How to Engage your Family in Sharing Meals Around the Table
What’s the most worn and well-loved piece of furniture in your home? For our little family of four, it’s the dining room table. This rectangular piece of imperfect wood has become a sacred symbol of our family’s culture, a reminder that God has called us to intentionally gather and share meals around the table, both with each other and frequent guests.
While we don’t have the “art of the family dinner” completely figured out, we’ve surely learned over the years that sharing meals draws people together, and it’s a beautiful way to connect with God and our children. After all, no matter our age or gender, food unites us. As author Shauna Niequist states in her book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around the Table, “Food matters because it's one of the things that forces us to live in this world -- this tactile, physical, messy, and beautiful world -- no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals. Food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness.”
Some scholars say that Jesus “ate his way through the Gospels” because there are so many mentions of our Savior sharing meals with people, including a tax collector (Luke 19:1-10), Pharisees (Luke 11:37-54 and 14:1-24), the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matthew 14:13-21), the Last Supper (Luke 22:7-38), and the meal that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:30).
The believers in the early Church knew the importance of this as well. One of my favorite Scriptures comes from Acts 2:46: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.”
Yes, God created us to need physical sustenance from food. What more beautiful way to serve one another than to provide for that basic need?
Specifically, how can we help develop our children’s character by engaging in this sacred act together? It might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Whatever your day-to-day looks like, whether you work inside or outside the home, perhaps you’re looking for ways to connect with your family and involve your children in preparing and sharing meals together.
Here are some ideas:
1. Let your children help in the kitchen. Y’all, I have a toddler. I know how hard this is...we’re already cleaning up messes all day! But I promise, it’s worth it. Whether I’m making muffins from a box, a smoothie, or a batch of bread dough, my toddler is usually the first one to ask, “Can I help, mama?” There’s always something she can do, if I’ll just relax and embrace the inevitable mess in exchange for the fun and joy of being in the kitchen with my children. One of my favorite winter mornings this past year was when my toddler awoke before her older sister, and we quietly gathered in the kitchen in the dim wintry morning light to make blueberry muffins. Every time I allow her to help, I’m reminded again how much it matters. As my little one stirred the batter and helped drop in the blueberries, she was able to contribute to our family, and it also spurred her to service - her face glowed with joy as she presented a hot muffin to her older sister when she woke up.
2. Choose a simple “go-to” recipe you make together often. Have you ever wrapped your hands around a perfectly smooth ball of bread dough? Well neither had I until about a year ago, when I finally mustered up the courage to try making bread from scratch. It always seemed so complicated and unattainable, but once I tried it I realized how simple it is (not to mention inexpensive!). Now it’s become one of our go-to recipes for a normal cozy weeknight dinner or when guests are coming over. Here’s our favorite No-Knead Bread Dough recipe - it makes a gorgeous artisan-looking boule, and they say “it’s so easy a four-year-old can do it.” Give it a try!
3. Make it fun. We love to play old records in the dining room and light candles when it’s almost dinner time. Even a simple dinner of takeout pizza feels special by candlelight, on real dishes with cloth napkins. This fun and sacred time around the table, giving our children our full attention, might become our favorite part of the day.
4. Use a delivery service. If your schedule is super busy, how about trying a meal delivery service like Blue Apron, Plated, or Sunbasket, which ships you the fresh ingredients and recipe, ready for your family to quickly pull together at the end of the day? You still get a fresh meal, and you get to do it together. One of my friends, a full-time working mom, recently tried one of these services and posted on Instagram, “It meant so much to me I could cry. I thought it was just a convenience thing we'd try once a week, but it was way more than that to me tonight - it was family date night in a box! We lit candles and ate around the table, having civilized conversation about the new-to-us taste combinations and what we each liked most. And y'all, it was the best hour of my week by a long shot.”
5. Invite someone for dinner. For us, it’s important to teach our children that food isn’t something we hoard; it’s for sharing. This might mean inviting others into our home for special meals and celebrations or just on an ordinary weeknight. The excitement of tidying up the house in expectation of a guest arriving, the comforting scent of something baking in the oven, the unity of our whole family pitching in to serve someone in Jesus’ name - these are all things that contribute to what author Sally Clarkson calls the “oxygen” of the home. In her book The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming, Clarkson says that every day “we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”
This way of living is a journey, and it can look different for everyone. At the end of 2015, our family took a big leap of faith and sold our business and home of nine years in Dallas to start a new life south of Nashville. In our old home, I’m pretty sure the scent of garlic and the clinking sounds of forks on plates were permanently infused into the walls. Around our 8-foot dining table my husband built with salvaged barn wood, milestones were celebrated, babies held in one arm while eating with the other, tearful and joyous conversations shared. When we moved to Tennessee, we didn’t know where we were going to end up, so we gave our dear, heavy farm table to close friends who would appreciate it and use it to bless others. At our new rental home in Tennessee, we were grateful when a friend gave us a smaller table that seats 6, just enough for our family and a few guests. There are already scratches and pen marks and probably sticky smoothie drippings on the surface. But in less than one year, the memories shared around its edges are numerous.
So you see? It doesn’t matter what kind of table there is, whether it’s custom-made or a hand-me-down. It doesn’t matter if the meal is takeout or made from scratch. What matters is the heart and hands behind it. I hope the act of feeding people is something our girls will remember fondly of childhood and take with them as they grow, inviting people of all ages and walks of life around their own tables, breaking bread like their Savior who gives every good gift.