I, like most mothers of young children, seem to be forever preparing food for hungry bellies! I have three boys and keeping them well-nourished and satiated has been quite the evolutionary ride. There was a season in my life of exclusively breastfeeding my firstborn, and our ritual was snug and mostly simple. He would root and I would respond, nestling with him on the couch, a glassful of lemon water and a good book within reach.
Then, as his teeth popped through and he grew in stature, he also grew to love avocados, bananas and yogurt, and before I knew it I was preparing him full meals… and nursing my second babe simultaneously.
I’ll tell ya right now: you learn rather quickly how to balance a nursling on your hip while stirring a pot of mac and cheese and trying not to be thrown off-balance by the toddler pulling at your pant-leg. It’s a fast-learned skill.
Now, having boys who are all relatively independent in the kitchen at this point in their lives comes with a bit of freedom for me, and yet I need to be vigilant, exemplifying the importance of not grazing throughout the day. For instance, if I don’t put the kibosh on it, all the yogurt cups and all the bell peppers will be noshed away in a single afternoon, because, well, the boys know how to access these treats and their eyes are always bigger than their bellies. Also, I find that boredom usually dictates how “hungry” they are, so I need to be discerning of that, too. Sometimes, a drink of water and gentle redirection to some other task is just the ticket to hold off a kiddo eating in between meals.
Enter: the importance of structure. For me, mealtime ritual is all about getting my family into that place of truly appreciating and savoring, not just food, but life. Mealtime ritual allows an opportunity to connect to one another, helps avoid waste or overeating, and encourages my family to grow in a posture of gratefulness for the gifts of family and nourishment. Being consistent in this takes daily mental and physical discipline, but in the long run it’s well worth every ounce of energy.
During our school week, as any given mealtime approaches, my kiddos each have a duty to fulfill. For example, in the morning for breakfast E is usually cracking eggs and mixing in the spices; J is clearing the table and setting out plates; and Z is putting down the toast.
Once we gather at the table, we light three candles, hold hands, and give thanks to God through prayer and reflection on what we’re thankful for in the new day, each person going in turn. As we eat, we listen to music and talk about the day ahead, things we’re concerned about or looking forward to, etc. After the food is eaten, we blow out the candles to signify the meal’s end, and each kiddo asks to be excused. Everyone is responsible for their own plate, and one child is asked to wipe down the table.
Lunch and dinner follow the same sort of communal effort, and at dinner we read a psalm, filling not only our bodies, but also our spirits and minds as we enter into the evening. We also share highlights and lowlights from the day.
Saturday morning ritual is modified somewhat, because my husband is home. Breakfast falls more into a brunch timeframe and the pace seems slower, but the same rules of assisting the meal preparation and cleanup apply.
One rule of thumb in our home is that we rarely eat in front of the TV – unless it’s, say, popcorn for a movie or taco dip for a football game. This is because there is an innate sacredness to mealtime – it’s an opportunity to connect and lean into what being a family means all while sharing, singing, reading, laughing, and being open. It’s all there. Mealtime rhythm and ritual obviously looks different from family to family, with unique schedules and needs, and I’m certain our own rhythm will continue to evolve, but I think as long as I can drive home the importance of intentional nourishment with a hearty side of gratitude, I’ll consider my efforts successful.
Emili mostly spins the plates of motherhood, marriage, and intentional city-dwelling. When she’s not homeschooling (unschooling? freeschooling? whatever…) her uniquely lovable – and unruly – three boys, she is reading and writing poetry, working as a birth doula, composting, kombucha-ing, practicing her guitar, and attempting to learn French. She is passionate about minimalism (although she does have a penchant for Ball jars and pretty China plates from thrift stores) and she aspires to find the simple beauty peppered throughout the mundane. She feels most connected to God when in nature and will do whatever is necessary to spend at least a handful of mindful minutes outside, barefoot, each morning – even with Wisconsin snow on the ground.