Friday, 29 November 2013

The Fast Food Family

Reading the glut of this year’s academic studies, you could be forgiven for thinking that taking meals as a family was the cure for all modern social ills.

In the past six months alone, research has been published claiming that eating meals together is “healthier for children”, “boosts children’s confidence”, and “boosts child fruit and vegetable intake”.

So the reasons to sit down to a nightly, delicious family meal seem self-evident - right?

Alas, the arguments might not be so clear cut. Indeed, one 2013 study by the University of Edinburgh warned ominously that an “unpleasant atmosphere” during meal times was equally associated with poorer diets among the children they studied.

It certainly doesn’t take a massive leap of imagination to guess what might make the mealtime atmosphere less than pleasant: parents stressed and rushing after work; children testing their fussy-eating boundaries; a family all wanting different food at different times and generally dissatisfied with the compromise.

It’s a common conflict across the nation as families struggle to reconcile their awareness of the importance of a nightly family meal and the reality of living in the real world. Sadly, it’s a picture of separatist dining that feels more like an acrimonious break-up rather than a loving family.

Certainly, it’s an easy habit to get in to. The meal becomes fuel, something to be wolfed down quickly, allowing each family member to move onto their next activity. The parent, pushed by their own time-constraints as well as the family’s, serves up dinner like a short-order take-away cook, prioritising speed and convenience over all else.

But it doesn’t have to be like this - and parents, to some extent, have to be willing to revise their own attitudes to food and mealtimes. Otherwise, they run the risk of passing their own bad habits onto their children.

So while time may be undoubtedly pressing, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room in the life of every family for a lovingly-prepared, home-cooked dinner. It doesn’t mean that work, the TV, the gym, or the PC are more important than sharing time together around a table with your loved ones.

Should we demand that life is scheduled around mealtimes rather than the other way round?

Certainly, none of the academic studies goes that far, and of course, many of us fear the accusation of gluttony, the sinful food-love guilt inherited from (and largely invented by) our Victorian ancestors.

Yet if we can cast off those dark thoughts for a minute, we might realise that sitting down to a family meal - a communal experience that’s as much about pleasure, fulfilment and sharing as it is eating - is as much a part of socialisation as learning to speak. And it will similarly equip children with eating skills that will last them a (healthy) lifetime.

Here is the crux of the issue. Children who learn to respect and take pride in their food will grow into discerning dining adults, taking pleasure in mealtimes and passing their experiences to their children in turn. They will be fussy eaters, but only in that they will demand care, attention, time and quality - all factors that contribute significantly to eating healthily and wellbeing.

Image by stockimages -

It means that parents are obliged to embrace the family meal before it is too late. They have to sit down and face each other at a table and eat the same home-cooked food at the same time - and do that as many nights as the week will allow.

Show children that food, like the family it sustains, deserves all the time and respect we have free to give it.

By Daniel Ward

No comments:

Post a Comment