The first many times I heard this, I quietly wondered to myself, What do they mean? Earl Grey or Darjeeling? Slowly it dawned on me that tea (look it up, it’s a hot drink FFS) in this country often (but not always!) means the evening meal. But no, no, not as in dinner. Dinner is something grown-ups have. No, tea is for children. Something they have in the late afternoon instead of dinner. And dad is not there and mum doesn’t eat tea, erh. (Apologies to the lovely househusbands I know, but you know you’re in the minority).
There, now it’s clear isn’t it? Tea is an afternoon meal for children. This is where some of the world’s least interesting and innovative cooking takes place, molding young peoples taste buds for the future. I cannot tell you how that upsets me! I’ve been in many British homes and seen tea being cooked. What I’ve seen is pasta, mash, peas, carrots (yes, boiled), sausages, fish fingers, chips, lasagne, beans on toast and eh, what else? Rice perhaps?
I’m not saying that my darling young son eats everything I set in front of him, far from it. And he’s had plain pasta with Parmesan and butter and some cucumber slices on the side more times than I care to remember. But, he sits with us at the table, he sees and smells what I cook and he’s made to taste everything we eat, if not every time then at least once in a while.
I realise that the evening meal causes problems for some families. Dad comes home late, children need to go to bed early. But this is not the case in all families and not in weekends? And in families with bigger children, surely they can have an afternoon snack, have homework done etc., so have evening meal when dad comes home? I fear that it’s not always the time that’s the issue, but parents who give in to tradition or give up the fight to make children eat a varied and interesting diet. I mean, nobody forces mums to put a packet of crisps in a child’s lunch pack, or what?
My oldest son was as picky as the next child when he was younger, but I pushed on and pressured him to try stuff and if he didn’t eat all the stuff I cooked, he certainly saw it and smelled it. Today I can only think of a handful of foodstuffs that he doesn’t eat and he eagerly tries new stuff all the time. I know a few young persons of his age (21) in this country. Suffice to say that they are not exactly courageous when it comes to trying out different food stuffs.
Also, how does this strange habit encourage “real” family life? When do these families sit down and talk about things? Obviously, most days it’s just the usual, “What did you do in school?” “Nothing much” conversation that goes on, but without dinner time I don’t know when the three of us could discuss important political issues and moral dilemmas? It’s fine that children talk with dad in the car on the way to football and with mum in the car to school, but it’s important for children to experience the dialogue between mum and dad. Also when it’s not rosy. This way they can also experience that one day there’s disagreement, but the next day mum and dad are in unison on something very important!
OK people, rant over. Voice your disagreement, but please argue your case. I’ll sit down with a cup of tea now, you know, the fluid hot stuff off of tea leaves?
I COMPLETELY agree. Having mostly raised my childer in France, I am of the firm opinion that wherever possible the family (such as it is – ours is just them and me) should sit down around the table and eat together. We have breakfast together. Lunch at the weekends together, and always, ALWAYS supper together. Unless gymnastics or Cubs gets in the way.
There is a downside to this however. I have 2 young children who won’t eat a whole list of foodstuffs. The ones you see on the Children’s Menus in pubs. Fishfingers, hamburgers, smileyfaces, boiled carrots and peas. It makes for interesting alternative food fights. Particularly in public!
Perhaps I need to take a middle line and force feed them pap a couple of times a week – for their own good??!
Actually, I think ‘tea’ has different meanings depending on where you are from. We eat tea at tea-time (around 5.30pm)in our house, but it is still our family evening meal that we all sit down to together, and everyone eats the same thing. If we were to go out for a grown-up meal in an evening, then that would be dinner.
I agree that eating as a family whenever possible is very important, both from a food and a social point of view – whatever you wish to call it!
We always, and I really do mean always, sat down to dinner together as a family – every single night. On nights I had swimming, we ate later. On nights we had piano, we ate earlier. But always together, and always proper food. Things like fish fingers and chips were treats (mostly for my dad and brother – I can’t think of anything worse than fish fingers), so our meals always consisted of a meat, a starch, and lots of veggies. This tradition is really important to me, and if we ever decide to have kids, I’m going to make sure it continues.
Number one son started talking about tea as a main meal, when he went to university, I think they ate ealier than we do. I don’t think it really matters,but as you say, getting around the table and eating together is the most important thing. Tea, to me,is afternoon tea, unless I’m in Edinburgh when the famous Morningside greeting “You’ll have had your tea”,comes to mind.
@Lulu – We have exactly the same problem. Only one pub staple is accepted, pizza. Otherwise we have to battle with nonplussed waiters to get half portions of adult food…
@Kirsty – I guess you react to illogical names for things more in your 2nd or 3rd language and only question the weird names in your own language when you’re made to think of it or asked by a foreigner. When you’ve heard the What’s for Tea-line since childhood you stop questioning how “tea” can be food.
@Pochyemu – I’m sure that’s why you’ve become such a lovely, sociable person, D!
@Glenland Ladybird – there’s another funny expression I’d never heard before “You’ll have had your tea”. Does it mean what I think it means?