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What Home Means to Me: Shared Meals

In this series, I am sharing what "home" means to me and family, in hopes of inspiring you to find what it is that makes "home" feel like home for you and yours. For us, an integral part of what makes our house a home are shared meal times. Here are a few thoughts on how we make dinner with our young daughters meaningful.

My family, August 2019

1. Choose a menu with at least one thing that everyone likes.

It’s common for young children to have pretty particular preferences when it comes to meals. Our home is no exception, and we know all too well how stressful meals can get when the entire topic of conversation is centered around the plea, “Please take at least one bite of this food”. Because of that, we have a fairly narrow menu of meals that we cook, most of which are crowd-pleasers or easily adaptable to everyone’s preferences. If we are trying something new, we try to encourage our girls to try at least one bite of what has been made, and we make sure we have other choices of foods on the table we know each child will like (even if it's just rolls and fruit). That way, if the new food isn’t loved by all, everyone can still fill their bellies and any food preferences or aversions don’t hijack the entire meal.

2. Set the table with real silverware, plates, and a table cloth

There is something about setting the table that makes the entire dinner experience feel more meaningful. We have a stack of paper plates in our cupboard that we save for nights when we are tired or have guests, but more often than not, we set the table with complete dinnerware and let the girls choose a tablecloth to spread across the table before we get started. This includes them in the meal, teaches them to help, and makes dinners feel more special.

3. Ask intentional questions

If you are a family who has regular meals around the table together, you have an excellent opportunity to connect closely with each person for 20-30 minutes every day. Those chunks of time add up significantly over the years, and we are careful not to waste that opportunity to connect and teach our children. We try to mute our phones and ask intentional questions about how everyone’s days went. Here are a few questions that seem to get conversation going.

What was the best part of your day?

What was the hardest part of your day?

Who did you sit with at lunch?

What made you laugh today?

Not only do we try to ask meaningful questions, but we use dinner time as a time to teach, as well. If we notice a specific topic coming up regularly, we try to dedicate a meal to it. Mealtime happens every day and the time can add up to be a great window instilling values. A few age-appropriate and relevant topics we have recently talked about at dinner: Including others, honesty, trustworthiness, and good listening skills.

4. Pray/Meditate

Our family meals always start with a prayer. We hold hands and one of us takes a turn praying. Because the girls are young, these are usually simple, short, and song-like. Some days we just go around and take turns saying two things we are thankful for. Regardless, a moment of silence, meditation, or prayer helps everyone to become more present to the moment, and more grateful for the gifts we’ve been given.

5. Clean up together

When our meals are done, everyone works together to clear the table. Almost every night, we turn on Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” to make it fun, and everyone helps to bring their plates over to the counter. This way, one person isn’t left with all of the work, and our girls are learning to contribute to household tasks.

6. Host guests

Life is hectic, and everyone’s schedules are busy. Sharing a meal is a great way to make time for others, show hospitality, and connect. We try to have guests over at least once or twice for a meal. It teaches the girls to have conversation with other adults, and it gives us an opportunity to stay connected with the people who are closest to us!

Are mealtimes important to your family? Do you have any ideas or suggestions of ways we can infuse our dinners with more connection? I'd love to hear them!

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