Do any of you have memories of having tea parties as a child? Perhaps you were lucky enough to go to a special hotel or restaurant for lunch or dinner?
When I was a kid, my grandmother would take our family out to fancy restaurants every now and then. It was a special treat. Usually these places were special little gems; places most people had to find out about from someone who already been there. They were all beautiful and served delicious food.
What makes the entire experience of eating somewhere fancy isn’t just the food. Of course, people would never come back if the food wasn’t good, but the atmosphere, decor, and setting all make for an unforgettable experience. The tables are covered with fabric table cloths, real silverware, cotton napkins, and cups and glasses made of ceramic or glass. It makes us feel special and important. It’s what we think back on when we reminisce about our warm childhood memories.
One of my favorite books as a kid was called Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban. Frances only wants to eat bread and jam, but at the end of the book she discovers she has restricted herself to one type of food and decides to enjoy all the delicious food she is offered. She unpacks her lunch at school beginning with a lovely napkin and a small vase of flowers. She then lays out a spread including tomato soup, a lobster-salad sandwich, black olives, plums, cherries, and vanilla pudding.
The part where Frances lays out her food stood out to me because she made having a meal seem like a fun and desirable experience. Also, as a kid I loved seafood, so that lobster-salad sandwich sounded delicious.
Nowadays with our hectic, busy, and sometimes chaotic lives, we throw elegance and refinement away for the ease of convenience and sake of saving time. Do we feel special when we throw something on a paper plate and sit in front of the television or computer to scarf down our meal? Most likely not.
There is more to meal time than simply satiating our hunger. It is a spiritual act when we slow down, actually taste and enjoy our food, and gather together to discuss our daily lives with the ones we care about. There can be a sense of ceremony in the process of preparing a meal, setting the table beautifully, and making the food look presentable. I might even say it is a type of self care in that we are carefully considering what we are putting into our bodies and presenting the food in a way to look like we would actually want to eat it.
You wouldn’t give a friend a gift wrapped in a plastic grocery bag would you? No, of course not! So why would we slop some food on a paper plate or plastic tin and expect to feel good about ourselves when we eat our meal?
Mealtime can be looked at as a chore, a drudgery, and just another thing we have to do. But, if we change our outlook, mealtime can be seen as a type of ceremony. It is a time to reflect, be mindful of what we are eating, and enjoy it.
As I say all this, I know many of you are thinking,
“ Sure Kristen, but who has time to prepare meals like this when I work all day, come home, take care of the kids, pack lunches for school next day, and take care of the multitude of other household chores that are waiting to be done?”
I completely understand the day to day demands we have as I too work a full time job and have a family to look after. As I mentioned earlier, our society is constantly on the go. (Well, before the Coronavirus, but eventually, we will be back to business). Back in the days of my grandmother’s time, many women had one job working in the home, so their full time job was taking care of their family. Now, most of us moms have to take care of our family and take on a full time job outside the home as well. Preparing a full meal, setting the table, and of course there’s the ever so lovely kitchen clean up, is tiring at the end of a long day. To be honest I don’t feel like doing it most of the time. However, if we completely forget and loose sight of what mealtime can be at home, we will miss out on a cultural and comforting experience.
Here’s a few ways we can bring back the enjoyment of the mealtime experience:
Use real dinner wear that you find to be beautiful. By simply using beautiful, fancy dinner wear, silver wear and glasses, we have already amped up the enjoyment factor with our meals. I always have my kids clear their area, scrape any leftovers into the trash, and place their plates by the kitchen sink so I don’t have to clear everything myself. If the entire family helps out a little, kitchen clean up isn’t so difficult. If you want to step it up a notch, place some fresh flowers on the table, have place settings and use real napkins. Lay out a table runner or candles. Anything you can do to make your table more inviting and pretty will make mealtime more special.
Keep your meals simple. Enjoying your food doesn’t mean you need to prepare a five course meal. No one has time for that, (at least no one that I know). I am always on the lookout for simple recipes that won’t take more more than 20 minutes to make, start to finish. The less ingredients, the better.
Prepare ahead of time. Take some free time during the week to write a list of meals and ingredients you will need. I have finally gotten around to making a recipe book of meals that I can keep on repeat. The key is to have enough variety in your cookbook so that your family doesn’t get tired of eating the same things over and over again. It’s not tiresome having spaghetti and meatballs once a week when all the other six days you are eating something different.
Relinquish yourself of guilt. Some nights we need to break out the box of mac and cheese or hot dogs. Sometimes we have to pick up a pizza or do takeout. That is okay to do on occasion! There is a sea of articles on the deathly health effects of processed food or to only eat strictly organic. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that our health is of the upmost importance, but if you are eating nourishing, healthy meals most of the time, an occasional pizza or fast food isn’t going to kill you. If it makes your life a little easier and relaxed then don’t feel bad about it.
Attempt just a few nights a week (or even once) to have a sit down meal at the dinner table with napkins, silver wear, nice plates, the works. Pick a night where you aren’t so busy, and when you can slow down, relax and enjoy the cooking process (a glass of wine helps)! I bet like most of us who remember meal time with our family as kids, our own children will one day look fondly on the times when we had meals together as a family.
Full disclosure, what I am saying here is my wise-self telling my not-so-wise self to step it up! I work full time as a teacher so for a while now my family and I have done a lot of eating out. Too much in fact. This is absolutely an area of my life I am trying to improve upon and it is why I am sharing this topic with you. I have a feeling I am not the only one out there who feels the same way (I hope). There will never be a time in my life where everything will be perfect and I am making perfect meals a’la June Cleaver. In my situation, I am comfortable with falling somewhere in between June Cleaver and Lorelai Gilmore.