Caterina DeFalco pinpoints a common, practical, and crucial area of our lives that we can easily nurture and produce exceedinly valuable benefits for us and our families. Beautifully prepared for a modern world with old world ingredients of wisdom.
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By: Caterina De Falco
There are many famous phrases about food, such as ““One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”― Virginia Woolf, “Laughter is brightest where food is best”- Irish Proverb and “Good food ends with good talk.” -Geoffrey Neighbor. As each of these phrases suggests, food represents love, it makes us happy, it brings us together, and it helps us create strong bonds with those we care about.
Sharing good food together is one of the most powerful things that you can do every day to create more meaningful connections with your children and create a family legacy that is more valuable than any wealth. However, I see that the family dinner tradition is often overlooked and underestimated. It is almost a lost art today. Lost to hectic schedules, more reliance on convenience foods and the increased use of personal devices. The good news is that it does not have to stay this way.
Return to the Table is about the experience you create when you take the time every day to relax together. Laugh together. And share your deepest feelings together with good food.
During this holiday season, you likely spent a lot of time with family and at the table. Cooking and enjoying good food together, talking and connecting. Imagine how it would feel to have this experience all year long. Of course, regular family dinners will not be as elaborate or as long as holiday dinners but, you can create the same effect every day.
As you start the new year, I invite you to make dinnertime a priority and one of the most important parts of your day. Children crave bonding time with parents every day, and everyone in the family must eat. When you combine nourishing their bodies and their emotions for at least 20- 30 minutes, magic happens.
Research shows that children who enjoy regular family dinners
- Perform better in school and have higher standardized test scores
- Eat more vegetables and fruits
- Have a lower risk of obesity and eating disorders
- Are less likely to fall into negative behavior or suffer from depression
- They have higher self-esteem and self confidence
- Develop a larger vocabulary and have increased cognitive thinking skills
- Have a lower risk of substance abuse and being withdrawn
- Are more open and share what is going on their lives
Food has the power to connect us but also to heal our relationships, to our families and to ourselves.
It’s not just important what you eat but how you eat. How you eat starts with your table culture. Take a moment to breathe and rest before eating, chew slowly, eat in courses and really take the time to savor your food. Create a routine around setting the table and get everyone involved. And always use quality, wholesome ingredients.
Here are some tips to get started creating a new routine at your table. Share with your family that regular family dinners are going to be a priority. Commit to sitting at the table for at least 20 minutes without any electronics. Create a family menu of at least 5 dinners that everyone likes and that are easy to prepare during the week. When it comes to getting the food on the table, I share a system called Stock It, Prep It and Roll It. Having the kitchen stocked with good ingredients that can allow you simply prepare a dish quickly and rolling leftovers to create a new dish can set you up for success during the busy week.
Making some of the dishes ahead of time such as soups, pesto or lasagna and freezing them will make dinner preparation easy on a busy night. Prepare a dish such as melon and prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella salad or pasta with fresh basil are fast, easy and delicious. Rolling leftover roasted vegetables into a puree to use for bruschetta pizzas will make a great meal and can help with getting picky eaters to consume more vegetables.
Give everyone a task to help set the table and prepare the meal. The bonding starts in the kitchen and will make getting dinner ready a breeze and teach children good life skills. Lastly, be ready with conversation starters, or tell a story about your life to open- up the conversation. This can be interesting and even educational.
Below is a link to 5 simple steps to create a new dinnertime routine which includes more on how to get everyone involved, creating your table culture and the art of eating. When you serve dinner more slowly, in a style I learned in France as a college student, there is time to discuss more sensitive topics. Relaxed and satiated, your children start to open-up in ways all parents hope for.
In the safety of the family trust, you might learn your youngest is being bullied and afraid. Your tween will feel safe enough to talk about how much shyness hurts. Your oldest could have the chance to ask advice about choosing friends.
The magic is knowing your family values are reinforced day after day. It’s knowing your influence is stronger than an internet video. And it’s knowing your children are prepared to make good decisions. In the age of “too much” information, that’s magic to me.
Return to the Table can extend beyond just our immediate family table. Grandparents who live faraway can still connect every week with grandchildren and strengthen their bonds and connections. Sharing video meals together is the next best thing to being at the table together. Families that I have worked with have made this extra special by preparing the same meal, such as one of Grandma’s family favorite recipes to eat together virtually. This also gives us a chance to cook with our children and learn family recipes. Baking a family cookie recipe for children to enjoy as an afterschool school snack virtually with grandparents can also create a special memory, like Grandma was right there baking your favorite cookie.
“I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory.” ― Mitch Albom
The fondest memories are made gathered around the table. Return to The Table.