Eating together at home as a family. It’s important to a lot of us. A tradition. Saying no to having meals together at home, especially dinner, is usually hard.
When I was a kid, my parents insisted my dependent younger brother and I all ate dinner together most nights, which we naturally did. These days it’s a different story. Some days when I finish work, I eat dinner in the city and then make my way home. Later on in the evening when I’m engrossed in touching up photos to share on Instagram in my room, mum or dad usually come in and quietly ask, “Are you eating dinner with us at home tomorrow?”
Family dinners are still quite the norm in Australia. According to a survey in 2012, 77% of Australian families eat dinner together at home five or six times a week, albeit a proportion of this in front of the TV. There’s certainly something significant about eating with family at the dining table. It’s more than just a habit.
When we eat at home with the family, we catch up with one another, spend time together. We’ll chat, ask each other how our day went and what we’ve got planned tomorrow. After we’ve pulled our chairs in at the start of dinner, my mum likes to ask me, “What did you do today? Did everyone come to work? Did the boss turn up?”
And so when we eat together, we bond with one another. Chatting over regular dinners at home, we learn to get along and speak up more around those closest to us.
Sometimes we eat at home because it’s the logical thing to do. It tends to be a lot cheaper and healthier eating at home than eating out. Eating at home with family, we’re often reminded of better eating habits and table manners too.
Meals outside don’t come cheap in Melbourne. A tasty burger with fries or a flavoursome bowl of stir-fried wanton noodles typically costs $10 or more here – certainly not friendly to the wallet with respect to how much the average Australian like me earns on average per year. So it’s wise for me to eat at home most nights, and to put up with my mum telling me telling me when I’m feeling full halfway through dinner, “Finish all of your rice. And the two slices of carrots in your soup”. Then again, our bodies need well-balanced meals and lots of nutrients to keep going.
Countless dishes are meant to be shared and come in big portions, particularly in Asian cultures. My Chinese-Malaysian mum loves cooking large dishes of sweet and sour pork, stir-fried kai lan and fried rice. It’s also one of the reasons I still join my family at the dinner table when I can. If not, food goes to waste.
A lot of us don’t just eat with family at home. We eat with family outside as well – and some of us will rather eat with that annoying family member than eat alone. After all, dining alone is often shunned and seen as anti-social (but eating solo has its perks too). Eating out with family or even friends, we might take photos of new dishes we’ve tasted and put them on Facebook. Eating together then, is a pride and status affair of sorts.
Depending on the occasion, at times eating with family gets on our nerves. Eating at Asian reunion dinners or big weddings can be boisterous, exhausting events. The last extended family dinner I went to back in Malaysia was exactly that. Relatives shouting to one another across the round table, telling each other what’s happening in their lives. Voices rising as more and more fine red wines were poured. Family heaping foods on my plate despite my protests in broken Cantonese. When the dinner was over, my stomach was uncomfortably bloated and my head throbbed.
In Asian cultures, it’s respectful to wait for everyone to be seated before helping ourselves to food. It’s respectful to wait if someone’s dish that they ordered hasn’t come out of the kitchen yet. So we might have to put up with partially cold food when eating with family. However, each time my plate of food arrives first, my parents and relatives never fail to pester me to dig in. It’s hard to give in because that feels, well, wrong alongside my values.
Dinner with my family at home today is always a quiet affair. Apart from the “How’s your day” and “Finish your food” short conversations, we eat in silence, hearing the clink and clunk of forks, spoons and chopsticks against glass plates. Hearing the TV blaring in the background. I don’t think any of us watch it.
Each time I glance around the table, I see my mum, dad and brother looking down at their plates. Then I’ll look back down at mine, and scrape every single grain of rice into a pile, ready to eat them all. We aren’t close yet we make the effort to come to dinner each week. Presence speaks a thousand words.
Eating together at home, we feel like we’re a part of something: everyone has a seat at the table. We feel wanted, like we have a place to go back to. Eating together, we’re more than just obligated to eat. We’re appreciative.
We’re silently thankful for what we have. Health. Food. Family.
Do you like eating with your family or housemates at home?