Mealtime matters. And in this day and age where many families are dual income, we regularly hear from other moms how difficult it is to get their entire families around the table for a meal. We feel their pain. It’s no different in our family, not only as a result of the fact that we both work, but also as a result of the not-so-nine-to-five schedule that ministry requires.
But we do believe family mealtime is as important now as it’s ever been. And we strive to make it a priority in our home. We just have to get creative and think outside of the box.
During the school week, we have family breakfast instead of family dinner most days (even if it’s cold cereal). We have a regularly-scheduled Family Date Night on Friday that usually includes dinner at home. On Saturday, breakfast and dinner are also generally family affairs. And Sunday nights after children’s choir at church, we try to sit down one last time to share a meal as a family before another busy week begins. If we happen to snag a weeknight dinner as a family on top of all that, then it’s the icing on the cake. No doubt, we’ll have to adapt along the way as our kids grow and our schedules change. But in this season of life, while we still have a very young child at home with a very early bedtime, this works for us.
A few weeks ago, I shared a post about our family’s past-experiences battling picky appetites and unwanted behavior at the dinner table and how we’ve learned to cope with these issues over the years. Once we set a new tone for family mealtime (thank goodness), we found that mealtime is a really good time to build relationships within our family. So in an effort to use mealtime as a time for building family identity and increasing communication within our family, we’ve settled into some new practices that we really enjoy. I thought I’d share some of them here, and I’m hoping some of you will reply with a comment revealing your secrets in exchange! Hint. Hint.
We always open mealtime with prayer. We wait to eat until everyone has been seated, and then we bless the food. We say the same prayer at every meal while we hold hands:
Come Lord Jesus be our guest.
Let this food to us be blessed.
Make us mindful for the needs of others, we ask in your name.
This prayer was passed down to our family from Kory’s childhood, and I’m certain we’ll be saying it until our kids leave the house…maybe even after they’re gone! We’ve caught ourselves saying it on date night from time to time.
But the reason we like to say the same prayer at every meal (besides tradition) is because the very youngest children in the family have been able to participate in family mealtime prayers from very early ages. Our daughter had our prayer memorized by the time she was 18 months. Our youngest, who will be 3 in January, has been saying the prayer with us for almost a year now. (We work on our “Dear God” prayers, as we call them, throughout the remainder of the day so they can learn how to pray spontaneous prayers from their hearts as well.)
Usually during family breakfast, we do a family devotional. Right now, we’re working through Jesus Calling For Kids.
Kory or I will read the devotional, which includes a verse or two from scripture and a short one-paragraph thought about that passage. After we read, one of our two older children will say a prayer that we all repeat. Again, this helps engage our youngest child during the devotional. It takes 5 minutes, and it’s a great way to start our day.
A few years ago for one of our “Baptism Birthdays,” my mother-in-law gave us a set of conversation cards for the family.
These cards have great thought-provoking questions for kids of almost any age. In fact, a few of them are beyond the analytical ability of at least my 5 year old, so we just skip over those. Some of the questions include:
What is the most compassionate thing you have ever seen one person do for another?
Which do you think God considers most important, being a good friend, a good athlete, or a good student? Why?
In scripture, God often tells us, “Do not be afraid.” Why do you think that is so hard for us?
These cards are a great way to start interesting conversations with our kids about faith and what we believe as Christians. The conversations almost always lead us down an unexpected path, and we all really enjoy them.
Family Dinner Games
Similar to the conversation cards, Family Dinner Games is a container filled with cards.
But instead of topics for conversation (though these are great conversation starters too), these cards have games on them that can be played around the dinner table. Our kids LOVE these games!
The suggested ages for these games is 6-12, but our 5 year old has been able to play many of them for about a year now. We just skip those games that are too advanced. Some examples of the games include:
Virtual Hide and Seek (each person takes turns thinking of their hiding place within the house, and everyone else asks questions to figure out where they “are”)
Who Wore What (each person tries to guess what everyone else wore the day before)
What’s Missing (everyone closes their eyes while one person removes something from the table; then they try to guess what’s missing)
Three Things We’re Thankful For
Earlier this month, I wrote about how we Practice Thanks during the month of November. Gratitude is something we try to work on all year long, but we give ourselves an extra dose in November. Other times of the year, during mealtime, we will play the game we have ever so creatively named “Three Things We’re Thankful For.” Kory or I will give the kids a topic. Maybe it’s three things we’re thankful for at school. Three things we’re thankful for about God’s creation. Or three things we’re thankful for about the person on our right (this is a great way to work on encouraging each other too). Then, we give each family member a time to share their gratitude, and we close in prayer.
Sometimes at the dinner table, we just talk. Really original, huh? But I’m amazed at how meals will come and go in our house without any conversation if we don’t focus on it.
Kory and I have learned that with kids these ages, asking open-ended questions is not usually productive. So if there’s something we want to talk with them about, we try to ask questions that are more narrow in scope. Instead of asking, “how was your day at school”? We ask, “what was the best thing that happened to you at school today?” “Who did you eat lunch with?” “What did you play on the playground?” “Was there anything that your teacher taught you today that you thought was really easy? Really hard?”
When we ask questions this way, we get a much better response, especially from the younger kids. That said, our oldest is handling open-ended questions much better these days, so we try to ask questions in ways that are age-appropriate for each child.
When the meal is over, we ask our kids to participate in clean up. They are responsible for clearing the table, wiping the table down with a sponge and glass cleaner, wiping out the chairs, and sweeping the floor under the table. Once they are finished with those tasks, they help as directed with whatever remains to be done. We’ve told them that these types of family contributions are required because our family is a team, and team members help each other to finish the tasks at hand. They don’t get paid for these jobs. They just do them. Usually with happy hearts!
What do you do to make family mealtime matter?