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?

The Story of a Season

I have no idea why I have another Christmas story today, but I guess it simply works out that way sometimes!

My second favorite Christmas story is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It’s been retold probably thousands of times in hundreds of ways, so chances are you know the story already. If you don’t know it, please look it up. My favorite version (and one of the most accurate movie versions, interestingly enough) is A Muppet Christmas Carol, but there are tons of great versions out there. Even My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic recently did a good adaptation of the story.

The reason that I love this particular tale is that it’s all about the power of stories. The tool that the ghosts use to show Scrooge that Christmas is worthwhile is stories – about his own past and where his issues with the holiday came from, about the value it has for the people around him, and about what may happen in the future if he continues to miss the values that the holiday celebrates. Stories are powerful things and they make a big impression on Scrooge, as they do on the reader or watcher as well. They show us the world in new ways and ourselves in old ways we may have forgotten. Stories show our hopes, dreams, and fears. Stories let us grow and change. And those are the things that holiday celebrations with loved ones are all about.

Santa’s Love of Cheese

Today I want to share perhaps my favorite television commercial. The ad was part of a great campaign advertising cheese and was part of a series of ads all ending in either the tagline “Behold the Power of Cheese” or “Ahh, the Power of Cheese”. It’s from sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s and was shown again during the holiday season for several years after that.

Besides being adorable, I love this ad because it tells a complete story in such a spare and simple way. There is very little dialogue and most of the ad spends time building excitement for what’s in the living room, which the little girl has seen already, but the audience doesn’t see until her parents show up. And then the dialogue at the end is only two lines long, but it tells us exactly what happens and leads perfectly to the tagline, “Ahh, the Power of Cheese”.

This isn’t the sharpest video, but it’s the best one I can find for this ad. If you know of a better video of it online that I can link to, let me know and I’ll update the post with it.