The idea of a whole family being in the kitchen laughing and smiling and collaboratively sharing the cooking process is potentially a wistful dream for most. With the crazy pressures of our contemporary society where parents are workers, housekeepers and taxi drivers, where longer school hours are punctuated with late nights of homework and sport practises and the threat of the device, means that even in the home the family unit is fractured. Yet all research points to the benefits of a family ritual around the table, where conversations are meaningful and mindful, where a sense of togetherness is nurtured and children are given a reassuring sense of belonging. So how is it that we can create something that works in the hustle of our crazy filled up lives that assists in nourishing our relationships, provides us with an opportunity to talk and really communicate with those we care about?
The vision of being in the kitchen as a family, all participating in sync to create the family meal on a daily basis is a little far fetched. So, I would suggest that you plan which days are truly going to work for you – it may be once, twice or even three times a week – make it work for you and your family. Even once is better than not at all. Make sure you have thought it through and set things up for success. There is nothing worse than grabbing your teenagers to come and give you a hand to discover ingredients missing and tasks unable to be completed easily. This will create tension and potentially you will lose your willing (or not so willing) participants.
There are some baby steps you can take to assist in introducing the process of engaging with others before you even reach the table.
Stock the Pantry
– fill the house with supplies that easily translate to meals
– in my home this would include the following but make your own list depending on your family favourites
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Tinned Tomatoes
- A variety of Pastas: Spiral, spaghetti, penne, macaroni
- A variety of rices : Arborio (risotto) Short Grain (paella, sushi) Jasmine (curries) Brown Rice (stirfries)
- Bacon or pancetta or prosciutto
- Spinach and other Greens
- Spices and Dried Herbs
Once a week
-buy proteins such as chicken, lamb, beef, minces etc and freeze extras if you have managed to get some on special
-this ensures that the days you cook together will also set you up for those frantic occasions where it is just enough to get dinner on the table!
-cook up enough mince, for example, that can be then be used for a Pasta – or Mexican – or Lasagne – or Pie
-cooking one chicken and you can fit two in the oven? Then use one for the family roast meal and use the leftovers to make a pie, covered with mash, for example for later in the week when you have a ‘crazy afternoon’ and need a quick fix dinner
Now ask for help. It is all very well standing in a kitchen trying to do everything yourself – and trust me I have done it. Whilst I love to cook, I do feel grumpy if everyone else is watching a movie together and I am left alone preparing a meal. I feel resentful and hurt – and totally left out of the family. It doesn’t help that our kitchen is kind of old and grotty and a closed up room – but hey I am still dreaming of the open plan kitchen to living space of the modern home – and dreaming it will be for a while. So, what is the answer?
ASK FOR HELP
Get the family to join you and give everyone a task. This doesn’t mean you have to have everyone in at the same time – but at least one other family member, flat-mate or friend will lighten the load. You will find this is a wonderful opportunity to engage in a conversation that may not otherwise occur. It also encourages everyone to learn more about nutrition and key ingredients + acquire some basic cooking skills into their repertoire.
You can’t just sit back and HOPE it will happen. YOU have to make it HAPPEN.
Start with something small –
- grating cheese for the top of a pasta
- draining the pasta and popping it into the bowls.
- picking the herbs for a garnish.
These are great starting points because they lead directly to joining each other at the table to eat. Get someone to pour and take the drinks to the table, someone else can set the cutlery on the table and as each final task comes together, everyone will be sitting down to appreciate their little part in the journey of preparing a meal together.