It came on suddenly. Just ten days after my wedding reality hit: My husband wanted to eat every day AND he thought I would be providing the food! Me. Not his mama. Not the school cafeteria. Not the fast food places. The non-cooking girl who was so busy doing other things that she never learned how to cook is supposed to provide meals. The flash of shock was soon sobered when I realized that I was hungry too.
And to add to the situation, we started having children before I truly conquered cooking so then I was dealing with not only what to make but also how to avoid chaos at the table. I had idealistic images in my mind of happy, thankful children gathered peacefully around the table while their parents shared life insights for 30 minutes. But all I saw in front of me were wriggly, talkative, complaining, fast-eating little people that made big messes and weren’t ready for meaningful conversation. This is not what I had envisioned with delicious meals and well-mannered children.
So, I decided to do what any sensible woman would do...I cried a lot then I chose to conquer this thing called mealtime. In my journey to fight hunger and attain happiness in the home, there are two chicken nuggets of insight I want to pass on for those who need them:
1. Make a Simple Meal Plan with 10 Dinner Recipes. All you have to do is learn ten dinner meals to the best of your ability and use them over two weeks. Choose five categories and two meals for each category. For example, two meals that are American, two meals that are Italian, two meals that are Mexican, two meals that are crockpot, and two meals that are hearty soup/salad/bread. Voila. These will carry you for five nights a week for two weeks. The other two nights a week are for pizza, dates, or carryout. (And, of course, the ever-rewarding backup of “cereal night” is a lifesaver if you get in a pinch.)
Pick whatever your heart desires! Choose according to your family's needs and time. Go online. Look at cooking books. Ask friends. Just focus on learning 10 main meals. Once you have this down, you are set. No need to think of 365 dinner plans. Just rotate 10. And when life changes and you are in another season with more time, you can add to your list. But for now, there is a set rotating plan with delicious food you made five nights a week.
And what about breakfast, lunch, and snacks? These are easier to figure out. You can rotate those every week. For instance, every Monday for us is oatmeal and boiled eggs for breakfast. Cream cheese/jam wraps are for lunch with carrots and ranch, chips and applesauce. And snack is a granola bar. The same goes on for the other days of the week. Breakfast, lunch and snack are the same on certain days every week while dinner rotates every two weeks. After years of this plan, nobody has become bored and I can rest assured breakfast, lunch and dinner are covered!
2. Make Mealtime a Priority. Mealtime is primetime! One of my favorite poems is by family activist Nancy Campbell that implores, “Where can you communicate while you eat? Where can you enjoy real fellowship sweet? Where can you laugh with friends who are neat? At the table…Where can your children learn to sit still? Acquire eating habits that won’t make them ill? Be taught good manners of which some have nil? At the table…” All this and more unfolds at the table together.
Once mealtime was determined to be an integral part of my family, the manners and methods followed. If there is school, work, or extra-curricular activities during dinner then we make plans for other meals such as lunch or breakfast together. At the very least, we look at the weekly calendar and find at least 3 mealtimes we are all together. It literally took our family a few years to conquer table time. But the optimistic side to that is while there isn’t perfection, we do enjoy meals now.
Some practical things we do to bring peace around the plates are as follows:
1. Create a comfortable atmosphere with lighting, place settings, and music
2. Wait to eat until all have joined the table then give genuine thanks for the food
3. Have adults make their plates first then have the older kids make the younger kids’ plates
4. Consider having a minute or two of the silent game so everyone can calm down and prepare to eat peacefully
5. Set the first few minutes for the adults to chat and the kids to listen while they eat
6. Train for manners but do not use meals to lecture or bring up conflict (that would make anyone sick!)
7. Ask meaningful conversation questions and have everyone listen to the answers
8. Plan to have everyone stay at the table at least 20 minutes (although there are times I allow the toddler or baby to color or play so the rest can finish the meal).
9. Make sure the seats are comfortable for little ones. This helps cut back on the wriggles.
10. Have a dinner helper that gets up and down so mom doesn’t do all the work
Yes, learning a simple meal plan and prioritizing dinner has warded off hunger and added happiness to the buffet of life in the Gibbons home. So if you crave the same in your house, just take it one bite, or rather, one night at a time and soon you will be satisfied!
Casey celebrates family as she mothers five daughters and has a baby on the way! She and her husband, Scotty, have worked with young people from junior high to college for the past 20 years in ministry leadership. She invites you to share life with her at ReaLifeCasey.BlogSpot.com.