Dinner at the Table: Our Beloved Ritual

 Dinner at the Table

Throughout all of human history, families or entire villages would join together in the evening to eat, talk and have fun. The men would go off hunting and grunting in the morning and the women would stay in the village making...um....loin cloths...or foraging nearby for firewood and berries. The entire day was preparation for the evening meal and the more successful the day the better the meal. Being survivalists, our ancestors knew what was best for them and put energy into things that were beneficial to the pack. They were aware of the numerous benefits of eating together, otherwise they wouldn't have done it.

For hundreds of thousands of years, everyday life was focused on The Meal. That incredible historical record started to come to an end about thirty years ago. Now, families are far less likely to even eat together regularly and even less likely to sit at a table and talk without a TV blaring away. Take away the families that sit at the table without TV but with everyone focused on a handheld gadget and those that are left are seriously in the minority. We are certainly not survivalists anymore.
My family is small and we don't have a lot but one thing we do have is gratitude. One thing we are particularly grateful for is our wonderful dinner times. Both lunch and dinner, eaten at the dinner table, are the
highlights of our day and treated with respect.

My daughter is ten but not once has a mealtime been squandered due to bad behaviour. Just the threat of not being permitted to join me at the dinner table is enough to shock her into obedience. This is a mark of
her enjoyment in mealtimes.

Our dinner table is nothing special: just an old renovated wooden table with the odd paint smudge and jigsaw gash....it doubles up as our workbench. But we make it look nice with a candle and maybe a flower from the countryside, really ramping it up for Christmas time. On Sundays, we have more candles and napkins. We put on some retro music and make sure we look nice, often picking out some jewellery to wear. These little touches help to make mealtimes special and become our focus, rather than what next to buy or where next to go. Setting the table also gives my daughter the opportunity
to help and to do something well.

As we have no TV or smartphone, my daughter has my undivided attention every mealtime and I hers. We also sit opposite each other so we make lots of eye contact. This not only gives me time to just sit and enjoy admiring my daughter but it also provides the opportunity to spot and correct any bad habits. Rocking back on the chair, sniffing, holding the knife and fork incorrectly, not sitting still, eating all the best bits of the dinner first, etc, need a lot of requests to correct! Consistent effort pays off though and she is usually impeccably behaved at the dinner table, at home or elsewhere.

Listening to my daughter talking about her day can alert me to problems she's having. Even if I can't fix all her problems, she feels better if she's had the opportunity to share them. Don't we all? She also has her chance to tell me about anything good that has happened and get praise for achievements. I can also correct her pronunciation as she talks and she can improve her vocabulary as I talk.

 We have a rule that nothing is allowed to be brought to the table to ensure no-one is distracted, but this rule is often broken due to my daughter handing over a note or picture, hastily prepared while I make dinner. These notes usually convey love, thanks and promises of good behaviour and they start our meals off with a smile. We also break the rule by sometimes reaching for the little 'Mum' book, which is now used to scribble down
funny things my daughter has said at dinnertimes.

Not once have we had an awkward silence but instead always manage to chatter away about school, friends, the dog, what we're going to do at the weekend, what creative projects we can think of, etc. Our best ideas have come to us at the dinner table.....or is it the family brainstorming table? We will often chat about current affairs and my daughter sometimes proudly tells me stories of her contributions towards similar
conversations in the classroom.

Another thing we discuss over dinner is nutrition. My daughter loves healthy food, especially vegetables. Instead of just giving her her dinner I tell her what each ingredient would do for her. Carrots help her to see at night, chicken helps build a strong body, olive oil kept her joints healthy, bright coloured vegetables make her skin look nicer, etc. Every food is sold in terms of what it will do for her as well as how good it tastes. She eats everything on her plate probably 99% of the time and loves whatever I muster up. That's not because I'm the world's best cook but because she doesn't just
see food as a pleasurable thing but functional too.

We go to a little café about once a week where we are now familiar faces, often sitting at the same table....our other dinner table, such creatures of habit are we. We treat our little lunches out in just the same way as if we were eating at home: we give each other our undivided attention,
unless someone interesting walks past.

Sometimes I will see a parent sitting at a table with their children and not see the parent look up from their smartphones. This gives me the opportunity to reiterate to my daughter how lucky we are to have devoted so much time to each other to instil a sense of gratitude, which is a wonderful thing, and also so she goes on to do the same when she is a mother. I once said, "For goodness sake, talk to your kids" without realising it would be heard by the father sitting a few tables away with his wife and two children, each person clutching a gadget. Moments later my daughter said, 'Mummy, the man just said to the woman what you said!' and, sure enough, the gadgets were swiftly put away and a conversation was hurriedly started. I felt terrible at first but was glad he'd heard as I watched the family go from a gathering of isolated statues sitting in silence to an animated family of happy people chatting, laughing and cuddling up to each other. It was a remarkable transformation. I should open my mouth more often.

Having been brought up in a home in which dinnertimes were more often than not an unpleasant ordeal, I wanted dinnertimes in my home to be the happiest times of the day. My dinnertime mantra has always been 'bring your best self to the dinner table' and my unbreakable rule is to never spoil a dinnertime. It's very easy to slip into lazy mealtimes with everyone using a gadget or everyone glued to the TV with their plates on their knees, or bad manners being allowed to mushroom unchecked and miserable attitudes being matched by hostility. But there is so much to be gained from
keeping this time in the day a positive experience, which will impact
on the rest of the day.

If I am not the one to teach my daughter how to hold a knife and fork, who is? If I am not the one to remind her to chew her food properly and why that is important, who is? If I am not going to listen to my daughter's problems, who is? If I am not going to educate my daughter on the benefits of healthy food, who is? Most importantly of all though: if I am not going to be the one to sit and marvel at my lovely daughter and make her feel loved and wanted, who is?

Think back to when you were a child. Imagine how you would have felt if someone had focused on you, every day, in a happy environment. Doesn't it feel good? Lights up your eyes and puts a smile on your face, doesn't it? Be the one who looks at, listens to and talks to their child at the dinner table and, like a flower blossoming in the sunlight, your child's spirits will be
lifted and many good things will grow from that.

The family that eats together stays together....and stays
healthier and happier too.


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