How best to prepare when having the family around for a meal
Spending time with the family is a rare pleasure for many of us these days, so family meals are a great occasion to get together and catch up. You don’t have to wait for special occasions – some families hold them every week or once a month so that relatives who live a bit further afield find it easier to be there. Eating together has symbolic importance, and it helps people relax in one another’s company. A regular family meal really helps to reinforce bonds.
Making room for everyone
If you have a big family, hosting a meal with everyone present can be a challenge. You may need a dining table that can be extended, you may need to bring in a second table for the children to sit at, or you may need to hire a table from a catering supply company. Folding chairs can be useful for increasing available seating without having excess furniture sitting around your home the rest of the time, but make sure that they’re able to bear the weight of larger family members. Another thing to keep in mind is that some people, for all that they can get along in a group, should really not be seated next to each other if you want to avoid arguments. Older family members and people with disabilities may need to sit beside someone who can discreetly help them with things such as cutting food.
Catering for children
Children need special consideration during family meals. Babies and toddlers may need high chairs and will need to sit beside their parents. Unless you want a lot of extra cleaning to do when mealtime is over, they will also need bibs, and you’ll need to provide them with suitable cutlery. They may not be ready to sit still and behave for as long as adults want to be at the table, so it’s a good idea to have a baby bouncer or play pen in the room where they can be placed when they get restless. Older children are easier to cater for, but they may be fussy eaters, so if you want them to enjoy the meal instead of just joining in because they’re told to, you’ll need to find out what they do and don’t like. You should also think ahead about ways to include them in conversation and make sure that they’re not bored by listening to adults discuss subjects they know nothing about.
Catering for different diets
Children are not the only ones that you’ll need to think about when planning the menu. Some family members may be vegetarian or vegan, or may have diets that are restricted for religious reasons. Others may have allergies. If somebody has a peanut allergy, you should not use peanut even in dishes that are only going to be eaten by other people, as the allergenic elements can be transmitted through skin contact. If someone has a gluten allergy, their food should be prepared in an area where it can’t accidentally be contaminated by wheat flour, and must not directly touch food containing gluten. Other allergies are easier to deal with – all you need to do is make sure that people don’t eat things they shouldn’t. Read the ingredients on any pre-prepared items you use – even bread – as they can sometimes contain surprising ingredients.
Preparing for the clean-up
Feeding the whole family can leave you with a lot of cleaning up to do – and there’s no guarantee that anybody will step in to help. It’s much easier if you clean up as you go – for instance, by washing utensils while food simmers on the stove. You can make it easier still by preparing things such as pies and desserts, which don’t need to be quite as fresh, the day before. This is also helpful if you have a small oven, as it means that you can produce enough hot food to feed everybody by reheating some dishes in your microwave. Other foods, such as items for your fruit bowl and cheeseboard, don’t require any complex preparation, so they can save you a lot of time. Put dishes in the sink to soak in between courses and they’ll be much easier to get clean later.
Carefully planning your family meal in advance makes it much easier to ensure that everybody there has a good time. It means that the whole family – including you – can relax and focus on what really matters: the fun you can have together.