My mom does not relish the spotlight. She has always been more comfortable doing her thing in the background. So you can imagine how surprised all of her children were when she asked us to recount our memories of the family dinner table because of a talk she was preparing to give at a women’s gathering.
Only one topic could have propelled my mom to such levels of duress: The Importance of the Family Dinner Table.
She began her talk with a quote by filmmaker and journalist Miriam Weinstein.
What if I told you that there was a magic bullet—something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children’s chances of success in the world, your family’s health, our values as a society? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce and within the reach of pretty much anyone?” (The Surprising Power of Family Meals, p. 1)
“You guessed it” my mom said, “the family dinner table.”
Now some of you may be wondering why I, an unmarried woman with no children, am writing a blog post on the importance of making a meal, sitting down with your family and eating together.
I can feel you giving me the stink eye.
You are thinking, dear blogging single person, you have NO IDEA.
Fair enough. So instead of telling you why your family should have dinners together where the kids recite Scripture and eat all their peas—you could rightly get really huffy at me for that—I want to share with you 7 gifts the family dinner table gave me. (And if you’re at all worried that this post will make you feel guilty, fear not. My only hope is to encourage and free you in matters of the dinner table because of the rich blessings it provides.)
1. The Gift of Belonging
I could always count on sitting down together as a family for dinner. It was a stabilizing anchor no matter the dips and swells of the day. My mom’s meals functioned as a magnet that drew us together each evening. Sometimes my dad liked to get in on the action. His speciality was canned clams over spaghetti noodles so his involvement was relatively short lived.
My mom saw the dinner table as a safe haven for us. She pointed out that “Kids are buffeted all day long by things and people; they feel insecure and rejected because someone has gone after another friend. Dinnertime is a sacred time to draw your kids in, look them in the eye and let them know they belong.”
2. The Gift of Appreciation
I learned to appreciate different kinds of food even when I didn’t like everything that had been prepared— like when my mom used to put minced onions in the meatloaf. She would always say that they were so small you couldn’t even taste them. To which I replied in all my high schoolness, well if you can’t taste them why are you putting them in there? I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning to appreciate that we even had food on the table. Despite the minced onions ruining the whole thing.
3. The Gift of Not Always Getting What You Want
When you’re at a restaurant or shopping for yourself at the grocery store you get to choose exactly what you want to eat. But when you sit down at the dinner table you have to learn to eat what’s been prepared for you. Though I wasn’t always happy about it, this was a valuable lesson for me to learn because in life you don’t always get to choose what you want.
If we kids had grown up getting exactly what we wanted every night for dinner it wouldn’t have served us well later in life. Even if we decided not to eat what was put before us, my parents taught us to do it politely and we learned what it meant to go without. This again was an important life lesson.
4. The Gift of Simplicity
While I love a Pinterest table presentation or an involved recipe, I learned that the real beauty of the dinner table doesn’t lie in how exquisite the meal is but that everyone is together. I know several people who don’t cook because they say they’re not good at it, that they can barely boil water, or they don’t have time. But sitting down together for a meal doesn’t have to be fancy or turn into an all-day affair. This is what the crockpot is for. Or soup. A chicken breast with rice and a couple vegetables doesn’t take much time at all. Neither does chili, pasta or sandwiches.
When I think back to the meals I had with my family, I don’t remember much about what we ate but that we ate it together.
5. The Gift of Conversation and Storytelling
As a kid I liked to tell stories and hear stories. Questions from my mom like, “Did you ever hear about how your dad and I met?” or “Do you know how we chose your name?” were big hits. My siblings and I always had the chance to tell about our day and ask each other questions. Of course we went through phases where we didn’t feel like talking, or when our best attempt at communicating with one another was through eye rolling, or we were plain grumpy from the school day. Still we learned how to dialogue and enter in even when we didn’t feel like it.
6. The Gift of Cooking and Hospitality
Growing up with family dinners gave me a love for nourishing others around my own table. Even though I’m not married and don’t have children I make it a priority to cook dinner and eat with my friends and the family I have in town whenever I can. I’m not suggesting everyone has to do this, or even can, but I find it to be the part of the day I most look forward to.
7. The Gift of Learning Christ
The Lord gave the Israelites the command to love Him with all their heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:4-9). He told them to impress this on their children when they walked along the road together, lied down, got up in the mornings, and when they sat at home.
When I think of the times I sat at home with my parents, the most consistent of those times was around the table. While not every conversation was explicitly spiritual, they were always modeling to us the love of Christ and instructing us in His ways. Ultimately they showed us His love by nourishing us at their table, a faint foreshadowing of the eternal feast we will one day share around the table of the King.