Mealtime Stories

When we talk about learning, we most often imagine students at individual desks in a classroom led by a teacher. Dedicated time spent focusing on lessons. But that isn’t the only place we learn language, math, health, culture, history, social skills, and countless other things.

One of the best places to learn is around the family dinner table. It may seem odd – we’re just sitting around sharing food – but that ritual (and it is a ritual whether you say prayers or stress table manners or not) is one of the most powerful learning tools we have, no matter the age of the learner. We learn so many things sitting around the table just talking with our families!

Research shows that family dinners boost kids’ vocabulary skills more than being regularly read to does. Want your kids to have high SAT scores? Eat together every night.

We learn to eat based on what we are exposed to as well. What we see our parents eat, what is served to us at mealtimes, impacts how we eat and think of eating for the rest of our lives. Without any words at all we teach our kids about health and nutrition as we eat together every night. And that isn’t to say that family dinners will teach kids to eat well – it will teach them *how* to eat whether what we serve is good or not, so be careful to teach them what you want them to learn.

Everyone learns social skills while sharing meals as well. Again, the lessons vary based on the company, but there are always lessons there. Mealtime teaches us how to interact and why. Practice makes perfect with social skills just as with anything else. When we spend meals talking and listening and sharing our lives, we learn to listen and talk and care about each other’s lives. These are skills that open doors throughout all aspects of life, from professional to personal and beyond.

Mealtimes are also one of the most culturally important times in our lives. How we share meals and the rules we learn there are one of the most powerful things that teach us about our cultures and values. The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners by Margaret Visser (cover above) is an absolutely fascinating book that examines the ways in which meals reveal cultural values with examples from some of the most interesting mealtime traditions from around the world. If you ever wondered what the routines you learned for dinnertime growing up say about your family values, Visser’s book is a great place to start figuring it out! We literally learn culture through sharing meals.

Given the boundless possibilities of mealtimes, both culinary and otherwise, it should come as no surprise that there is a publisher entirely focused on the literacy of food. On helping us to think about, question, and even laugh at what we eat and why. As adults we have to figure out what to buy at the grocery store and which advice to consider (is organic food better for us or should we care more about calorie count?), but as kids it’s often simply a matter of if we should try something at all. Readers to Eaters aims to get kids to be more open to food and to encourage them to explore a whole world of new ideas about food. Maybe there’s as much to learn about how and why we eat what we do at the library as at the grocery store!

What does your dinner say about your culture and values? What is it teaching you and your family?

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