Monday, August 26, 2013

Mealtime as Family Time

Yay....I am on a roll and the good news is my mentor is pleased with the prolificness of my blog. The bad news.....she is also pulling her hair out with my sentence structure and grammar. Content- A, Basic grammar- C-! Oh well, I guess I will forever be a work in progress. So moving forward, today on To Like or Not to Like....I chose a Like.

When I was kid (pretty young in fact), houses were usually built with a place to eat in the kitchen and also a dinning room where you had your fancy table, often a buffet and sometimes even a china cabinet. Both rooms were utilized for sit-down eating. The kitchen was usually breakfast and lunch eating and the dinning room was supper/dinner, Sunday dinner and holidays. At least that is how it was at my house. You ALWAYS ate meals at "a" table and if you ate between meals (which you seldom did) it was either in the kitchen or outside. Eating in the living room, your bedroom or any other room in the house was grounds for punishment.

As we evolved as a nation, my belief is that one of the greatest detriments to society and the family was the invention of the tv dinner. I think Swans was the original culprit and they took a main course such as fried chicken, potatoes, a veggie and sometimes a dessert....froze them in a tin foil container and sent them to your grocery store to be purchased and reheated in the oven and then front of the tv (thus I guess the name). Since bowls of food on the table, serving utensils and even dishes were no longer necessary (the foil container was also the plate) it wasn't a huge jump to the purchasing of the small and individual tv trays so that we could park ourselves in front of the tv in the living room/den and enjoy a meal watching the news or our favorite program. WOW what an invention!

With the modern convenience of tv dinners, women were able to spend less time preparing food and cleaning up. They felt that they were still giving their families a well balanced meal but their days were no longer full of slaving at a stove or having to end with a sink full of dishes after a long day.  Bonus....they too could actually sit down and enjoy a meal. It was an apparent win for everyone and this was evident in the amount of tv dinners that went flying out of stores over the next few decades. What could be wrong with convenience and time saving meals served in half the time or less that an actual meal could be prepared?

Humans are funny creatures. When convenience of just about any kind comes into our lives, we quickly forget our pre-convenience ways. With the upsurge of tv dinners, many homes went from the occasional tv dinner night to tv dinners most nights. Kitchen tables became catch-alls for papers and just about anything.....except for meals....and dinning room tables became dusty, unused and obsolete. Another funny thing is that all rules pre-tv dinner seemed to go out the window. Suddenly no room in the house was off limits for food (except maybe the bathroom). Another funny thing was that our tv dinners over the years became much smaller and filled with more additives and just plain crap, while our tv's started becoming much larger. Not sure what the correlation is here....but it is true.

The worst thing though that I feel happened when Swans brought convenience to our lives was that we all forgot how to be a family. A dramatic statement you say? I think not. When we ate at the table as a family whether it was breakfast or a big holiday meal, it was a time of togetherness, conversation and bonding. Parents were able to catch up with their kids day, husbands and wives had real conversations and families in general knew that it was sacred family time where there were no interruptions and everyone was expected to exceptions!

I am sad to say that I, like many, lost my way in the new world of tv dinners and eating in front of the tv. With kids coming and going all the time, often it was easier to throw a dinner in the microwave and plop down for two minutes on the couch in front of the tv. Then one day I realized that 1) I didn't like feeding my kids what was in those dinners, 2) they were expensive and 3) I had a perfectly good kitchen table that I cleaned around but seldom used. It was then that I decided that our tv dinner days as well as our days eating in front of the tv were gone and I have never looked back.

It is my belief that along with making us lazy and tv obsessed, those little conveniently packed meals where also a catalyst for breaking down families and also making us a nation of obesity. Again you say "too dramatic?" Think about it. Before tv dinners, we ate at the table. We cleaned up after dinner and everyone had a job doing so, then there might be time for a couple of hours of tv if the family didn't have something else planned. With the onset of tv dinners, kids and adults alike turned the tv on the minute they came in the door in the evening and didn't even have to turn it off for dinner. Soon watching the boobtube became more important than family conversation or activity. Also, before tv dinners....the kitchen or dining room were the only places you ate and usually you only ate when a meal was prepared and on the table. When we started opening up other places in the house to eat, suddenly there were no rules of when, where and what we ate. Lets not forget too, that if we are nothing.....we are a lazy nation. Some became too lazy to even put a meal in the microwave thus the expansion and growth of fast good restaurants all over the country. If tv dinners had been the emergence of lazy eaters in our society.....then fast food restaurants had sealed our fate. Now we have instant gratification in food. We can order and have a burger, fries and a drink within two minutes (sometimes even quicker if freshness is not an issue) and we can eat in our car, at our desk, in our bed and front of our 150" tv's if we want. Through it all, we don't even have to talk to a family member, ask anyone how their day was or act as if we are part of a family at all. It is not good!

When I put the kibosh on eating anywhere but the table, I heard grumblings from everywhere. I also had doubts about myself if I would live up to fixing a meal 3 times a day. I am happy to say that I have lived up to my part and because of this...the family came around pretty quickly. The kids liked having home cooked and not just microwaved pre-packaged foods. I had much more control of what was going into my kids and they weren't eating much in between meals because they were full from actually eating meals. As a family we all started looking forward to sit down meals at the table without tv or cell phones. We have gone to eating a meal in about 10 minutes in front of the tv without ever saying a word to each other, to spending about 30-45 minutes at the table both taking and eating. It has become an amazing family time for us. The bonus is my kitchen is really clean. I have to clean it three times a day now. I always know what I have on hand so stuff doesn't go bad in the frig from non-use and this saves money in the long run. No waste. The rest of my house is cleaner too as I don't walk through and find dirty dishes and half eaten food. It is simply a win all the way around, but mostly it is a win for our family as a whole!

So today I like home cooked meals, eating them at the table and mealtime as family time. I may not be able to change the rest of the world but I can make my home and family just a little less lazy, a little more healthy and a lot more bonded! Happy Monday!


Anonymous said...

I really like today's blog. I remember the days you talk about and I am also one who forces family sit down meals. During ball season we have some scheduling issues but the rest of the time we eat as a family. You also make some great points about where our world of convenience has gotten us. Great writing. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. For many of us sitting down to family meals is nearly impossible with all the different schedules our families have. Activities compete with meal times and family time. I do insist though that my family has a sit down meal on Sundays. It has been a long standing tradition in my home and it is our catch up family time of the week. I like all you said though and do agree that we lost a lot with the tv dinner revolution.