We all know that families should eat together. Reality check: bickering kids, fussy eaters, stacked dishes, and the worry about what meals to provide. Research shows that while parents often want their families to eat together, life often gets in the way. Squeezing in kids’ sport, after school activities, and homework, all after a long day at work, is challenging. To add to this, feeling unsure about how to cater for different tastes and struggling to find the money for meals, are factors that prevent families from regularly eating together. However, opportunities to eat together can come at different times of the day, and can be as simple as sharing a snack with the kids after school.
These factors are symptomatic of more than just a rise in internal family pressures. Cultural changes in working and domestic lives have led to a decrease in families eating together. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) reports that trends in employment have shifted away from that of a breadwinning dad and stay-at-home mum. Now, it is common for both parents to juggle the demands of family life whilst working. While the current COVID-19 pandemic has seen many of us spend more time at home, job losses and pay cuts have meant that more families are struggling to make ends meet. Families have also become more diverse in arrangement and size. No longer is mum, dad, and two children the norm. With single-parent households more common, the challenge of putting food on the table has become an even harder reality for some. Piled on top of this, technology has made its way into our homes, forming a distraction for parents and kids alike.
So, how can we eat together more often without the added stress? The good news is there is no ‘right’ way of doing it. Family meals look different in each household.
So, in light of National Families Week this week (15 to 21 May 2021), here are our top tips for coming together more regularly to eat as a family:
- If you are not already eating together, aim to do so one day a week. If weeknights are too chaotic, take time over the weekends to enjoy food as a family – whether that be for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If you’re lucky, there may be leftovers for the week.
- Don’t worry if not everyone can make it. Sit with whoever is at home. Make a rule for no phones or tablets during the meal at least once during the week.
- Try to get everyone involved in preparing food for a meal.
- Meals don’t need to be perfect. What does matter is the act of coming together itself, whether that be over shared meals or quick and easy snacks. Don’t feel guilty if its reheating a frozen meal or putting together pasta and sauce.
- Take the pressure off. Mealtimes can be stressful and chaotic at times, especially when food is refused. It’s your role to decide what and when food is served, but let your kids decide how much they eat, if anything at all.
The important thing is finding some time to eat together, whatever that might look like for you and your family. Enjoy yourself, and chances are your kids will enjoy themselves too.