Table Talk

The family meal is a much-loved tradition in many UK homes, but how has it changed to suit our modern, busy lives? We decided to find out… -

Table talk

Remember when dinner was on the table at six and everyone sat down together to tuck in to Mum’s shepherd’s pie? Although much has changed since then, the family meal is definitely not dying out just yet.

We’re becoming more creative around fitting in valuable family table time. But no matter how we do it, ‘A meal together is a meal together, whether it’s breakfast or a takeaway…’ says parenting expert Karen Doherty (

The key to family mealtimes according to Karen is to be flexible, go with the flow and have fun.

We reveal how three Morrisons magazine readers are fitting regular family mealtimes into their lives.

‘We start the day together’

Claire Hodgins, 33, lives in Hampshire with her husband Colin, 40, two-year-old son Alfred and their newborn baby, Maggie. Time together at the table starts with a hearty breakfast.

‘Colin works split shifts – some days, some nights – so he’s not always around at dinnertime. When Alfred was born it was important for us all to eat as a family, the way we did when we were kids. But we also wanted to keep Alfred’s mealtimes at a similar time each day, to give him a routine. So Colin came up with the idea of the “breakfast club”. Every day we eat a proper breakfast and, although I try to make the food tasty, it’s more about that time we spend together.

‘When I went back to work after having Alfred, I’d drop him off at his grandparents’ in the morning and they’d have breakfast together, so he’s always known breakfast to be an important part of the day. I think it helps him to start the day on a positive note.’ Colin says, ‘No matter how busy I am at work or whatever else is going on, I try to never miss breakfast with my family.' Claire adds, ‘It may not be the same routine we had as children, but all the same intentions are there. We make it work for us.’

’We’ve reignited our old family tradition’

Hayley Watts, 26, moved back in with her parents in Derbyshire after relocating from London. She’s enjoyed settling back into the tradition of eating as a family every evening.

‘When I was growing up at home we always ate dinner together and, having since moved out and experienced living on my own, I now value that shared time back with my parents so much more. I ate so much convenience food when I was living in London and I missed my mum’s home-cooked meals.She makes a spectacular stew, which she served to me in a Peter Rabbit bowl when I was a child – I still have the bowl. When I was younger we used to talk about what I did at school that day. Now my parents give me lots of helpful advice about work and finances.

‘Both my parents are retired, so they have the time to cook and I feel lucky to be able to come home to a delicious home-made dinner ready on the table. Friday nights are our one night away from the dining table – we break tradition and treat ourselves to fish and chips in front of the TV – together, of course.’

‘I get my kids to chip in with planning meals’

Production accountant Lucy Drake, 44, lives in Hertfordshire. She organises her household to ensure she eats dinner with her daughters Jess, 14, and Alex, 12, every night.

‘As a single parent on a budget, I like to plan meals for the week and we decide on our meals together at the weekend. We have a few regular favourites and I try to make our food as healthy as possible on my budget. I don’t get home from work until 7pm so we have to be really organised in order to eat together. Knowing what we’re going to cook, having all the ingredients in the fridge and setting a schedule saves us time and helps us to be more relaxed at the table. If I’m running late, I call home and ask Alex or Jess to start preparing dinner. They’ve learnt how to cook a few dishes, and they love it.

‘It is important to make time to listen to your children and mealtimes are the perfect opportunity to do that. Teenagers spend less time with the family and more time in their rooms, with friends or watching TV. But they’re changing into adults and I want to be there to guide and help them.’

Get it together

Parenting expert Karen Doherty reveals her tips and advice on getting your family to eat as one

Control afternoon snacking

Children are often very hungry after school and really need to eat. Stop them from filling up too much by preparing some healthy snacks such as crudités and dips and leaving them out for your children to help themselves.

Make evening mealtimes later

This gives children the chance to get hungry if they have had afterschool snacks. It also gives everyone else time to get home in the evening.

Give breakfast a go

If it’s not possible to get everyone together in the evening, then try first thing in the morning. It’s very satisfying knowing you’ve sent your children off to school with the energy and nutrition they’ll need to sustain them through their morning lessons.

Make mealtimes fun

If you aim for a pleasant atmosphere at mealtimes, your children will make more of an effort to be part of them. Don’t use them as a time to criticise their messy bedroom. Instead, complement any good behavior and get them to talk about the things they love.

Be flexible with food

People like having control over what they eat no matter how old they are. Serving up ‘sharing’ or ‘help yourself’ food can make mealtimes feel less daunting for children in particular. If you only serve food you’re happy for them to eat, you won’t mind what or how much they take.

Lay on some ground-rules

A few simple rules will make mealtimes more enjoyable experience for everyone. These are mine:

  • No toys or phones at the table
  • No toilet-talk at the table
  • No insults at the table

For free advice from Karen on how to get your children to eat better or on any other parenting problem, take a look at