Wake Up Call

Life Lessons and Family Bonding Vanishing as Family Meal Times Lost To Busy Lifestyles

Co-founder of Paisley Park and early childhood specialist, Katarzyna Wieczorek-Ghisso shares her thoughts on families and mealtimes.

Families today are struggling to find quality time together where the focus is on conversation and sharing. 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.

Conversation would happen in the kitchen while meals were being prepared together with tales of how great grandma made this special mulberry pie. Tradition was uncovered as tablecloths and napkins laid with the table set and meals served. Laughter often ensued as conversation flowed freely.

It’s a different world today and it’s worrying because all this could be lost in a generation. Busy lifestyles mean limited time so family meals are rushed and often outsourced, rarely spent together at a dining table.

A staggering one-third of all household activities are now outsourced, according to a recent IBIS World report – that includes everything from walking the dog, washing cars, doing the shopping and cooking – even teaching children to tie their shoelaces.

The meal solutions 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 take away meals become more accessible, we face a rapid decline in a sharing ‘generation’ or ‘family secret’ recipes and opportunities to cook together. As catered meals become a prominent feature in many Australian households, we compromise the opportunities for family role modelling to younger generations potentially jeopardising cultural connections and preserving unique family traits.

Cooking and sharing a meal together allows children to experience a sense of personal achievement when they have produced a meal that is enjoyed by their family. Cooking extends to all learning areas such as measuring, estimating, problem solving, dexterity and coordination, language development through reading recipes and learning methods. Cooking is often a social experience so children learn how to positively relate to one another strengthening their emotional and regulation capacities.

This opportunity to communicate, relate to and share our daily experience with others at the family dinner table is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. Caused by our fast-paced living which will not miraculously disappear, we need to be more mindful about the compromises we make to our family when outsourcing becomes an attracting alternative to virtually everything in daily living. Outsourcing meals and chores takes away valuable family bonding opportunities, where family relationships are best nurtured.

We should be cooking as often as we can with our children. This requires careful planning and children can be part of the process. Simply having a weekly calendar in place where family meals are planned in advance is a really handy way to commit to quality family time. Involving children in ingredients sourcing, growing their own in veggie patches and going shopping themselves, means they will be more receptive to taking responsibility for the time that has been allocated. This extends to the total meal experience which includes setting up the table and cleaning up together.

Children today have access to a varied use of ingredients across cultures so we are really blessed in this country to have a smorgasbord of cuisine at our doorstep where even using chopsticks is now common practice. Yet some households simply turn their backs on this.

As some families lose sight of bonding and teaching life skills at home it’s early learning centres that are stepping in to ensure not all is lost, especially since some children today spend more time in child care than they do in their own home.

To break the busy cycle parents should make it a priority to build independence, resilience and confidence in their children. 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.

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. This can happen in moderation, but essentially comes down to children sampling, in small doses initially, varied flavours and textures early on.

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, which ultimately leads to its success.

Kat Wieczorek-Ghisso is the Co-Founder of Paisley Park Early Learning Centres across Australia with over 20 years experience in early childhood education.

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