Come ‘N Get It!

Everyone eats, but for Mormons–with our focus on year’s supply, emergency preparedness, stewardship, and family–I think food plays an especially huge role in our lives. And honestly, it generally overwhelms me.

DinnerTime

I grew up in a home that was essentially fend for yourself when it came to eating. You’d think we were street kids, eating any “good food”that happened to come through the door as fast as possible, because it would be gone next time you swung by the kitchen if you didn’t.

When we were really small I’m sure they fed us more consistently, but by late elementary school, our sit-down family dinners were pretty much reduced to the rare times when we fed the missionaries, and select special occasions.

So I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to establish best practices with certain things, and meal time is one of the biggies.  The image of the whole family seated together at the table, with a homecooked dinner (consisting, of course, of an entree, hot side dish[es], salad and bread…you can all picture exactly what I’m talking about…) well, I just haven’t managed to get anywhere close to there.

But I have friends who seem to have mastered the whole family-dinner thing. Some love to cook and bake, some are passionate about healthy foods, or eating organic, or consuming “local” (things grown within a limited radius of their home). I have friends who are vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or at peace with eating everything in between.

Some friends are super organized, with monthly meal plans and year-supply food storage rotation systems, and who buy in bulk. I have friends who almost never eat out, would never buy anything prepared, and others who drive-thru, dine out, or order in on a near daily basis.

Some deal with weight issues, eating disorders, or allergies, or have kids who will eat almost anything–or nothing–that is put in front of them. I have friends who set a beautiful table nightly, or on Sundays, and others who eat while watching tv. One friend claimed that his mother had prepared them a wholesome family dinner every night of his entire life, and the few times she was out of town she made them in advance for each night of her absence.   Me? Around 5:00 every day my kids start asking me about food, and I’m like “But I just fed you yesterday!”

We’ve all heard the benefits of eating family meals together, and know how important our gastronomic choices are both individually and as citizens of planet earth.  Things are certainly more complex today than they were in the past. I don’t know about you, but the nights when we are all home at a reasonable dinner hour are not very frequent. My husband’s work is unpredictable and erratic; couple that with a mom of poor culinary history, a child who will eat essentially anything, and another who eats almost nothing, and mealtime just becomes a daily opportunity to feel inadequate or frustrated.

I’ve always made an effort to eat relatively healthy, to minimize consumption of prepared-foods. I browse a few food-related blogs for recipe inspiration, and have consciously chosen to stop feeling compelled to never waste a morsel (was anyone else fed the starving children in Africa guilt trip?).  I don’t force anyone to eat what I prepare, but if they disparage it in any way (eg: that looks gross, or I can’t stand the smell!) they have to eat some. So if you don’t like what I’ve made, you can quietly make yourself a PB&J and join the rest of us.  We go through a lot of peanut butter around here.

Through the years I’ve employed various methods to re-create that 1950‘s June Cleaver-esque ideal, because it just seems more, umm, righteous. But recently, I’ve been reassessing that self-imposed pressure to establish that kind of routine. My kids are teenagers now, which means meals are very different from when they were small. I’ve decided that it’s okay if we only have a main dish some nights; I’m also at peace with the fact that sometimes cold cereal is the Chef’s Special du jour.  And even if it’s just two people, we can still call it a family dinner and enjoy the time together.

As for the actual consumption-phase: We’ve had traditions throughout the years of sharing Three Good Things, or our “High, Low, and Hand of God” experiences from the day while we eat. We’ve also played two truths and a lie, or discussed current events, planned vacations, and shared news.  Our meals are nowhere close to that ideal I’ve secretly felt like I should be striving for all my life, but they’re working for us, and letting go of the guilt has reduced my stress and anxiety, and helped me to actually enjoy mealtimes.

How about you? Where are you at regarding food storage, meal planning and preparation, or eating together? What things work for your family?  What do you struggle with? Are there any methods, traditions or websites you would like to share?

 

 

 

 

 

About Blue

(Special Events Coordinator) is a mom to two teenage delights, and friends with the very best people on earth. Favorite pastimes include creating stuff (eg, art, music, cakes) travel, reading in bed, and figuring life out one lesson at a time. And oh...like everyone else she knows, she entertains thoughts of becoming a writer someday (you thought she was going to say "photographer", didn't you?)

28 thoughts on “Come ‘N Get It!

  1. We are great at having family meal night, but we stink at family scripture study. I once had a bishop suggest that we study the scriptures together as a family during dinner, and since we do consistently have dinner together, I have made that a goal. But it hasn’t worked out like I planned. So about a week and a half ago, I put family scripture study as a daily reminder on my phone, set to go off EACH NIGHT at 6:20, about 10 minutes prior to when we usually sit down to eat.
    Wouldn’t you know, every day since then, we have had something that has made our family meals go wonky, not happen, or happen early, thus we miss the reminder, and haven’t had our scripture study.
    All a long way to say, there will always be things we can feel guilty about. My ideal family meal was how we had it at home when I was growing up, but for my family, that hasn’t worked. We have had to bend and change, and I have had to let go of what I thought was THE ideal, and trade it for what is ideal and what works in my family.
    For Christmas, at my request, my husband got me a rice cooker. It has been monumentally life changing for dinner prep the three nights a week that my son has swim team from 5-6pm. All the veggies and proteins are fixed ahead of time, rice starts while I am gone, and it only takes me a few minutes after I get home to finish off the meal.
    Really, it’s all about trying different things, and finding what works, and allowing change when the ideal doesn’t seem to be happening.
    And when things don’t work out? No one in my house has EVER complained about cold cereal. :-)

  2. I grew up in a home where dinner was (almost) always at 6:30, and we all sat at the table and shared the meal until Mutal at 7pm and other high school activities made a mess of things. Even then, the younger kids and my parents sat down together. In hind sight, my Mom has a knack for finding meals that pull together with minimal effort.

    That is something I want for my own family, and in 3 years haven’t managed it save for the two weeks my Mom was visiting after my baby was born and /she/ did all the cooking and preparation.

    I’m held back by a) my atrocious cooking skills and inability to time a meal and, frankly, the rate at which we have to declare a meal a bust and pull out the back-up freezer meals and b) a lack of support from DH in getting a meal on the table at a certain time. When only 50% of the equation cares whether we eat at 6 or 10, it just doesn’t happen. It’s especially bad now that someone has to watch DS while the other cooks. :(

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot about family meal time this year ever since I read Wild Swans by Jung Chang. It’s an autobiographical story about one family in China through the last hundred or so years. One thing that really struck me in it, was that during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, when he was trying to upend all of the traditional values, it was illegal to eat dinner as a family. ILLEGAL. Everyone had to turn in their cooking pots and eat in communal halls. I’ve wondered a lot about this. Was it simply to make people think all of their largesse was coming from the government (and Father Mao)? Or was it to prevent parents from imparting their own values and ideals to children during mealtime?
    Meal time to me isn’t about the food. It’s about having a time of day when the family connects together. The food just gets the kids there. We are often missing my husband or one or more of the kids, but whoever is here always eats dinner together.

  4. Growing up my moms rule was if you don’t like it you can have a bowl of cereal. My rule is if you don’t like it and you’re polite about it, you can have a bowl of cereal. But if you are rude your plate will be scraped into the trash and you can eat at the next meal.

    And we often do have the projector on so we can see the tv during dinner, and sometimes we’re bad about browsing on our ipads during dinner, but we do eat together as a family.

  5. We do our best at dinner. Then we fail for a while. Then we try again. Just like everything!

    I wanted to mention: I like the high/low thing a lot because it forces everyone at the table to talk instead of just the loud mouths! One slight adaptation that I think is really valuable: I ask each child to share a best or worst of the day and ALSO the best thing that happened to someone else during the day. It can be something cool that happened to a friend, their brother, their teacher, or me! I think it nurtures empathy and the skill of rejoicing when others rejoice (an undervalue skill in our culture, but one that is invaluable for personal happiness, in my opinion). Food for thought.

  6. Something that was said in RS years ago by one of the teachers at the time has stuck with me all these years after: “Our dinner table is our alter of teaching. Either we use it or we don’t.”

    Making dinner each night is really not all that hard once you get in a routine. Come up with a simple plan and just go for it.

  7. I’ve always considered “breaking bread” together as sacred time, especially for families. Therefore the advesary tries to thwart it. Within the context of sacredness, comes the principle of sacrifice and doing our best.
    Several years ago we had a nephew stay with usfor a couple of summers while he worked for us. He had lots of different experiences in a lot of different places during those summers. When he was asked what his favorite memory from that time was, he said it was our Sunday dinners, both because of the food and the table settings – something he never experienced in his home, even though it was the home of a very active LDS family.
    The place the Savior chose for his last gathering with the Apostles was dinner and breaking bread together. Something for us as women in the midst of all the busyness, to remember.

  8. We play “guess the secret ingredient”. It doesn’t matter the meal, there is always leftover sauce, soup, gravy, veggies, etc. that we (especially my husband) routinely add to a new dish.

  9. There are lots of ways I am failing as a parent, but I’d like to think that food is not one of them. I love food, both preparing it and eating it, and I believe the opportunities it presents for both physical AND spiritual well-being are super important. I have a hard time accepting that so many people don’t care about the role that food plays in their lives, especially when their choices interfere with ours – but I remind myself that we all have different priorities and strengths. My experiences, research and prayer have shaped mine in favor of a focus on food but other people have been led to focus on other things, like maybe patience or sharing the gospel (both on my list of weaknesses). Thankfully my husband is supportive of my desire to make dinner and eat together every night. Without that, it wouldn’t happen. That time of day is crazy! So I understand why it’s really easy for it to get pushed to the side.

    If my kids don’t want to eat what I make and I can see that they made an honest attempt to try it, they can have whole wheat bread for dinner. If they are rude, they go hungry. I also allow them each to choose one food that they don’t have to eat, without consequence. This is good because it has lessened the fights that were caused by me trying to enforce the rules without exceptions. They appreciate that there is an exception, so they don’t fight me on the other stuff.

  10. We do a decent job of sitting together around the table for an evening meal. Now what we’re actually eating– that’s a whole other story. But you’re welcome to grab a stool at our dinner table if you don’t judge the quality of my quesadillas or the likelihood that what you’re served might come from McDonald’s. :)

  11. I love food and cooking, and eating dinner together is a priority for me. We eat dinner together every night that my kids are with me and not their dad. The thing I struggle with lately is our dinner behavior. My kids finish ‘eating’ so fast (because they hardly eat anything a lot of the time) and it’s hard to get them focused enough to actually sit and talk. I’ve been trying to work on that aspect of dinner manners–the meal as a place to gather together–with mixed success.

  12. This has always been difficult for me. One day I figured out that it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual food, it has to do with what would happen at dinner time in my home growing up. It coincided with my Dad getting home from work and what kind of mood he was in determined if I spent the evening in tears or playing. The whole, “Wait til your Father gets home!” dynamic. And when my Dad was late no one could eat until he got home.

    It makes dinner time crazy for me because of this instinctual emotional baggage, homework time, making dinner, trying to find a smile and kiss for my husband when he gets home, and making sure we get people where they need to go after dinner on time. Lately I’ve rebelled at making dinner because it’s all such a mess. Really, the times it’s been best is when I did monthly freezer meals with a friend.

    I like Lynn’s comment also, and the ideas in the OP about how to make the dinner talk fun and/or positive.

  13. Ah, food.
    I always cooked for my kids when they were younger. I hate cooking. As they got older we started to eat out, a lot. I remember when one of my teens said “mom, let’s make a goal this week to only eat out twice”. Yes, I felt bad. And did actually try, for a while. I struggle at this. Now my kids are older and we all go different directions all the time. One Sunday when I was complaining about having to make Sunday dinner, and why did I have to do it every Sunday, my hubbie said “won’t you be sad when they don’t want to come here anymore on Sunday for dinner?” Ouch.
    I am trying to mend my ways.
    I cook a nice (well, sometimes it’s nice) meal for Sunday dinner, but the rest of the week it’s a free for all. I know, I’m ridiculous. I just can’t seem to do it.
    In my defense, all my kids are adults now, most living at home. We sit around and talk, a lot. So don’t fret, we do have quite a bit of family time. Just not around the dinner table. Sue me.

  14. My dinners are totally sporadic. Not having a family to cook for makes my motivation for an actual meal preparation nil to none! THis has gotten me thinking though that I can definitely do better. When those days come that I plan ahead and makes something (simple), I feel better and the next day goes better too (hello left overs). Here’s to better food! Thanks Blue.

  15. I’ve loved all the comments.

    Ginger, we stink at family scripture study, too. My husband no longer believes, so he’s not open to reading scriptures, but we do teach lessons from good sources (eg: The Things That Matter Most, Seven Habits, etc.) and discuss them together.

    Amos, that sounds like a really good book. Thank you for sharing it.

    Red, I like that addition to Three Good Things!

    Kaylene, Lynn, Jodi, Great thoughts and ideas. I love hearing different insights and how other people approach common dilemas.

    Shelah, I think about your tasty gourmet grilled cheese on a regular basis (and I regret not taking you up on your offer last time).You’re one of the wonderful influences that has helped me to view meals in a healthier light…I am grateful for the way you’ve helped me grow in this regard.

    Jessie, Hang in there. It does get easier as they get older. You’re doing an amazing job, and they’re so blessed you’re their momma!

    JenDoop, I can totally relate. Probably one of the reasons why we stopped eating together when I was so young was the volatility of my dad. If he got mad, he’d throw things at me (plates of food) or hit me on the head with utensils. Punishing with food (withholding or force feeding) also contributed to my struggles with family meal. It didn’t help that I was super picky. Thankfully I left all that behind when I left home.

    Magpie, I didn’t get the Cooking Love gene either. Which just compounds the struggle. It’s ironic, because ten years ago a celebrity chef offered me a million dollar contract to be his cooking show co-host…but that’s another story for another day. (true story)

    Jennie L, you actually came to mind as I was writing this post, because I’m well-aware of the many different home situations we all come from. Whether we’re living alone, with room mates, married no kids, married with young kids, older kids, or single parents, empty nesters, widowers…these factors all contribute to the discussion and I didn’t have any idea how to address them all without writing a tome. But I was honestly thinking of you…and it reminded me that I’d love to meet up sometime soon! ♥

  16. I had realized just in the last week or two, that although it feels like my dinners suck and I’m SO sick of planning them, that all in all I do a pretty good job at it. We sit down together to dinner at least 5 nights a week, and (thanks to my picky, demeaning father whose voice still rings in my head [sarcasm]) that dinner is not mac-a-cheese, hot dogs, or sandwiches. Frequently, it even involves vegetables. :o) (Not my strong point.)

    We always say a prayer over the food (family prayer!) and we have the kids each tell us their favorite thing that day. For the past 2.5 weeks (yay me!) we’ve had one person share a scripture — no, it’s not quite “family scripture study,” but for my part-believing family, I think it’s about as close as we’re going to get, and at least I feel like I’m doing *something.*

    I get bored easily with foods and get sick of eating something I loved at first after about the 4th time I make it, so not being able to think of anything to make is a never-ending frustration to me.

    I’ve also been very frustrated with getting dinner on the table: Usually I’m trying to finish off 2 or 3 things, unearth the table (that is my main work desk, and also a dumping ground for mail, papers from school, ads, etc, etc.), set the table, clean up the kitchen, and parent children who aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be. Argh!

  17. Both my husband and I came from families where the family sat down for dinner together every night. Neither of our moms are gourmet chefs by any stretch of the imagination, (there was one period of time where my mom’s version of spaghetti was noodles with a can of tomato sauce dumped on them. shudder.) But we definitely went into our marriage with a shared expectation there, despite the fact that I was a pretty crummy cook in the early years of our marriage.

    Turns out, I’ve learned to really love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, and I’ve become pretty passionate about food. Now, cooking for my family truly is a pleasure because, for me, it’s a way for me to express love to them. Particularly my husband. I think food might be his love language. :)

    But, like someone else mentioned, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I love to cook for my family and spend a good portion of my time planning and preparing meals. I hope my children will look back at family dinners as a really important part of their childhood, but some people spend a lot of time taking beautiful pictures of their families and arranging them in photo and scrap books for their family to enjoy for years. That’s a way they show love to their family, but I really stink at those types of things. (You should see my half-filled out baby books. It is shameful!)

  18. I’m impressed that your baby books are half-filled. I never even got them for my kids because it was better not to have them than to have empty ones.

  19. Blue, I feel for you, because *I* am the one who had that crazy schedule, and it is *still* variable. It means that I often only make the last bit of dinner, and miss the daily “three details” that everyone has to share.
    Growing up, my mom hated cooking. If it took more than 15 minutes of work, it wasn’t worth it to her. She had a list of meals that she could make quickly and without fuss. They did not vary (fish and spinach and macaroni and cheese, pork chops and buttered noodles and asparagus). I am much more likely to fall back on one of these on my nights to cook, than my spouse, who is much more likely to pull off a stir fry or curry.

    We’ve been doing some extra social studies in our house, and it has become my job to make an appropriate meal to go with whatever we are studying (what? You want a sweet almond marzioan subtlety? No problem. A meal that highlights different flavors of salt? Make your own chocolate from cocoa beans? Sure.) The kids “get” to help with all of these adventures, and I am often asked by my spouse why the kids will only cook with me.

  20. This is one area of my life which I fear I will never get under control. Having consistent family dinners is no problem. That is a habit that was ingrained in me as a child, and I’ve always followed it in adulthood. The only wrinkle I face that way is my husband’s increasingly later working times. Dinner used to be at 6:00; now it’s often 6:45 or later before we sit down to eat.

    The quality of our meals is a whole other challenge. I really dislike cooking, at least on a daily basis. I love to cook for potlucks or holiday dinners, and I enjoy baking every once in awhile. But the daily dinner grind feels like more than I can stand at times. So we tend to eat the same old standby meals–tacos, spaghetti (which my dh hates), breakfast-for-dinner, etc.

    On the other hand, I’m really interested in trying to make my family’s eating habits healthier. I have dabbled many times with various types of healthy cooking–buying organic produce, using different kinds of flours like spelt, using varied types of rice, even cooking gluten-free. I really want to be a whole-foods-only, eat-organic, buy-free-range-meat kind of a cook. And I have times when I do just that. But then I get overwhelmed, busy and stressed, or the budget gets tight, and I stray from those ideals. And then I feel guilty. Sigh. I want to cook whole foods from scratch, but I don’t want to spend more than 20 minutes preparing a meal. Those two things don’t really go together. And then there are the picky eaters that live at my house who won’t eat the whole foods, made-from-scratch meals.

    I’ve had times when I did really well with food storage, and other times (like now) when my basement storage is almost empty. My food storage was plentiful when I followed a menu/food storage plan online that sent me the weekly store ads with instructions as to what to stock up on. But most of that was canned or boxed food, so that defeated my whole foods goals.

    I’ve tried many different types of menu plans, and all of them have been good–as long as I stick to them. I’ve tried online menu plans, I’ve made my own. One thing I did at one point was to make four 4-week menus–one each for spring, summer, fall, and winter. Then I’d repeat that menu during that particular season.

  21. I was really good about nightly dinners until my oldest kids were teenagers. We solved that problem by having everyone take turns making dinner. That taught them how to cook as well as getting them to dinner. It also gave me a break. I only had to cook 2 nights a week.

  22. I love this post and how it teases out some of the complexities and pressures around food.

    I go through spurts with food storage and cooking. Right now I’m in a serious slump with both. I share your reaction right now of, “I’m like, I just fed you yesterday!”

    But what keeps me motivated to at least have some sort of gathering with whoever may be at home at some time during the night is something I read something by Truman Madsen that brought a sacredness to the act of gathering at the dinner table, and the role women often play in that process. To me, it’s not about the food or anything except trying to think about my children as my little part of Israel that God wants me to gather as often as I can around me. And if it doesn’t happen at dinner, then maybe at bedtime. Or at any random time. That concept resonated with my spirit and helped me see my motherhood in a whole different light.

    So yeah, my kids are right now eating the same. stupid. things. over and over again. I’m so sick of cooking I could crawl in a hole. Little Caeser’s pizza was almost a weekly thing until I got so sick of it that I banned it for a while. But we ordered it again tonite, cuz, well, it was better than nothing. And it didn’t take time, which was good cuz I had none.

    But even if it’s the same. old. thing every night I just try to remember the gathering. And I try to remember to make it a point to communicate often about what it means to me to have my family around me. And that feeling, I hope, will cover a multitude of culinary sins.

  23. Bless you for typing “But I just fed you yesterday!” Amen, sister! My daughter came home with a Thank You card from a church activity (she’s 8) that said “Thank you for feeding me almost every day.” Cracked me up. The card hangs on the wall in the kitchen. My mom never did anything fancy, was never known for certain special meals. Her veggie of choice was always a can of mushy peas over fresh salad. I didn’t know food should “taste good” until I was well into adulthood. Great post. My family eats actual foods, I cook most meals. Our family does that crazy sitting together thing more than half the time. You know what bugs me? YM/YW activity nights. It makes sitting down for dinner very difficult that night. You know what I love? That we can sit and eat together by grabbing pizza or hot dogs at Costco’s food court!

  24. So with you on that 5:00 thing! I always intend to plan ahead but rarely do. We certainly aren’t anywhere near perfect on family dinners here, but I do so enjoy that time together.

    BTW, one of my most lovely breakfast memories is still breakfast at your house with your family a couple of years ago as I prepared to head to the airport. The food and the company both were absolute perfection!

  25. Dinner is so hard for me! My three year old has a gastrointestinal disorder that causes his diet to be extremely limited. I don’t want to cook a separate meal for him (mainly to avoid the “well if he doesn’t have to eat that, I don’t want to either” complaint from the others), so variety is very much lacking at our house! I remember the days before his diagnosis when I would still wonder what to cook for dinner even though my options were endless, so I don’t think any less of people who have no restriction but still struggle with menu planning, but oh how I wish I could go back to that – I know I would never complain again!

    As far as family dinners go, I get that it’s super important and has wonderful benefits, but with my son’s disease it’s possible that some day it won’t be possible for us all to sit down to the same meal (he just may not have enough safe foods, or may not have any food at all) and that just may put a damper on family meal times. So, I must admit that my heart breaks a bit and that I sometimes get mad when I hear such a huge emphasis being placed on family mealtimes. I guess we will just have to get our daily together time in another way and there is nothing wrong with that.

  26. I was great at meal times while the children were younger. I had no problem with getting a meal on the table for everyone at roughly the same time each day. I also love to bake so we have lots of homebaked goodies too. However, with teenagers life has gone up the wall in many ways. Their schedules change on a daily basis depending on after school activities and church, often there are extra things on which I only become aware of on the day. Of course I also have to go and collect them from these activities I rush hour traffic when I should be cooking. Life is tricky. In the end, there is always a meal on the table at some point for whoever is home. I do what I can and that is good enough for me.

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