!

I love this quote from Kim John Payne’s book “Simplicity Parenting”:  “The family dinner is more than a meal.  Coming together, committing to a shared time and experience, exchanging conversation, food and attention…all of these add up to more than full bellies.  The nourishment is exponential.  Family stories, cultural markers, and information about how we live are passed around with the peas.  The process is more than the meal:  It is what comes before and after.  It is the reverence paid.  The process is also more important than the particulars.  Not only is it more forgiving, but also, like any rhythm, it gets better with practice.”

My plea is for all of you to plan healthy meals, to involve your children in growing food, shopping for food,and celebrating together as a family at every mealtime.

Much love and many blessings,

Carrie

11 thoughts on “Mealtimes: Eight Facets Of A Healthy Family Culture

  1. dear carrie, i have really been enjoying your posts on a healthy family culture, finding nuggets of inspiration and nodding happily as i recognize things we do and value. thank you so much!

    sharing mealtimes has always been important to us and i want to address your question to us overseas readers about scheduling conflicts when kids get older. first off, here in denmark, it seems even harder to have afterschool activities and make them work out with dinner. with so large a proportion of parents working – denmark has one of the highest percentage of women on labour market in the world – afterschool activities start late in the afternoon and always end up conflicting with dinners scheduled early enough for our youngest to get to bed on time. girls scouts, swimming, ice skating, these are all scheduled to start at or after 4.30 pm. with transportation, it’s really hard to find a time to sit down to dinner.
    our twelve-year-old has been missing 1-3 dinners per week for a couple of years because of swimming.
    we handle this in two ways. first off, dinner is not the only meal we share. we always always share a sit-down breakfast with real facetime and both chitchatting, planning of the day and checking in how everyone’s doing. second, our daughter never eats alone when she gets home. we always save food for her, and either her father or i keep her company. this way she gets some good adult time (which her little sister got earlier in the evening) and we can catch up on her day etc.

    best regards,

    karen

  2. For me, this is the centerpiece of our family life. My husband and I both came from families that sat down to dinner every night, and is something we have always done in our marriage – even before we had children. We cook three meals a day around here, plus snacks. That is a lot of food! However, on the rare occasion that we go out to eat, I am amazed at how expensive it is. A food plan and a rhythm to our baking is a huge help.

    This is a great series, Carrie. You are a gem!
    Love to you.

  3. Carrie, I love your blog so much. You cannot imagine how much you have helped me over the years. I might not visit for awhile, but you can be sure that when I’m in trouble – you are the one true resource that helps me every.single.time.

    Vicki xxx

  4. Oh yes, up here in Canada, it’s quite similar with regards to activities at dinner time. My dd has ballet just before dinner time (a 4:15-5:15 class, then home for dinner), and Brownies in the evenings (this finishes right at bedtime!!).

    So, we have an early dinner on Brownie nights, and I work to have dinner ready upon our return on Ballet days. And, I look for the earliest possible classes when planning the year’s schedule. It’s getting harder as she gets older because most classes are for schooled kids, not homeschooled kids.

    In the end, dinner together is my number 1 priority, whether it’s early or whether I have to have it all ready when we get home. If it can’t work, then we don’t choose the activity.

  5. I’m in the UK and my children attend extra clubs at their school, straight after the normal school day finishes – usually 3.30 to 4.30pm. Having the clubs at school means no extra travelling is needed and everyone is home for family dinner each night. Music and swimming classes are included as part of the school day.

  6. Hi Carrie, Another great post, thank you! I live in Australia (probably not so different from the US anyway), and my kids are 10, 3 and 2. I think the biggest obstacle for us in sitting down to dinner together as a family is not the childrens’ activities, it’s my husband’s work! The children and I eat together every night at 6pm, but my husband is probably only able to join us once or twice during the work week (weekends we all eat together). It helps that my oldest son does not do any activities outside of his school sports, which I think is quite enough. Jolene.

  7. Here I am from overseas! Italy.
    Here’s there’s a big difference between northern /where I live) and southern Italy. Women are mostly working outside the home in the North and public elementary schools are 98% full time (8.30-16.30). So sports activities or artistic ones aren’t really existing before 17.00 p.m. ending around 18.30-19.00. Dinner can than happen not before 8 p.m.
    My daughter is in first grade and is not having full time school schedule but I’m keeping her completely free from other activities. She goes to sleep around 8 p.m and I feel she still needs her free time, I guess until she’ll be in 3rd grade but we will see. Kids who go to school usually go to bed around 9-9.30 p.m.. To me it’s too late but I must admit I’m one of the few thinking in this way. I’m sorry there won’t be activities before 16.30…Even the church here is fixing the weekly meeting for the grades children at 17.00 after school.
    I see so many children having a snack on the street or in the car while rushing to the swimming pool or the soccer field.

    In southern Italy women are often unemployed and there are less full time schools but in the South Italians do eat later and it’s around 20.00-20.30. In the summer it all changes due to the hot weather and they can eat at 22.00!

    These are cultural/geographical differences but unfortunately here in Italy we are already experiencing the trend to overload our children in the grades, also starting from K-pre school age. We are among the few who didn’t send her to the swimming pool but I was so surprised to see how my daughter is confident with her body and with tew water when we go to the seaside while I met so many kids so blocked and stiff and they had spent the whole winter in courses. My little girl is growing playing endlessly, jumping, skating, riding her bike in the court yard and she never attended a structured activity but I tried and try to offer her many oppurtunities to just be and play with her body.

    But I’m off topic, back to meals: fathers or mothers working full time, usually get home from work at 18.00-18.30 and in big cities they might be home between 19.00 and 20.00 having dinner all together around 20.30. I’ve always preferred not to wait if dad was late because to me sleep is a priority for a kid but dad has to work too, so we had to compromise.

    Hope it was useful and understandable.

    ciao
    Federica

    • Ciao Federica,
      Things seem to change for the worse over in Europe too. :-(
      When we lived in southern Italy (around 2000) families always had dinner together, albeit late, starting around 6 or 7pm until 11pm lots of times on the weekends.
      Outside school activities for children was, literally outside in the streets and parks, not very much of organized activities. But as you said north and south Italy are quite different and times seem to change there as well.
      In our family meal times always were and are important, before we had children we also made sure to eat regularly together as a couple, but now with children it is even more important to us.
      My husband and I grew up like this, daily homemade meals shared amongst the family, and we want to make sure our children do as well.

      Ciao,
      Maggie

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