One of my early childhood memories is sitting at the kitchen table in my Nana’s house having morning tea or ‘smoko’ was what we called it then. We would have scones with jam, a homemade biscuit or if we were lucky, a store bought biscuit, my favourites being fruit fingers which looked like little pillows or a fly trap biscuit. I always remember she set the table with jam in a little jam dish, a slice of butter also in a little dish, the sugar bowl with the crocheted cover and milk was always in the milk jug.
I spent a lot of time with my Nana while my Mum and Dad worked on the farm. Nana and I would make the scones each morning, I would sit on the bench next to her so I could see. Nana had one of those old fashion sifters and I was able to sift the flour into the bowl for her and then I would watch her crumb the butter and flour together. At the end, I would make my own little scone.
When my Nana passed away I helped my aunts clean her house. Some of the little items I kept were things like the sugar bowl, a gravy jug she always used at Christmas and when all the family was staying. A spatula I made for her when I was 11 years and other little tidbits that were part of our everyday activities.
Since having children I see the importance of creating these memories for my own two children. It wasn’t until Alex started Kindergarten and that I listened to Kimberley Crisp speak about rituals that I really understood the importance of creating rituals in our everyday. Everyday rituals done with care and love create a feeling of safety for children and in ‘our’ world of busyness, this is so important for them.
These days, life for so many people is always on the run, running from one thing to the next, eating in cars, at the work desk or in front of the tv, screen or while playing on their phone. Many families no longer have together time at the table, many children find it a foreign concept to sit at the table to eat. I really think that many of us have lost the art of sitting together at the table conversing without a screen to distract us.
We have all heard dinner battle stories from parents who can’t get their children to eat or stay at the table. Although I will probably jinx myself by writing this, but by creating a beautiful table, including our children in the preparation and sitting together as a family at dinner time, I can truly say that generally, our evening meals are a really lovely time that we all enjoy together.
The Table Setting:
When we moved into our own home when Alex was just shy of one year old, Mum gave us her old kitchen table. I grew up with this table in our kitchen so it has always been special to me. I love wooden furniture and the blemishes from years of use, I imagine the stories they could tell if only they could speak. As time has gone by we have simplified our dinners to fit with our growing family. This is a time we share our daily news and plans and remember holidays or days at the beach and this seems to be a time that both Alex and Frankie enjoy with us.
Even though our children are young they use adult utensils, plates, and glasses. For my birthday this year, I asked for a new dinner set, the Churchill Blue Willow set which I have always loved, it’s not hidden away just for visitors or birthdays, we use it every day. We have glass water tumblers, (the sturdy cafe water glasses which can handle the odd bump or knock). I like to have a bottle of water at the table so we don’t have to get up to refill from the tap. I find that when you give children something beautiful that they tend to treasure it and take care than if I was to give them a worn plastic cup.
We serve the food at the table so everyone can choose how much of something they would like. I have never forced my children to eat something they don’t like, one of them is fairly fussy and the other will eat mostly everything, but arguing with a child over not eating a piece of green vegetable is not something we do.
We will generally have flowers on the table and lately candles going into the cooler months. Both Frankie and Alex love having a candle to blow out the end of the evening meal. (While Chris was away in Fiordland recently we had a treat of roasting a marshmallow over the candle each night, it was a good time to think about Dad in the bush and that he would be making his own dinner next to a campfire).
At times I will ask Alex to help set the table with me, Frankie is beginning to join in and do this too, usually by bringing the tomato sauce bottle to the table. I think by getting them to join in and help set the table it helps transition them from their play, too now we are going to be sitting down to eat dinner.
Modern Table Etiquette
Back when I was young we were taught table etiquette and we especially had to use it at my Grandparents house in Otaki. There was no leaving the table until everyone had finished, placing your knives and forks together when you had finished, no smacking your lips together or talking with your mouth full and definitely no elbows on the table which is something I hadn’t heard again until recently. I mentioned it to Alex one day and now it is something we try to adhere to when sitting at the table together for dinner otherwise a little voice pipes up. We don’t have phones or the TV on while we eat together so then no one is distracted.
Although many people will think this is ‘old-fashioned’, sitting together at the table, having a conversation and using proper table manners is important for children to learn. It also shows them that dinner time or anytime when eating food is a special time that we all have together and in turn, this creates a ritual that will become part of who they are.
Do you sit together as a family for meal times? Do you have any customs or traditions around meal times?