Mealtimes with teenagers… Fast. Demanding. Food picked over, juicy bits wolfed down, the rest (usually green) discarded. Conversations seen as interrogations. Eating time shorter than the time actually taken to get them to come to the table.
At least, that was our mealtimes pre-Covid.
But now things have changed around our dinner table. It’s become a lively meeting place – rather like the buzz around barbers when they reopened, but without the beard trimmings.
Which is a relief, because despite all of us living together through day as well as night, a lot of our lives currently happen in different rooms or at different times.
It’s mealtimes that have brought us together. OK, when I say mealtimes I actually mean dinnertime. But it’s a start.
In my old life, long working days and hours of commuting meant I would miss weekday family dinner time. My husband, who works closer to home, would cook food for the kids’ supper and a meal for the two of us later that evening. Without noticing, a new family habit had snuck in and established itself.
But now, my ‘office’ is a few steps away from the kitchen, and we can be there together, no excuses.
Time spent at the table has doubled, tripled even. Yes, the phones are still there but now they’re stuffed in pockets or lie face down, incredibly almost forgotten… almost.
Mealtimes have become a place to hang out and even (whisper it, teenagers in the room) communicate. I’m learning so much about my 3 children because they’re all talking again. If only I’d known a few years ago when they’d all talk at once, louder and louder fighting to be heard, how much I would actually miss that deafening hubbub.
The kitchen is no longer simply a refuelling pitstop. There’s more of an appreciation of the food being served up. Could I say it’s being savoured? No, not really. But it is being noticed, and occasionally commented on.
And the table has become a place where we discuss, argue, persuade, laugh and challenge each other. Sometimes it’s about what we’ve been streaming or the latest social media challenge. But it’s no surprise that the biggest world event to affect all our lives comes into most of our conversations.
How jobs can be so easily lost, how some things that we took for granted now appear like luxuries, how communities have formed to support people who never thought they’d need help, how small moments of kindness can make you feel, how the price of snacks has been massively inflated (serious outrage in the teenage community), and how our lives looked one way and then in a matter of weeks changed into something completely different.
During moments of crisis, we take stock. The pandemic has made all of us rethink, re-set and appreciate more. Whether it’s the comfort of having loved ones around us, a new-found admiration of our over-stroked cat, being able to get outside to breathe air that hasn’t been exhaled by another member of the household – or how lucky we are compared to others.
And that appreciation is why it’s so important to me that MadeForMums is working with the Trussell Trust and Dolmio on their Stand Against Hunger campaign. I’ve been shocked to learn the extreme rise in need for food banks since Covid (89% increase in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019) and that over 4 million children live in poverty in the UK.
It meant I saw the food bank collection point at the supermarket, properly saw it. When lockdown meant there were no online supermarket delivery slots until 2023, we went back to putting stuff in a trolley and as we trundled out of our local store, there it was.
It’s a small thing, but now a few extra items for the food bank have become part of our weekly shop, easily dropped off just past the tills.
While the supermarket gives us a steer towards which foods are particularly needed each week, we’ve talked as a family about which foods we could and should contribute. Pasta and sauces, tins of tuna and salmon, soups, cereal, tinned vegetables that still taste like veg, milk that doesn’t go off for ages and tea and coffee.
It’s pretty basic stuff and reminded us of those early mad-scramble days of lockdown, when food and provisions we took for granted were no longer on the shelves. Who knew how deep the fear would be about running out of toilet rolls? It’s certainly proved an opportunity to reintroduce the talk about 2 sheets not 23 when it comes to wiping.
But these experiences have also offered up an unexpected lesson, one about gratitude, which wasn’t included in our home schooling plans.
And for me, it’s a new appreciation that I’m grateful for.
You can donate in-date food and non-food items to a local food bank, collection points at supermarkets, churches and some businesses offer collections too. Find your local food bank in the Trussell Trust network or your local independent food bank here.
This campaign is brought to you by Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s, in support of the Trussell Trust.