The picture at left hangs on our kitchen wall. It is an inexpensive print we found at a discount store, but it’s a cheery country scene, and I like it. It provides things to talk about with Emmy, and when she gets older, I’ll make up stories about the little characters therein.
While we’ve made our share of mistakes as parents over the years, one thing I think we’ve done right can be summed up in two words: family dinner.
Several studies have revealed the importance of this simple family ritual in the lives of young people. I read about one study in 2005 and more recently, one released this summer that underscored how important family meals are, not only for the physical heath of young people, but emotional health as well.
For some families, work schedules don’t always make this possible every night. But it is worth it when you can. It is a rare evening when we don’t all sit down, even if it’s just fish sticks and tater tots on the table. It isn’t the food involved as much as it is the conversation, the emotional connection and the sharing of our lives for that window of time. (Although good food certainly helps.)
Family meals are also a training ground for good manners (we’re still working on that one with a certain teenager.) No, don’t make a boarding house reach for the ketchup, no, don’t talk with your mouth full, use your napkin, etc. Dinner time together is the primary place to teach gratefulness for our daily bread. Emmy is learning her first prayers. She folds her hands and says, “Thank you, God for EVERYTHING. Amen.” The older children learned this prayer:
The eyes of all look to You, 0 Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen
Best of all is the conversation. William has a challenging physics class this year, and he filled up the conversation last night holding forth on some physics concepts that went right over my head, something about why rocket engines work in a vacuum, and something to do with “point of reference.” I didn’t catch it all in between helping Emily with her pasta, but it was very interesting and went down well with our chicken parmesan and garlic bread.
Some of the biggest laughs have taken place at the table. Some of it, admittedly, has gone overboard. I’ll never forget one memorable dinner when all five children were arrayed around the table. One of the toddlers took a sudden, violent dislike to the bean and ham soup, some chaos ensued, and good-natured Tom had to restore order amid lots of humor. The scene was hardly out of Miss Manners, but a rollicking good time was had by all. I hope my children remember some of these times, I sure will!
More than anything, family meals are about nurture and relationships. Even if it’s only a frozen pizza (I’m letting all my culinary shortcomings be known here, sigh) the familiar faces around the table, together again after a day, either a good one or a bad one, are a great comfort in this ever changing world. Here’s a recipe everyone should have. You can serve this one up anytime at a family meal!
A pound of patience, you must find
Mixed well with loving words, so kind
Drop in 2 pounds of helpful deeds
And thoughts of other people’s needs.
A pack of smiles, to make the crust,
Then stir and bake it well you must.
And now, I ask that you may try,
The recipe of Sunshine Pie.
God bless my little kitchen
I love its every nook
And bless me as I do my work
Wash pots and pans and cook.
And may the meals that I prepare
Be seasoned from above
With Thy great blessing and Thy grace
But most of all Thy love.
As we partake our earthly food
The table before us spread
We’ll not forget to thank Thee, Lord
Who gives us daily bread.
So bless my little kitchen, Lord
And those who enter in
May they find naught but joy and peace
And happiness therein.