While there are valuable lessons to be learned around the dinner
table, there are also wonderful memories to be made as well. By
faithfully eating together as a family, ordinary meals can together
become an extraordinary memory. But sometimes it’s fun to mix it up a
little. When we were young, mom looked for creative ways to turn
certain dinners into special memories. We chose our favorites to get
your own creative juices flowing. Check these out:
Encouragement Dinner—We took turns encouraging each member
of the family over dinner. For dessert, we drew names, and with sugar
cookie dough and alphabet cookie cutters, spelled out a godly character
quality of the family member whose name we had picked. We were then
assigned to do one thing special to honor that individual during the
Mystery Dinner—Each family member had been assigned a
particular aspect of the meal (appetizer, main course, side dish,
dessert, etc.) the week before. We could decide what we would make, but
we had to keep our dish a secret. So, when we showed up for dinner, we
had a surprise of a meal—including peanut butter sandwiches, fancy
salad, green bean casserole, shrimp cocktail, and Kool-Aid. To set the
mood we had mystery music in the background. The game for that evening
was an invigorating round of Clue. We finished off with a mystery movie.
Switching Places Dinner—My mom had us draw the name of
another family member and we had to sit in their seat at dinner and
behave like them throughout the meal. I remember it being so funny to
see my dad imitating my Uncle Grant (who lived with us at the time) and
my mom acting silly like Janelle.
We repeated this dinner activity years later when Joshua Harris and
Andrew Garfield (who were attending the Sovereign Grace Ministries
Pastors College) lived in our basement. It was even more hysterical the
second time, especially since Josh gave an Academy Award worthy
performance as my dad. He even wore an imitation bald cap!
Backwards Dinner—This meal was inspired by the definitions
of the word “backwards”: “doing something in the reverse of the usual,
the right way,” and “toward the past.” We, of course, did everything
backwards for that particular meal. We had breakfast for dinner. And we
had to have fulfilled a “backward assignment” during the day and tell
about it at dinner. The options were to wear an article of clothing
backwards (one that people could see!), eat our lunch backwards in the
presence of a friend, walk backwards around the outside of the house
three times (while it was still daytime!), or wear a nametag all day
with our name written backwards. Then, at dinner, after we reported on
our humiliating “backward assignment,” we looked backwards over the
past year and recounted one specific example of God’s goodness.
Progressive Dinner—This one works great for the little guys.
We ate each course of our dinner in a different room of the house while
doing an activity. In the first room we ate hot dogs and put a puzzle
together. The Memory Game and deviled eggs came with the second room.
It was applesauce and story-time in the third room. We concluded with
apple cider and talked about the meaning of each of our names in the
last room (To my sisters’ delight that is when I discovered that my
name means “gift from God”).
Silly Dinner—For this meal, we came dressed in “silly” attire. I can still remember running around my house that afternoon
trying to put together all of the craziest stuff that I could find.
This was right down my alley (probably not one of Kristin’s favorites).
We all assembled for dinner looking ridiculous—mismatched outfits and
crazy hair. We ate our meal starting with dessert (a practice I still
enjoy) and ending with our salad. This was made even more hilarious
with Mom having us use the wrong utensils to eat our food. Then we
launched into a series of silly activities. We drew a picture in the
dark. Mom turned out the lights and gave instructions: “Draw the
outline of a house. Put a door on the house. Put a tree in the
yard….” You get the idea. Not exactly art museum material. We then
drew names and gave a silly command to the person whose name we drew.
The evening ended with a lovely family picture.
“Children learn manners mostly by example. It’s only when they don’t pick up on some detail that we must point out their lapses…manners are a cut-to-the-chase way of teaching important life lessons.”
Just as we learned many life lessons from the books we read after dinner, the same can be said about dinnertime manners. Table manners may seem insignificant but, as the author points out in the quote above, they reinforce important qualities such as courtesy, love for others, and self-control.
When I think about dinnertime manners, my mind immediately jumps to a white teddy bear with a red and white striped hat that played Jingle Bells when you squeezed his paw. This little guy was the much-coveted prize of the “Mahaney Dinnertime Manners Contest.”
There was a time when the manners of my sisters and myself…well, let’s just say that you wouldn’t have wanted to come to our house for dinner. The regular reminders of “no elbows on the table,” “no talking with food in your mouth,” “no eating with your fingers” and “no interrupting” seemed to be falling on deaf ears. (Sorry, Dad and Mom!) Drastic action was needed and so the “Manners Contest” was born.
Rules? We had one week (one week!) to reform our backwards dinnertime habits and re-acquaint ourselves with our silverware. Dad and Mom would be the official judges, observing us closely at mealtimes and choosing a winner at the end of the week. The winner would receive the bear.
I wanted that bear so badly! I still remember thinking through my every move as I ate my chocolate chip pancakes (a Saturday night favorite). The week came to an end and it was time to announce a winner. And while there had been much growth in all of us, one daughter stood out above the rest. Yes, it just happened to be me. And to this day, it’s one of my favorite stories to recount to my sisters.
I hope this sparks your creativity. You may feel that you are constantly reminding your children to exercise better table manners. Don’t get discouraged! Consider using a game or a prize to motivate your children. You will not only teach them important lessons, but a life long family memory can be made. The little white bear that played Jingle Bells when you squeezed his paw has been forever recorded in the “Mahaney Family Memory Book” to be told, retold, and told one more time!
Even with a simple menu, a lot of work and planning goes into making family mealtime a reality. So what do you do once everyone is seated around the table?
We’re going to share just a couple of traditions that defined Mahaney family dinners over the years. This is not to say dinnertime at our house was perfect—like any family we had conflicts, rushed meals, seasons where nothing extraordinary seemed to happen. However, by strategically using dinnertime to make memories our family bond was strengthened.
My favorite dinnertime activity was when Dad read aloud to us after dinner. Sometimes he would read one chapter and we’d all scoot off to various meetings or activities. Other days we would sit with unwashed dishes late into the evening—all engrossed in the story. Predictably, when we’d come to the end of an especially moving book, Dad would be overcome with emotion and unable to finish. Someone else would have to volunteer.
Dad used breakfast (when everyone was fresh) for Bible study and theological teaching. After dinner reading was amusement with a purpose. Over the years, Dad read us numerous biographies, history books, and works of literature.
Particularly vivid in my memory are the many books we read on the African-American experience: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Help Me Remember, Help Me Forget, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to name a few. Dad wanted to be sure we understood—as best as white suburban children can—the tragic history of slavery and racism in our country.
The Chronicles of Narnia were a favorite and so was The Hiding Place, Through Gates of Splendor, Deadline and Dominion by Randy Alcorn and Our Town. Most recently, Dad, Mom and Chad have been enjoying The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and Letters From A Nut.
It has been said that books can take you places you’ve never been. By reading together after dinner, our family shared many experiences and went many places—together.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching—only ten days to go! Last year we solicited ideas from all of you and received some super-creative suggestions for blessing your husband, family and friends on this special day. Check them out today (one, two, three, four, five, and six) so you can prepare in advance.
Speaking of suggestions, we received some helpful tips from several of our readers on meal preparation last week. So before we move on to discuss what happens over meal-time we wanted to pass these ideas on to you. Please note that we have not personally researched the websites that are recommended. Enjoy!
Please check out the following link for those who feel stumped as to how to do planning and/or are too busy to do it: http://www.dinewithoutwhine.com/. As a single woman with a room-mate; we are both so busy we often “eat out” when we could with a little planning make meals we could take for lunches to work instead of eating out and perhaps even eat with each other instead of on the run or in front of the tube to unwind. After the first week this is a pay site, but it is nominal and at least I like it and can modify the ideas for two single gals on the go, it at least gives me a starting place and a grocery list!
A friend of mine was inspired by the posts you’ve done on food recently and she posted some wonderful links on her blog: http://web.mac.com/chilibowl. As a new bride I eagerly explored these sites and they all seem to have some helpful bits and pieces on meal planning, cooking on a budget and lots more.
I have been reading your blog on meal planning and thought I would share some ideas that work for our family. First, I bought a year calendar that has both individual daily scheduling and a month at a glance page. Presently, I have meals planned through July without any duplications. As I am reading my cookbooks I note recipes I would like to try. I use the month at a glance page to write down the name of the recipe, which cookbook, and the page number. A money saving tip that I read some time ago is to plan for leftovers. I do not cook on Monday’s or Wednesday’s as there are always leftovers from cooking the other five days. As I am writing down the recipe I take note not to have similar meals within the same week, or four nights of chicken, etc. Another money saving tip is to shop biweekly. When I am planning my grocery list I add to the month at a glance page what I will serve with the main dish. I always try to make an extra special Sunday dinner with dessert (desserts are presently planned through July as well). I also like to be prepared to bring guests home on the spur of the moment on Sunday, so I always make plenty. I attend a women’s Bible Study every other week and we always take something to share. Again, I have inserted on the calendar what I will make for these dates. While the initial planning takes a little time; I love that I don’t have to think about it every week. I have tried many systems over the years, but I have found this plan to work best for me. My family can also look at the calendar and see what’s for dinner. Around May, I will work on meals for the remainder of the year.
I have found enjoyment for myself and the rest of the family in planning themes for certain nights. Friday nights I make pizza or calzone, Thursday nights I make Mexican food and so on. Sometimes I wonder if I am boring to do that, but I find that having a plan and some structure actually helps me to be more creative. I also have lists of different foods in each category-a list of pasta dishes, a list of different Mexican foods, a list of soups along with lists of desserts and sides to put with each. It is really helpful as I sit down to meal plan and have distractions. My lists help me to plan quickly and efficiently. When I try a new recipe and my family likes it, I often add it to list it goes on so I don’t forget it.
In my college years, my roommate and I had a tradition. We would eat stir-fry with our personal set of chopsticks that she had brought from South Korea (she had spent three months there). We would eat together in our room and pray for some Asian country or for our church missionaries we had in South Korea.
My point? Something that I thought would be a God treasuring tradition for my family as well as keeping us aware prayerfully for other peoples, cultures, nations, and missionaries was to set a weekly or monthly international meal, and pray for a country or missionary that is in one of those countries. You can have your Operation World handy to select a country and know how to pray for them more specifically.
Here are some websites with international foods, and some suggestions of my own. It doesn’t have to be difficult or take extra strange ingredients. It depends on how creative and how authentic you want the foods to represent the country you are praying for.
International Food’s Websites:
Operation World Website:
My Own Suggestions ...they are simple:
Black beans and rice any Central American Country
Steak Argentina (you know your family would LOVE that meal!)
Stir-fry (Asian Country)
Chicken Curry and Rice (India)
Hot dogs, Hamburgers, fried chicken (USA)
Tacos - Mexico
Spaghetti or Lasagna - Italy
Saw this link on home management at http://ordinarymother.wordpress.com/—thought you might like to take a little peek: http://www.squidoo.com/homemaking.
One of the most important things (at least for me) when grocery shopping is to make sure you have all your coupons! I’ve found that by using coupons and matching them up to the stores sales, I can save quite a bit or money (sometimes as much as 50% off my bill).
After reading your recent post about menu planning, I thought I’d send you this little grocery shopping tip I’ve learned! I’m attaching my grocery list that’s on my computer and follows my traffic pattern through our local WalMart . . . I just post it on my fridge each week, circle what I need as I run out of it and then on Mondays (when I build my menu and shop) I just have to walk through the list in my mind to make sure I have everything needed for the menu!
All it takes to create a list like this for your favorite grocery store is a trip through the store with a piece of paper and a clipboard. You just write down what is in the aisles that you would normally buy. Then you come home and type it up. All you have to do is print it out each week and everything is in the right order as you walk through the store!
No matter how you change it, having this type of list helps me to cut costs at the store because I am in and out faster and more efficiently and I’m not tempted to buy things that aren’t on the list.
When I left home (ten years ago) my mum presented me with a hand written folder of all the recipes we had cooked together, that were fool-proof. Although the years took their toll on the paper I have typed them out and added to them. One of my brothers was most distressed that he didn’t get one, and so when James got married recently he got his own version including all his favourite recipes.
I wanted to share with you a super website that I use a lot—http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/. It is linked to a magazine that I subscribe to: The BBC Good Food Magazine. One of the things I like about it is that there are pictures of every recipe so that you can see what you are aiming for! The recipes are updated daily, and there is a facility to add recipes to your own “binder” so that you can keep track of the ones that you fancy making. You can also search by ingredient, or define searches by “ready in under 10 minutes” or “one pot meals” for those times when you just need something quick and easy.
A couple of years ago when Joanna’s vision became impaired, I began typing into the computer and saving each recipe that I wanted Joanna to make. This way, I could enlarge the font, and bullet each step to make it easier for her to read and follow. My hope is that this little project will eventually evolve into a LARGE PRINT collection of tried and true favorite recipes that she can take with her. Typing it one at a time is definitely no hardship, but the accumulated effects will be great. Thanks for sharing your idea.
I want to share with you one of the most precious gifts I have been given. As a wedding present my grandmother compiled a recipe book for me to take into married life. She asked my family members as well as my husband’s family members to pass around this book (it went all over the Southeast!) and write in favorite recipes. This little book contains handwritten recipes and commentary in the handwriting of our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. There is also room in the back for new family recipes. I use these recipes all the time.
My grandmother went home to the Lord two years ago, and this recipe collection is even more special to me now. I treasure the thoughtfulness of her gift that I will be able to pass down to my own children. I just wanted to share this idea with others and encourage them to create their own “heirlooms” for their families.
Family recipes are golden and too often they become lost between generations. I did a similar idea, albeit backwards, with my grandma when I was single. She was in her late seventies and I was in college at the time. I had no idea as to whether or when marriage might happen (no “beau” was on the horizon) so I gave her a binder with tabs and paper and wrote all the titles of my favorite recipes of hers on the tops of pages. I gave no definite timeline… just whenever she had time. I think it took about 3 years. Our family gatherings always centered around she and my grandpa’s home (they were farmers) and her kitchen. She died within the first year of my marriage.
I miss her greatly, but adore that cookbook… written in her handwriting on pages spattered by her making the very recipe she was notating. (She cooked in her head too!) They’re precious pages.
For those ladies who want a quick fix…..
Life’s on Fire: Cooking for the Rushed by Sandi Richards
12 weeks worth of recipes for 4-8 adults (can be halved if needed)
20 minutes prep time (or less) and you eat in 25 - 60 minutes.
Weekly grocery lists at the back or print them of the web.
You can plan your day around how long each meal takes
The best book our family ever invested in.
Can also check out Healthy Cooking for the Rushed.
I believe Sandi Richards has 7 kids. She’s been there and done the research. It’s fabulous!
Have you seen this site? http://www.abondanteliving.com/ It’s a bit over the top for me but I love reading the ideas and recipes. And it makes me want to do more in the area of hospitality. Another site full of encouragement on meal prep and keeping the home organized and together is http://www.flylady.net/.
We are grateful to Mary Ann for this food-related Friday Funny.
More mealtime discussion on Monday!
for Carolyn, Kristin, and Janelle
I am the mother of two preschool boys who love to be where I am. So, typically they are in or around the kitchen. That’s where I spend a good bit of my day. In an effort to save money I began regularly packing my husbands lunch. About two weeks ago I received this endearing email from my grateful man. I thought you might get a laugh out of it as I did:
Thank you for the lovely spaghetti lunch. It was yummy. Please know for future reference that green play dough does not constitute a vegetable. Apparently the container in which my lunch was stored must have at some point been on the table during play dough time. There was a dime-size chunk of green play dough that microwaved wonderfully. There were several smaller cooked flakes as well.
As Cam would say, “Is this dessert?”
All this planning, shopping and cooking is leading up to something. Eating of course! But before we take our first bite of dinner, there’s one more aspect of the meal that needs our attention: presentation.
What’s so important about presentation? you ask. Well, imagine an artist who labors over a painting displaying it without a frame, or a businessman who develops a marketing strategy writing it out on a napkin, or an author who writes a masterpiece sending the publisher a rough draft. Presentation matters after all.
Listen to what Edith Schaeffer suggests:
“It is not necessary to have expensive food on the plates before they can enter the dining room as things of beauty in colour and texture….Eye appeal as well as taste appeal should be remembered…A plate can be thought of at times as a kind of ‘still life’—not a lasting one, of course, but lasting in memory…a thing of beauty. Not only does this give interest, atmosphere and pleasure to the meal, but it gives dignity and fulfillment to the one who prepared it.”
Now, I doubt you’d call any meal I prepare anything resembling a “still life.” But I’m inspired by Mrs. Schaeffer’s approach toward the appearance and arrangement of food. Attractive meal presentation can give pleasure to our family, it can enhance the dinnertime experience, communicate our love and attention, and maybe even make the food taste better!
Growing up, we did not usually have fancy or expensive meals for dinner, and neither would Mom claim to be artistic. But even as a young person, I noticed that she always gave thought to how the table was set and how the food looked in the serving dishes and together on the plate. She could make even hamburgers seem like a feast simply by the way she put the condiments in little bowls and arranged the tomatoes and lettuce and onions on a platter and filled a basket with individual bags of chips.
Mom taught me to at least try to consider food colors when picking the menu so the meal would look attractive on a plate. Or, as one author suggests, to consider “alternating colors and textures.” Oftentimes, this simply requires forethought as to what vegetable and starch would best go with what meat.
Of course, there are the artistic among us who can make oranges look like swans or do wonders with a few sprigs of parsley or a few motley vegetables. If you know someone like this who excels at food presentation, ask her to teach you some of her tips.
But even for those of us not blessed with artistic talent, let’s consider how we can give extra care to meal presentation. Let’s put that exclamation point on the importance of family dinnertime.
Thanks to Corrie for sending in this thoughtful response to last week’s book club question!
For everyone, your assignment for this week is to read Chapter Four and check back next Friday for more thoughts on the life and example of Elizabeth Prentiss.
The Question: How did Elizabeth display biblical womanhood as a single woman and how are you inspired to follow her example?
The Answer: Elizabeth showed bibical womanhood by:
Submitting to her mother and her leaders.
A. She stayed with her mother instead of acting on her own desire of going into the mission field. She felt that her mother’s desires should go above her own. “She honestly belived that her first duty was to own mother, and then to the mission.” (James pg 27)
B. She decided to stay at Richmond even when the hard times came.
“Elizabeth soon realized that she would never recieve full payment for her services, but she remained at her post thoughout this difficult school year out of a sense of loyalty.” (James pg 39)
One of the characterisctics of a biblical woman is that she is “...submissive to [her] own husband…” Titus 2:5 Though she was not married, Elizabeth was submissive to her dear mother and leaders. This, I believe, helped her to always be submissive not only to her future husband but her Dear Heavenly Father.
This has inspired me to always think of others more than myself. If I am to be more Christlike shouldn’t I myself do as Christ did and taught? It also inspired me to think of my parents and elders before I think of my own selfish desires.
Planning. Grocery Shopping. Recipe Collecting. Now we get to the fun part of preparing family meals—cooking.
I was in high school when I developed an interest in cooking. I began collecting Bon Appetit
magazines, attending cooking classes offered by the county and a local
cooking school, and experimenting at home. As a single girl in between
jobs I took a couple of months off to help my mom at home. I did all
the grocery shopping and cooking—sometimes for eight or more people!
When I got married I had to learn to cook for two on a budget. Now
my motto is “easy and quick is best.” My children need my time and
attention and it does not serve them for me to make complicated meals.
But someday, when they are grown and have families of their own I might
just re-enroll in that cooking school.
Whatever season we find ourselves—-just learning to cook, plenty of
time to experiment, or with a limited time and budget—-we can all
continue to become better cooks to bless our family.
I can’t provide an exhaustive list of ways to improve, and I’m sure
there are better ideas out there. But here are just a few to consider:
—Add one new recipe a month to your repertoire.
—Buy a new cookbook to inspire you.
—Take a cooking class with your mom, sisters or friends.
—Pick a challenging recipe and practice until you master it.
—Have a recipe exchange with friends (complete with taste test).
—Do a meal swap with a group of friends—-similar to the classic
cookie exchange, you make five batches of your favorite meal, find five
friends willing to do the same and you go home with five different
meals. Don’t forget to include the recipes.
—Try out one of the home meal assembly stores that are popping up
in various cities (where you and your friends can make pre-determined
meals in a professional kitchen and take them home).
—Learn how to cook several dishes of the same ethnic variety.
—Ask your mom or another woman who is a good cook to teach you.
—Subscribe to a cooking magazine or online recipe service.
This is just a reminder that your book club response for this week is due Thursday evening by midnight. And we forgot to mention that if we choose to post your response, you will receive a free copy of the next book club book.
Again, the question is: How did Elizabeth display biblical womanhood as a single woman and how are you inspired to follow her example?
My mom rarely used a recipe when she cooked. That was fine by me as I daily enjoyed her delicious meals while growing up. However, when I got married and wanted to make her yummy doughnuts, it became a problem. I still remember calling her as a new bride to ask for the recipe and hearing something like this on the other end of the line: “I use about this much flour and sugar; add some milk until it’s the right consistency. I throw in a pinch of this and a little of that. I knead the dough until it feels right; let them rise. And then I fry them in the Crisco until I can tell they are done.”
I tried to make those doughnuts. The whole batch ended up in the trashcan. I even tried them a second time—and again, the trashcan was their final destination. I knew then that if I were to ever enjoy my mom’s doughnuts, I would need her to make them.
Sadly, I can’t cook like my mom. I have to follow recipes. My daughters are not endowed with my mom’s gift either. They go by recipes too. So, before the three girls got married, and embarked on their cooking careers as new wives, I decided to create a notebook of all the recipes we enjoy.
Eight years later I’m only now finishing the compilation of this notebook. Of course I haven’t been consistently working on it all this time; the project simply got shelved along the way. However, this past summer I made a concerted effort to complete it.
I have taken all of our favorite recipes—found in numerous cookbooks, torn from magazines, accrued from cooking classes, collected from friends, and even saved from my wedding showers years ago—typed them out on my computer, printed them, inserted each one into a page protector (to protect from food splatters) and then placed them behind the appropriate tab of a big spiral notebook.
Though the original intent of this project was to help my girls, it has served me too. I’ve been able to throw away all the tattered recipe cards, messy pieces of papers and folded magazine pages and compile them neatly into one notebook. I no longer have to go searching through fifteen cookbooks before I find a recipe that was a big hit with my family. It’s also made meal planning easy. I can sit down with the notebook, flip through the different sections, quickly decide on a meal, and have all the meal’s ingredients listed right in front of me for my grocery list.
Now, by no means am I sharing the details of my system to suggest that you must do the same. I simply hope to spark your creativity—in case you desire a more efficient way to store and access your recipes and then to pass them along to your daughters (or anyone else for that matter). And if you do decide to create a better system, hopefully it won’t take you eight years like it did me!
All this talk about recipes and food is making me hungry. In fact, my mouth is watering for my mom’s doughnuts. Of course, I don’t have a recipe for them in my notebook. Maybe I’ll just give her a call to see if she’s up for making a batch for me!