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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What I learned at the table

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

large multi generational family around dinner table

I venture that outside of formal school I have learned more around a table sharing meals with others than in any other single place. I’ve learned language, manners, customs, cuisine, jokes, stories, trivia, and truths. I’ve learned that toddlers throw food on the floor and young children have trouble sitting still. I’ve learned that fixing the meal often takes longer than eating it, but the time spent eating it together is time well spent.

Meet my family.

Every Monday we gather for dinner at University Place, home to GG (my mother) and Nana (my mother-in-law). On Family Day, celebrated on the 4th Monday in September, our group included my husband and all three of our children, one daughter-in-law, and all four grandchildren. My sister-in-law was there too, but she was the photographer. Thanks, Aunt Suzie!

How common is coming together around the table?

Growing up I didn’t give family meals much thought. They just were. Three times a day. Then, as an early intervention nutrition specialist, I started making home visits and investigating solutions to child feeding challenges. I discovered that many families did not come together for family meals and many didn’t even have a table for eating together. I wondered…

Does eating together make a difference?

I have studied the impact of family meals for nearly two decades and I’ve learned that they are much more than the food consumed. Making family meals happen makes a difference – in fact, more often than not, eating together was a key solution to the feeding issues those families were experiencing. I’m more convinced than ever that making time for family meals reaps many benefits.

Here are 4 things I’ve learned about family meals:

Meals connect people

We thrive on connection. This is the number one reason people give for having family meals – to spend time together and build closeness. In the blog, Could eating together help us live longer? we explored how eating together can help overcome loneliness and social isolation and may even increase longevity.

Meals mark time

We thrive on routine. Meals provide structure to our days – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A meal routine provides security to children and adults alike. Meals mark holidays and celebrations throughout the year with special meals on special days. Family recipes are passed down from generation to generation.

Meals nourish more

We thrive on more than food. Yes, we need nutrients. But we also benefit from the conversations we share around the table. We exchange ideas, we solve problems - we nourish our brains. We laugh, we cry, we express affection - we nourish our spirits.

Meals make memories

We thrive on traditions. What are your memories of your great-grandparents, if you were fortunate to have been alive at the same time? Do those memories include family meals? It is likely they do. Meals bring families together across generations and build treasured traditions.

When Isaiah and Maddie and Micah and Emily remember GG and Nana years from now, they will remember Monday nights around a table at University Place with good food, conversation, and lots of love.

For more on family meals, visit my Promoting Family Meals page for free resources about family meals.

Speaking to groups about family meals is one of my favorite speech topics. Interested? Learn more at my speaking page.

What have you learned around the table? Share in the comments.

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