I used to eat in front of TV all the time. My husband and I would get home from work, make our meal, and then plop down on the couch, plates balanced precariously on our laps and we would watch our favorite shows to unwind. It felt good to just be somewhere else mentally whilst stuffing food into our faces. I don’t think we are the only Americans to do this, right?
My dining room table was a gathering place for stuff. Papers, clothes, mail, books, stuff I didn’t know what to do with that I just needed to put...somewhere. It felt slightly more responsible putting it up on the table than putting it on the floor. I was making progress as an adult by not putting my stuff on the floor—yay me! Basically, my sweet grandmother’s hand-me-down table was reduced to the status of open-faced junk drawer. Occasionally we would push the ‘stuff’ aside and work on the laptop, for doing our taxes or writing a paper, so in that case it was multi-functional—both desk AND junk drawer—but the table was not fulfilling its purpose and it was sad. Kind of like the Christmas trees that never find a home and are sent to the chipper (random F.R.I.E.N.D.S reference anybody?).
This bad habit continued even after we had kids. They ate at different times than we did and they were in high chairs, the three of them. The table then became a gathering place for other things like toys, pacifiers, wipes, diapers, plus all the ‘stuff’ that had been there for a long time, getting pushed around and piled higher. We used to have to put ‘clean off the dining room table’ on our ‘To Do’ list. And with even more people living in our house, the dining room table sank into an even deeper state of sadness.
With the three kids in high chairs at the kitchen counter, I became a short-order cook. I’d get them up there before I started cooking so I could keep an eye on them. I was constantly giving them whatever they demanded as I cooked their grilled cheese or dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. It was infuriating, exhausting, and unfortunately, cultivated picky eaters. (Read 'They’re Just Bananas’ for more on that.) It got to the point where mealtime was my worst time of day.
I had to make a change. I found a book at the library called “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen Le Billon and I read it diligently. In the book, she outlined ten rules that would help to cure picky eaters based upon what she learned during her time in France with her two little girls. She wrote about the French school system and the value that the French place on food and mealtimes. This was exactly the book I needed to read.
There were many great nuggets of advice to take away from this book. The main thing that I felt I could implement with my kids at this particular age was the importance of mealtime. We all had to change our mindset. Eating isn’t a race to the finish or an inconvenience to be endured. Mealtimes are about nourishing our bodies. It is a time to be with my family and communicate. Cooking for my boys is a way to teach them new tastes and smells. Eating together shows them that I need to eat too and that I eat what they eat. Being gathered around the table is where we can teach them how to have a conversation and be engaged with their parents in a different way than caretaker and cook. What a different role for my dining room table to play! Instead of a junk pile, an invaluable place for community.
Jesus ate with His friends. He spent time with them around tables and taught them about the way of love and grace. Jesus fed people with fish and bread, but also with his life giving teachings. The last thing Jesus did in community with His disciples was share the Passover meal and the first thing that Jesus did when he visited them in the upper room after His resurrection, was sit down at that same table, and eat. He is the Creator of all things and He chose to sit down daily and eat with the ones He loves, not because of the food, but because of the relationships he was building with them. I love that we can look at Jesus and model something so basic in our own homes. If we can understand the value having a meal together, we can cultivate deep relationships with our kids and spouses naturally and that is what this life is about! Relationship!
Now, my favorite place in my whole house is the dining room table. It’s where we all hold hands and pray for everything on the table, including the plates and tablecloth. It is where Reuben told his first secret—“Dragons are your friends!”—and where Eli told his first joke. It is where Silas sings the most because he is so happy to be eating. Meal times are messy and crazy and loud. But there are so many moments when Tom and I look across that lovely dining room table at each other, eyes glistening, and we feel totally blessed. Now, the kids ask about Tom’s day at work, they say things like “What a lovely meal, Mommy” and Reuben always reminds us when we forget to pray or if I bring over seconds that we have to pray again. We still have moderate picky eater problems but it doesn’t bother me so much since I only make three meals a day instead of twelve. AND I get to sit down and interact with my family without having to wrestle, yell, or appease.
Do you eat with your family and friends around the table? Give it a try and I know you won’t regret it!