How To Know If You're Eating As A Family

Most people agree that eating together as a family is a desirable thing, and much ink has been spilled over how families can achieve this desirable thing. The more the parents work, the more time the kids spend at activities outside the house, the harder it is to bring the family together around the table. Even once that's done, dinner can feel more like an artificial exercise in family unity than a natural meal together.

For families that manage to eat together frequently, such as mine, many meals are hurried affairs. The kids gobble up their rice and beans so they can rush off to basketball practice, or dad snarffles his eggs so that he can get to work on time. It doesn't always seem like sitting down together was actually any better than everyone grabbing a bowl of something and going back to their separate activities.

Well, no problem, you say. The easy way to solve this is going to be simply to make a bigger deal out of dinner, right? Setting the table properly, putting out cloth knapkins, making sure drinks and all the dishes are all on the table at the same time, making sure that there are several dishes, that dinner is never a PB&J sandwich or rice and beans or whatever your throw-together meal is. That should do it. When making dinner we'll take it seriously, so the family will have to take it seriously when it's served.

That's one way of doing it, I suppose. Although all that will take time, and it might mean you have to give up other things that are important to your family as well. Your homeschool co-op. Your music lessons. Your sports teams. Your sweet extra half-hour of sleeping children before school.

My friends accuse me of always wanting to have my cake and eat it too. This is another such situation. I believe the PB&J lifestyle and the meals together lifestyles can be fully integrated, and on a more satisfying level than just sitting together for ingestion of comestibles.

I definitely think it's important that a family have many full balanced meals together; the more, the better. Meanwhile, whether cutting sandwiches in half, broiling hot dogs, dumping something out of a bag, or even (gasp!) microwaving something, the satisfying unity of family meals is still easily created. Follow your coach's advice: be quick, but don't hurry. Then practice creating an atmosphere of togetherness.

There are many ways to do this, ways of natural ritual that aren't difficult at all, given practice. No matter what or how you're eating, asking the following question should let you know whether you're eating as a family or not: is it a meal, or is it a feeding? Easy enough. Some people eat prime rib, and it's a feeding. Others a PB&J, and it's a meal. It doesn't have to be complicated; it just has to be peaceful. It's not about the table setting or the pace. Look around as everyone is being served, observe the demeanor of the adults, the attitude of the children. Is it a meal, or is it a feeding?


  1. It's so easy to want everything to be perfect, but that's definitely not the attitude to take to a family table! Being together and enjoying each others company is what it's about, no matter what you're serving.

    Actually, sometimes it's hard to enjoy the company - like when you're teaching table manners, or it's been a long day... so I guess it's being together and eating peaceably, as you so aptly put it.


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