One of the benefits of lockdown is that it gives families the time and opportunity to put the positive act of eating together at the centre of family life and make it part of their daily routine. For many families, it's the first time in a long time that sitting down to enjoy a meal together has been a regular occurrence.
But for families who are not used to eating together, the prospect of doing it day in day out, without any of the reprieves normally offered by eating with colleagues in the canteen at work or dinner at a restaurant with friends can be daunting.
Everyone knows that eating with small children can be chaotic and anything but relaxing - exactly what busy parents do not need at the end of a day's work.
So it's tempting to give the children whatever - possibly revolting - food they like early, bathe them and get them settled into bed before the adults have their own - much more delicious - dinner later.
But making two meals is always going to be more work than one, and families who eat in this way may be storing up trouble for the future both in terms of picky eating (do you really want your child to grow up to be the adult that insists on ketchup with everything and is incapable of holding his knife and fork correctly?) and poor communication skills.
Establish the routine of family mealtime now, say the experts, and reap the benefits later, whenever the schools are back and life returns to some semblance of normality.
Moira Kennedy, Senior Psychologist and Co-Director of The Children's Clinic in Dublin, says that families who separate children's and adults mealtimes may be sending a message that children should be seen and not heard and missing out on valuable opportunities to connect and communicate, as well as model good eating habits.
And where's the rule that says that children should only eat 'children's' food?
According to Moira Kennedy, the family meal is an important ritual for families that brings with it a range of health and psychological benefits.
"As children grow and develop they will learn that mealtimes are a time where they can safely communicate, decompress and connect with other family members in a pro-social, emotionally secure setting," says Kennedy. "Younger children are much more likely to eat a broader range of food and settle at the dinner table if this is modelled for them in a relaxed way by their parents. The power of daily routines offering predictability, structure and security is huge. Eating together in a safe intimate space plays a special role in helping children and adolescents feel secure, calm and connected."
The Bowe family in Stepaside - Greg and Michelle, who blog as The Greedy Couple, and their daughters Emma (3) and Amy (6 months) - eat together every day and say that good food is a family priority.
"Because we are so interested in food, we want the children to be interested, so we put effort into eating together as a family," says Michelle, a medical scientist at St James's Hospital who is currently on maternity leave.
"When we are both in work," says Greg, a software designer working from home during Covid-19, "we only have a half-hour window to make it happen so it takes organisation. We make a weekly meal plan and shop at the weekend. Whoever gets home first pulls it together. During the week it will be something simple like pasta puttanesca or a one-dish bake of chicken and vegetables, or carbonara made with smoked salmon rather than bacon because Emma loves smoked salmon, while at the weekends our meals are more elaborate. We are trying baby-led weaning with Amy and she's trying everything that we are having and loving it all so far.
"The only thing that's off the menu is peanuts, because Emma has an allergy."
"Emma can get quite distracted wanting to run around rather than sit down at the table, but she still enjoys it," says Michelle. "Once the food is finished, though, she's gone, whereas we like to sit around chatting for an hour."
Despite the sometimes hectic and stressful nature of family mealtime, Greg and Michelle are determined to stick with it.
"I wouldn't change it," says Michelle, "even though it might take half an hour to clean the floor afterwards."
"When Michelle and I are both working it's the only time that the four of us are together so it's important in terms of encouraging Emma and Amy to talk and communicate," says Greg. "We find that the more we get Emma involved in the preparation of the food, even if it's just mixing together the dry flours for the sourdough, the more she wants to eat it. She never would have eaten the crusts of shop bread before but she eats the crusts of the home-made sourdough. She also loves to turn the handle of the pasta machine when we are making tagliatelle.
"We've planted a few organic vegetables in the garden and she's watering the herbs and potatoes, so we're hoping that makes her interested in eating them."
Although the Bowes love cooking, they say that they do miss going out to restaurants - "it would be nice to have some adult-only meals," says Michelle. By way of compensation, they have ordered the meal kit from Michelin-starred Liath in Blackrock a few times - and, yes, they shared it with the girls, who enjoyed everything, especially Damien Grey's chocolate dessert.
But it's not just younger children who benefit from eating with the family.
"Family meal times punctuate the day in a socially connected way that's highly beneficial for the well-being of adolescents, regardless of how comfortable they feel talking to their parents at this time," says Kennedy, citing US psychiatrist Prof Dan Siegel, author of The Whole Brain Child, who says that parents should do their best to 'survive' difficult parenting moments and turn them into opportunities to help their children 'thrive'.
When my own children were very small we had a child-minder who used to make dinner for them, while my husband and I ate together later. But when I took a career break and had no minder, we made the family meal a priority. Other than cutting back on the amount of chillies in some dishes, we changed very little about the food that we cooked. As soon as they were able, the children got involved in prepping and cooking, and eating dinner together has been a constant ever since with the cooking shared between us. The ritual of family dinner helped give us a better sense of what was going on in everyone's lives at tricky times, and made bringing them to restaurants a more pleasant experience for us all.
During lockdown those family meals are the thing we miss most, with two family members who are front-line workers having to live elsewhere. Shared dinner over FaceTime just isn't the same.