IT has often been said that the family that prays together, stays together. But it is not just praying together that helps build stability in the family. Eating together does, too. More specifically, having regular and frequent family meals can do wonders for family life.
Family meals mean so much more than just gathering around a table to eat together. Of course, having food on the table is already a blessing in itself, considering that so many people around the world often have too little or nothing at all to eat. Shared family meals can extend and multiply the blessing of food a hundredfold. No wonder Pope Francis himself needed to devote a Wednesday general audience to stress how important it is that families eat together. According to a Catholic News Agency report, he said: “Sitting at table for the family dinner, sharing our meal and the experiences of our day, is a fundamental image of togetherness and solidarity.”
Research has shown that having regular and frequent family meals is good for both the body and the spirit of all family members. This practice plays an important role in raising children who are not only physically healthy but also emotionally, psychologically, and morally sound.
Family dinners, in particular, are a perfect time for bonding. It gives family members the opportunity to connect and check in with each other at the end of the day. This is the time for parents to ask their children about how their day went and for children to ask their parents the same. The mere act of asking indicates an interest in the daily experiences of each family member, and such interest can lead to a clearer and deeper understanding of what everyone in the family is going through.
Pope Francis said having dinner with your family and not your smart phone is a “sure thermometer” to look into how well the family is doing – individually and as one body. He said: “In the family, if something is wrong, or if there’s some hidden wound, at the table you see it right away.”
According to studies, children who regularly dine and communicate with their parents feel more open and secure about talking with them about the challenges they encounter, such as difficulties in school, peer pressure, and relationship issues. Every day, children learn about the world from many outside sources. The dinner table should thus serve as a safe haven where they can talk about what they think and how they feel.
Light but not shallow
For this to happen, a warm and positive atmosphere should pervade at the dinner table so that the whole experience of the family meal can be a stress-reliever for both parents and children. The conversation topic plays a big role in making family mealtimes work. To this end, light and positive conversation starters are always the best bets. After all, the family meal is not the time to nag each other, bring up problem issues, or get into serious debates. The goal is to spark fun but meaningful conversations that will ultimately strengthen the bonds of love and trust within the family to help all members face the daily challenges of life.
Light does not mean shallow. With the right approach, conversing about something light can lead to an opportunity to talk about important values. Small moments can be an effective means to explore and teach larger life lessons. In future issues, this section will give you ideas about mealtime topics, suggestions on how to direct the conversation, and insights to improve the quality of family meals.
The benefits of shared meals was not lost on Jesus Christ, who often “broke bread” with His disciples and continuously invites us to “break bread” in His memory during the Holy Eucharist. When done on a regular basis, the family dinner can serve as an anchor for the day, a ritual that all family members, especially children, can look forward to with certainty. When a spirit of love, acceptance, and openness prevails, family mealtimes can become the best part of the day, a place to create pleasant memories of shared stories and laughter, and a time to grow together as a family.