By Kat Wieczorek-Ghisso
Families struggle to find quality time together every day. In the past, family meal times always ensured we caught up on what happened at school or at the office that day and what mood everyone was in.
It’s a different world today and it’s worrying because all this could be lost in a generation. Sharing our daily experience with others at the family dinner table is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.
Busy lifestyles mean limited time so family meals are rushed and often outsourced, and then rarely spent together at a dining table.
We’re outsourcing more
A third of household activities are now outsourced, according to a recent IBISWorld report — that includes everything from walking the dog, washing cars, doing the shopping and cooking.
The meal solutions retail category is now growing by more than 20 per cent a year and demand has spawned a raft of start-up food-delivery businesses.
As takeaway meals become more accessible, we are sharing fewer family recipes and opportunities to cook together.
Researchers at Ohio State University in the United States recently surveyed 13,000 people, finding those who cook meals at home and don’t watch TV while eating are less likely to be obese.
Building skills beyond food
Cooking a meal together allows children to experience a sense of personal achievement when they have produced a meal that is enjoyed by their family. It builds more than cooking skills — it is measuring, estimating, problem solving, dexterity and co-ordination, language development through reading recipes and learning methods.
It is often a social experience so children learn how to positively relate to one another, strengthening their emotional and regulation capacities.
We should be cooking as often as we can with our children. This requires careful planning, but children can be part of the process. Planning family meals in advance on a weekly calendar is a handy way to commit to quality family time. Involving children in ingredient-sourcing, growing their own in veggie patches and going shopping themselves, will make them connect more. This extends to the total meal experience which includes setting up the table and cleaning up together.
We need to be open to mess being made, mistakes and accidents. I think we don’t give children enough credit and often we are over protective. This “cotton wool” treatment prevents the learning of real-life lessons which often occur when things don’t go according to plan.
New tastes, fewer fears
Getting children back in the kitchen cooking will help with bonding and it’s also the best way to get your child to eat new foods, by sampling varied flavours and textures early on.
It also helps children build a healthy relationship with food instead of a growing obesity rate which is at alarming levels with already one in five children overweight.
Lastly, food should never be used as a reward or punishment, as this develops a poor relationship with food and negative association with ingredients featured in meals.
Children need to be encouraged and appropriately praised for being part of the whole meal time experience.
Kat Wieczorek-Ghisso is co-founder of Paisley Park Early Learning Centres.