A family that eats together, stays together

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them – Matthew 18:20

Sep 29, 2023

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them – Matthew 18:20

I am not sure how many of you would agree with the phrase “a family that eats together stays together”. As far as I could ever remember, growing up, my family always ate meals together. At least one meal a day during weekdays, especially dinner, was always a meal at which we all sat together at the table.

Then, we did not have all the electronic gadgets that we have now, only the television, and the television would be switched off during dinner and everyone shared whatever food that was on the table. It was from these family dinner sessions that I embraced the lifelong habit of sharing and ensuring that everyone else at the table had their fair share of food. The food was simple everyday fare, but my parents made sure no one was left wanting more, as there was always enough to go around for everyone.

I made sure that this age-old practice of eating together remained in the family when I was raising my children. It was the most precious moment of the day, when everyone was back at home. Today, my daughters have upheld the same practice with their families.

Though the food that is put on the table matters, so does the experience of quality time spent with the family. Dining together helps to strengthen the bonds between family members.

Unfortunately, today, due to work commitments many families forgo eating their meals together. What was once a sacred past-time is altogether becoming forgotten, dismissed or overlooked. Sadly, even meals are mostly on the go for the children who also have busy lifestyles to keep up with their peers. Eating fast food also seems to be the fad among teenagers and young adults.

Eating together matters for many reasons. Children learn to develop the same eating habits and manners of their parents. If parents have good eating habits, children generally form good eating habits. If parents have terrible eating habits, children imitate their habits. Habits take time to develop but, once established, they are difficult to change.

Today, many children eat the first meal, and most probably every meal, at school or day care rather than at home. By the end of the day, many children will have had breakfast, lunch and dinner with people who are not their parents or siblings.
Parents naturally will have less influence over what their children eat and their eating habits when they don’t eat regularly with them. Ultimately, they miss out on the emotional connections that are reinforced when eating as a family.

Eating together provides family members the time and opportunity to talk about a wide variety of things. It also increases children’s sociability and allows them to share their thoughts and ideas, ask questions, share personal stories, argue about things, learn how to settle disagreements amicably and learn new things.

All of us love to share important details and facts about what’s going on in our lives with people we love. Eating together also allows face to face communication — something that young people need to experience very often — especially today when even those in the same household communicate with each other via WhatsApp or other media platforms.

Children learn about gratitude when eating together. Meals should start and end with giving thanks and praise to God for the food that we have been blessed with.

Eating together gives parents the opportunity to observe and address negative eating habits. How often do we come across children who suffer from eating disorders, refusing to try new foods or are not given the opportunity to try new foods, or just eat the same meal over and over again.

Family meals improve physical stamina, cognitive acumen and academic performance due to the nutritious value of the meals and more importantly, if home cooked, the love put into preparing the meals. Home cooked food is mostly lower in fat, sugar and salt intake, has fewer calories and contains more fruit, fibre, vegetables and protein. The truth is that children who eat at the family dinner table rather than on their own consume better food choices and consequently enjoy lower obesity rates.

The easiest way to have a family pray together is having them eat together. Offering a prayer before meals and giving thanks afterwards can become a truly graced moment physically and spiritually for everyone.

The Catholic Church emphasises the importance of family life and considers it to be a fundamental building block of society. Family meals provide an occasion for family members to come together, communicate, and support one another in their faith journey.

Ultimately, the practice of families eating together in the context of our faith is a way to reinforce the values of love, unity and faith within the family unit.

(Regina William is an ex journalist turned head of communications, now full-time grandmother to three youngsters aged between 4.5 and one, crisscrossing the globe to play the role. She can be reached at [email protected])

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