I remember at college when I first met my wife to be… I wanted to impress her and so decided to dazzle her with my culinary skills. I opened some tins of Campbells tomato soup, heated up some apricot pie and decorated the table with mint leaf lollies (my favourite). Little did I know that my wife hates canned soup and mint leaf lollies and is not really into apricot pies either. But that meal did communicate more than the disastrous menu… I loved her and wanted to spend time with her!
When I first met my wife I remember going to her home one Friday evening to meet her family. The Pascoe family meal tradition on a Friday night has been the same for the last 20 years or more. Home made bread, home made jam and cream and potato soup. Woe betide the parent if the menu varies much outside that… it always has to be the same. Many a Friday night has been spent in the Pascoe home with the ever-growing extended family eating together. But the meal communicates much more than the menu. It communicates belonging, acceptance, love, grace and a sense of peace.
Family mealtimes really do matter!
The busy rat race we find ourselves in means that mealtimes are getting pushed out of the homes and to the fast food tables of McDonalds and KFC rather than being a sacred time of togetherness, congeniality and unhurried time in the family home.
The stresses of both couples in a home working, single parent families, flexible working hours, commuting and out of home activities has meant that in many homes the dining table has become a dusty irrelevancy. Finding the time to carve out an hour or so for a family meal where everyone is together is becoming harder and harder to do and leaves one asking the question is the stress of it all worth it?
Do family mealtimes really matter? According to research they do and the magic is not so much in the food that we prepare and eat but in the community that meals create and the conversations that ensue.
Studies from Columbia University have repeatedly found that families that eat together at least four or five times per week were more likely to have children who do better at school. These children were also less likely to get involved in at-risk activities and these children were also more likely to adopt the values and traditions that the extended family held dear.
Catherine Snow from Harvard discovered that mealtime conversations teach children more vocabulary than when parents read to them.
A Reader’s Digest survey of more then 2,000 parents compared academic achievement with family characteristics. Surprisingly, eating meals together was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether the children lived with one or two parents.
Brunello Cuicinelli, a well known fashion designer, believes that mealtimes matter. In his factories, lunchtime is an hour and a half long. Staff sit down at a long proper table to eat and talk. Cucinelli believes that a proper lunch is a sacred ritual – il pranzo e’ sacro – and one that ups the creativity of his workers and fosters a familial cohesion in the office and on the factory floor. (Monocle Magazine January 2014)
Perhaps mealtimes is a 'sacred ritual' that we need to reclaim, redefine, remake and ritualise in our homes to reap the rewards that flow not only to our children but to us personally.
Hugh Mackay (2014), well know social researcher and writer, says that the "sharing of food is perhaps our most ancient ritual for expressing the need to nurture the relationships, the families, the communities that sustain us. 'Breaking bread' together symbolises our need for social and emotional as well as physical sustenance. Without having to put it into words, the kind of meal we offer someone and the way we present it to them, can convey messages as diverse as welcome, acceptance, friendship, collegiality, sympathy, rapprochement, apology, forgiveness and love."
So then! Time to get to it and begin to do that master chef experience in your home. The benefits are for here and for eternity.
(Daron gets off his soap box and mumbling wanders on into the kitchen and begins rummaging in the pantry).