The Importance Of The Family Meal

Michael and Nicholas The family meal, unfortunately, is disappearing fast. In all cultures, this timeless institution was recognized as a vital part of strong, stable family life. Eating together is the time when everyone can gather after a day hard at work or studying in school to share adventures and stories. Children learn a great deal by observing their parents.

During the meal, they can find out about family traditions, good eating habits, be exposed to different foods, have interesting discussions and develop self-discipline. The family meal helps to develop a deep sense of security, establish a routine and is a wonderful place for parents and children to listen and demonstrate mutual respect. Lastly, and probably most important, the simple pleasure of eating together is a time for laughter, fun and sharing love.

I first went to Portugal when I was eighteen. My parents and I drove through Spain, into the North of Portugal and then down to the South. We ate in many small, traditional restaurants along the way. The thing that I remember clearly was the wonderful sight of large families dining together. They gathered at long tables, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents and children and didn't appear to be in any hurry at all; in fact the meals went on forever. It was fascinating to me and I really enjoyed watching everyone chatting, laughing and gesticulating wildly. In Portugal, eating together is considered a normal event and it showed me the importance of mealtimes in family life.

We also always ate as a family in England and my mother was happy to include our friends on a regular basis. My father loved debating and Sunday lunch involved a lively discussion on a wide variety of subjects. Even today, my brothers and I have a big laugh about our Sunday lunches and the funny things that happened. When members of the family come together to eat, they build understanding and communication. Children can learn how to listen and also how to share their ideas and views. Parents can also learn to listen to their children and teach them words of wisdom. It is a wonderful way to get to know your children and to understand who they are. Dinner is a great time to gather together and really share about the things we have discovered, the people we have met and our observations from the day. It helps children to develop an understanding and respect for others.

My parents were sticklers for routine. We had our meals at the same time each day. At weekends our plans were centered on mealtimes. We gathered for breakfast and discussed what everyone was going to do. Often lunch was simple or eaten as a picnic and then we gathered again for dinner. We would spend a lot of time in the kitchen too. I don't think my mother was always happy when Dad fixed the lawn mower, my brothers cleaned parts of their bikes and I washed my saddle. We considered the kitchen to be the center and a safe, happy environment for all our activities. Regular meals and an established routine give children a sense of security and stability. When a child feels secure, they also feel much happier and find it easy to do well at school, socially and in various hobbies and interests. A stable child is better able to deal with difficulties, stress and emotional upsets. Regular meals are also beneficial for health reasons too. They actually regulate all of the body's cycles - physical, emotional and mental.

Meal times are traditionally centered on the natural cycles of the day. Breakfast, literally meaning to break fast, is an uplifting start to the day. Breakfast also aligns with the rising energy of the sun. This meal gives you the necessary vitality to go out into the world or to begin your daily adventure. Lunch is eaten when the sun is most active or at mid-day. Lunch can go either way. A light, simple lunch will give you the necessary stamina to be active and complete your work. A large lunch is better suited to an afternoon siesta or for relaxing. Dinner is eaten when the sun is setting and the energy of the day is calming down. This is a time for returning home, re-aligning and becoming a family unit once again. When we align with the cycles of nature, it makes life flow in a smooth and supportive manner.

Table manners are very important. Not only do they make eating together pleasurable, they also help a child to develop self-discipline and improve their health. Sitting up straight and eating with a closed mouth help to strengthen the digestive system and improve the assimilation of nutrients. Taking small portions and eating everything on the plate shows gratitude for life and all the work that has gone into making food available. Eating slowly with small mouthfuls is good for the brain and makes it easier to focus with clarity. Learning to sit still and wait for dishes to be passed can help to develop patience and teach a child the value of being calm and quiet. Teaching a child 'how' to eat is as important as 'what' to eat and makes it easier for them to be strong and healthy.

Small children often have limited tastes. When they observe their parents eating a wide selection of delicious, natural, healthy foods and dishes, it exposes them to the enjoyment of variety. It also helps them to develop a broad outlook on life. Learning to share during the meal shows a child that the world doesn't always revolve around them. It helps a child to understand the power of giving and receiving. Sharing food also develops gratitude. When time is set aside to really enjoy the meal, then the love, time and effort that the cook has put in is reciprocated. Spending time on the meal, also helps the body to relax and become open to receiving nourishment. Having your child help set the table or clear the dishes can encourage the idea of giving and receiving. Children can be involved with the meal time preparation at a very young age even if it is as simple as putting the napkins on the table.

The family meal is a way to understand the subtle forces of energy in nature. During the meal there should be a gentle flow between creativity and discipline. These two forces go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. If you give your child too much freedom, it will be hard for them to develop inner strength, the ability to focus and rely on their own resources. Too much discipline, however, can break a child's spirit; foster feelings of low self-esteem and create a desire to rebel. This subtle balance between freedom and discipline can be established during the family meal. The love, laugher and shared stories mixed with respect, table manners, sharing and listening makes for a complete experience, one that will remain with your child throughout his life.