Kenvale College interviewed Academic Director, Sandra Clark on the importance of family meals. Sandra is a chef, wife, mother and studied a Masters in Food Studies at the University of Adelaide. She conducted her thesis on the importance of family meals, which she completed in 2015. She shared with us some of her insights drawn from her studies.
Beyond a gracefully-set table, a home-cooked meal, the gathering of all family members and the teamwork that comes with washing up after dinner – there is more than meets the eye than a set of traditional practices.
Why is the tradition of family meals still important, not just in the time that we live in, but also in every culture around the world? To explore this topic in more detail, Sandra shared with us three core reasons, each of which are also key elements of our Home Management course.
1) Cultivating social skills
One of the distinct characteristics in a family meal is the dinner table, whether it is round, square or rectangular. Chairs are placed around it in such a manner that it creates a setting where eye contact is maintained among each family member.
Immediately, an environment of intimacy is created where an opportunity for conversation is opened. It is during a family meal that children learn what it's like to converse with others, to share about topics that are important to them and also to engage in other people's interests.
Parents, by example, show children that family meals present before them a process of learning. Children are able to learn and develop a basic structure of a conversation – the idea of waiting until the other person has finished talking and learning to listen rather than dominating the conversation mindlessly all the time.
Cultivating social skills is beneficial for building self-confidence, allowing people to handle situations in the workplace, in public, at learning institutions and casual social settings. They are a skill that is fundamental from the moment they are born until they become adults. One of the most effective ways to learn these skills is in an environment in which they are eating together, which is often pleasurable.
2) Grasping etiquette and basic manners
Parents are the first teachers of children, and it is often in a family meal setting that they learn how to implement words such as 'please', 'thank you' and 'sorry'.
Etiquette and basic manners are one aspect of developing skills.
Sandra had concluded in her thesis that children who live a poor family life did not know how to use cutlery and were oblivious to basic etiquette on the table. Some of these basics included not burping, not taking responsibility for making mess and eating properly.
You could say that etiquette and basic manners are one aspect of developing skills, as they allow children to become receptive with expectations of how to behave, and they are taught in a setting that is practical and not so imposing.
3) Affirming identity and a sense of belonging
People are naturally social beings and what comes with that natural disposition is a yearning for a sense of belonging. Family meals affirm this as it is a time where members are able to open up to one another. Issues that can be worrying a person are revealed and it gives other family members an opportunity to help them cope – simply through conversation.
The act of opening up is an act of intimacy where one is not afraid to be vulnerable due to a sense of security and belonging within their own family unit.
Other conclusions Sandra had gathered from her thesis is that children who have positive meal experiences are less likely to be drug dependent. People who had terrible family meal experiences did not want to have meals with their children in the future.
Family meals foster the person's identity, which is where they understand their sense of belonging, allowing them to perceive their self-worth compared to those who do not implement this practice very often or at all.
"Growing up, I learned life's important lessons at the dinner table." – Chef John Besh