The Evolution of the Family Meal
There’s no question about it, the family meal is a challenge during the school year. It’s not school that gets in the way, but the sports and work commitments. Both my children play sports and there is a practice or game to go to every night of the week. So during the week I have to plan meals that can be eaten from 3pm – 9pm. It’s like a restaurant at our house during the week – who is coming, who is going, who is coming back for a second dinner (because my son doesn’t consider eating a meal at 4pm dinner).
I like to keep trays of food (that’s how our Italian family refers to food prepared ahead of time) in the fridge that can be heated up and eaten immediately (instant gratification is the goal when the kids come through the door after school starving because their lunch is scheduled at 11am). Here are some of our favorites: homemade mac and cheese, lasagna, grilled chicken, chicken cutlet, homemade pizza, chili, tacos, meatballs/meatballs heroes, Italian sausage heroes, pasta salad, chicken soup, potato corn chowder, you get the idea. I try and make a few dishes on Sunday/Monday so we start the week off strong.
So I’ve talked about the logistics of feeding the family, but not the issue of missing the family meal. I struggled with this for years, trying to fit the square peg in the round hole. At some point, I just accepted that weekly meals were not going to be what I experienced growing up – my father getting home by 6pm so we could all sit down to dinner to eat as a family.
Instead of fighting against the reality of our schedule, I looked for other opportunities for us to “break some bread” together and to share the spirit of coming together as a family and connecting - weekends seemed like a prime opportunity. With no school on the weekends, there are three meal opportunities - this is my opportunity to entertain my family. Depending on the sports and social schedule, we are able to enjoy a breakfast, lunch and dinner together throughout the weekend – beautiful! If we are on the road for a sports tournament, we have the pleasure of enjoying three meals/day together and do plenty of connecting. Sometimes, you have to look for the bright spots while on the road - being together as a family to support one another is one of them!
I have learned to create opportunities to be together and that it doesn’t have to necessarily be around the dinner table. Last night after everyone finally returned home by 8pm with some friends in tow, my daughter made some homemade chocolate chip cookies and we all sat around the table noshing, dishing and laughing – it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t planned, it just happened and our home was filled with such good spirit. This weekend we are off to a hockey tournament – we have a captive audience, plenty of opportunity for connecting!
So whether it is an impromptu gathering, a road trip or a family meal, be present and open to creating opportunities to share some real time connecting and celebrating being a family. I believe that the important thing is not how you do it, rather it’s that you do it.