What a wonderfully busy season we've had around the Clarkson home recently, as Sarah has come home for a visit bringing with her a lovely engagement ring, as well as her lovely fiance, Thomas! We are quite full of excitement as we also are dealing with the new puppy, snowstorms (which are getting a bit tiring to those of us who have had plenty of them already!), and of course there's always a need for another meal to be prepared. And then Joel and I head off to Austria and England, where I'll meet with many sweet moms in the Oxford area and then do a bit of wedding planning with Sarah when she returns.
Of course, with all this visiting going on, there's a lot of cooking happening around here! Thankfully, the children have all learned to contribute to mealtimes. Joel has become quite expert at making a wonderful, simple potato soup which we serve with crusty bread and a green salad. Busy evenings might find us gathering around a table set with bowls of grapes and berries and popcorn alongside plates of bread, cheese, and sliced meats. These snack-meals are especially wonderful when we don't want a lot of cleanup!
While the necessity of making one more meal can sometimes be daunting, I realized many years ago that mealtimes actually offered an amazing opportunity to me as a mama. The need to sit down and fuel our bodies is a wonderful reminder of the need to feed the souls within, and so mealtimes in our home became a wonderful training ground.
Several years ago, I asked both boys separately why they were anxious to come home from the places they were living. Without knowing the others' response, both told me that our family feast times were what they most looked forward to. When someone asked Sarah a few years ago, "Why is it that you believe in God?" She said, only a bit tongue in cheek, "I think it's because of the french toast with maple syrup my mom used to serve on Sunday mornings." It sounds funny, but mealtimes truly mean so much to our family!
We can see Jesus, Himself, using mealtimes to reach out to people. Consider His turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana; the feeding of the 5,000; His provision for them at the Last Supper, and even one of the last stories we read of Him interacting with the disciples--when He called them to a meal of fish cooked over a fire on the beach. In the future, of course, we look forward to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where we will all enjoy a meal together.
And so we made meals a priority, a special time of the day. Even now, all my grown children ask "What's for dinner tonight?" We'll actually have a chance to light candles and sit around the table sharing our meal and be able to hear from Thomas about his home country tonight. Gathering together, taking time to sit down and listen to one another helps us learn more about each other. Putting a priority on this time lets everyone know that we want to be with them; that their ideas are important.
Mealtimes don't have to be difficult or costly to be special! Potato soup and a loaf of bread makes a great dinner, especially on chilly or rainy nights. Tomato soup with herbs or yogurt or sour cream, grilled cheese sandwiches or toast, breakfast for dinner--all these are favorites which don't take too much time. Buy things on sale! Or make a big batch of roasted chicken or hamburger, some rice or noodles and add a few more ingredients for a quick meal.
Keep your fridge full, ready for quick meals or unexpected company. This effort is so worth it, because meals are such an important anchor in our days.
Use dinnertime as an opportunity to develop conversational skills. Ask questions, and teach your children to listen to one another respectfully. Developing a habit of everyone gathering, everyone talking, over and over, every day, creates deep values and maturity. While sometimes fidgeting happens and some discussions might be silly, or even become argumentative if you're discussing something controversial, deep friendships are being built even when that's not obvious. Keep the conversation going and teach your children to work through those discussions. It will be worth it.
Here are some areas you can focus on during mealtimes ... 1. Family culture: make meal time a fun family building time. Affirm the relationships of the family as fun and important. 2. Manners: this is a natural place to teach them how to handle themselves in the outside world. This is a skill that will serve them well. 3. Conversational skills: Ask them questions, teach them to listen politely to their siblings, teach them to ask questions. 4. Hospitality: have guests over and teach them to be considerate and polite. Teach them to value caring for other people's needs. 5. Responsibility: teach them to clean up and help.
We hope you'll enjoy our newest podcast on this topic!
For more lifegiving ideas about mealtimes, see The Lifegiving Home!