One of the first “home cooked meals” Dave made, for me, was canned chicken soup and grilled cheese sandwich.
After he served my sandwich on paper plate and soup in a mug, he sat in front of the TV and he started eating his soup – from the pot! I almost choked! Who eats soup from a pot? What would my mother say?
He said- “That’s what we do when we camp”. The next day, I bought soup bowls.
My Inay, who came from humble beginnings would not even allow plastic wares on our table. And here is my American husband, eating soup from a pot.
Dave had been single for almost two years. I guess that’s what single American men do. They eat in front of the TV. Out of a pot!
All that changed quickly. I insisted on sit down meals, no TV, and grace before meals. Away from his man cave, Dave had to relearn the rituals of eating with a partner.
Family meals are important to me. The meals I shared with my sons is what I miss most from home.
Eating in front of the TV is not exclusive to single American men. Studies show that more than half of American families rarely eat dinner together.
Often, food is set on the kitchen counter, they help themselves, and sit in front of the TV, alone. We don’t need to be experts to see that this is one of the evident reasons for the current loneliness epidemic.
Breaking bread together has always met our basic need to connect with others. It is a human ritual that separates us from beasts.
A study by the University of Michigan says that family meals are important for character building – just like going to church.
These are the most important “happy hours” of our lives. When was the last time you sat down to have family dinner?
THE VALUE OF FAMILY MEALS
- CHILDREN LEARN TO CONVERSE They say that children who grew up having sit down dinners have better people skills. This is probably true, because all my four sons can carry on conversations with strangers, even as kids.
- FAMILY MEALS CREATE ROUTINES. This gives kids the feeling of security and stability. It is a reminder of the true essence of what a family is: belonging—on a daily basis. When kids know that there’s good food – they look forward to home.
- FAMILY MEALS ARE MINI TRAVELS When we introduce new cuisine in a safe environment, it teaches kids how to take risks. My kids are all adventurous with food. This is a good way to avoid socially awkward kids who can’t dine comfortably in a social setting.When I was a single mom, back in Manila, for the first two years, restaurant meals were a luxury we had to give up. We had to adjust to one income. But I didn’t want my kids to feel deprived, so I trained our Manang to cook delicious food. It had to be restaurant quality and the table was always beautifully set. I had different sets of plates. We had a set for Chinese meals, Japanese meals. I even had a dulang (floor table) made for our Korean meals.When things got better, we started eating out again. But my sons would say, food is better at home. Our home became known to my sons’ friends for the delicious meals our Manang served.
4. IT CREATES LIFE CONTINUITY They create memories and traditions through family recipes and family mantras repeated around the dinner table. These are stories that our children will remember years from now.
When I smell pandan leaves, I get transported back to childhood meals in Silang where my Lolo insisted that rice should be cooked with pandan over woodburning stove.
5. IT TEACHES GRATITUDE A time to give thanks. We take turns saying our grace. This practice made my kids comfortable praying publicly.
Dave’s grandson, Ethan stayed with us one summer. Back to Michigan, he was asked, what he liked most in California. He said –“We ate together, and we prayed before eating.” I didn’t realize that my humble adobo and our prayers were etched in the heart of this young boy.
These days, we have a rule – if I cook, Dave prays and vise versa. I’ve also learned to compromise. I now eat in front of the TV, once in a while.
Years from now, I know that when Ethan sees a bowl of white rice, no matter where he is in the world, he would remember the prayers and the meals with his Asian grandma.