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.
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?