It might be tempting to rush or even do away with setting the table for a regular week night dinner. After all, isn't it only for special occasions? I have distinct memories of getting the good silverware and crockery out for Easter, Christmas and other special dinners, and how exciting it felt to carefully dress the table like I did my dolls, so it all looked delightful, celebratory and inviting. 

And since then I have become somewhat of a collector. I was lucky enough to inherit my grandmother's antique silverware along with some gorgeous rare crockery, and I still have the the Villeroy and Boch from my mother. I always make a bee-line for the crockery sections of op-shops as there are always unique treasures just waiting patiently for me. 

I used to only bring out the good stuff twice a year, but now I have a number of collections that I often bring out, just because....But what would happen if we would bring out the good stuff more regularly than that? What would happen if we regularly dressed the table carefully for a regular weeknight dinner? How would it change the tone of our shared meal, or indeed meal for one, if we were to make dinner an event worth looking forward to? Would we enjoy our meal and the event that it is, rather than wolfing down our food in 10 minutes and everyone departing their separate ways immediately after? 

But its not just about a beautiful table. If we had a beautifully dressed table to sit at for our meal, perhaps we might linger a little longer, enjoy the experience, and take our time, debrief the day with our loved ones. The outcomes of family meals alone have in fact been studied and include things like higher intake of fruits and vegetables, better psycho-social health, less risk of obesity and reduced chance of extreme weight control measures (Berge et al, 2014). If we are more relaxed, it gives our digestive system a better chance of working properly, and helps to absorb nutrients that our body needs.

Some of my fondest and vivid memories happened around the family dinner table that my father made with his own hands. I remember life-changing conversations, formative interactions, character-forming moments. it all came back to what happened at the dinner table. We never rushed our dinner.

Make the evening meal a priority where possible. Why not create an environment where everyone looks forward to sitting down and enjoying the entire experience, to linger a little longer and share a little more. Here are a few ideas and thoughts on how you could do that: 

  1. Purchase a decent dining or kitchen table where the main meals can be served. Often, second hand ones are the best, so you don't have to go to great expense to create the experience. Here's some more thoughts on that, and some tables we like and how to pick the right one.
  2. Decorate your main meals table with a favorite bowl with some fruit in it, or a small plant. It might also be a favorite vase, an antique or a family heirloom. Don't be afraid to change the centre-piece frequently. Some insp here.
  3. Create an interesting dinner caddy that has all your mealtime essentials in it, like this one.
  4. Have a caddy for devices that are to be left away from the table, if your family members are struggling with this, and leave the TV off, you can always catch up with important programs and news after.
  5. Set the table with cutlery, placemats, crockery and drinkware if you desire. Assign family members a job each. Athough placemats or tablecloths may mean more washing and cleaning, it definitely brings a sense of occasion to the meal, and focuses attention on what is being served. Endless insp on pinterest, but we like the work of ourfoodstories the best.
  6. Buy some inexpensive but inspiring dishes to serve food in, and some nice crockery that you can look forward to using. Have a look at these ideas.
  7. Encourage your kids to also help with cleaning up, to give them a sense of responsibility and cooperation.

Now you might be a parent of small children, where mealtimes can simply be mayhem. I have experienced crazy messy chaotic mealtimes with little ones, where I was exhausted even before I started the clean-up. At one stage, the only way one of my boys would eat would be while he was in the bath!! So its going to be trial and error to see what works for you, and it will constantly change. So don't be too hard on yourself, and find little ways to mark the occasion that are doable and practical. 

Reference: Berge JM, Rowley S, Trofholz A, et al. Childhood obesity and interpersonal dynamics during family meals. Pediatrics. 2014;134(5):923-932. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1936