I well remember the peas and carrots stuck on my kitchen chairs.
I was a twenty-something-year-old pastor’s wife living in west Texas with my husband, Jeremy, and our three babies.
Jeremy and I had invited a sweet family from our church into our home for a meal, and just as everyone gathered at the table I noticed that I’d forgotten to wipe down the chairs.
I cringed inwardly as everyone pulled out the chairs to sit down.
Our table looked picture-perfect, but the smashed peas and carrots stuck on the chairs gave a rather icky nod to our messy lunch earlier in the day.
Katherine, our friend’s teenage daughter, had the place setting next to me. Our eyes met as she reached to wipe a few misshapen peas off her chair before she sat down.
I smiled sheepishly and promised myself I’d never forget to wipe- and probably sweep!- the chairs before we had guests over again!
As a young mom, I often wondered why bother investing energy in attempting to keep meal times sane when we had little people in the house.
And inviting guests over for a meal was right up there with mountain climbing. I was worn out and weak from exhaustion by the time it was all said and done!
If meal time has ever felt CRAZY to you, sweet Mama, then this post is probably for you.
I want to share a few practical ideas to help you take your family’s meal times from insane to intentional.
As always, let me remind you: I’m right there with you.
I’m a Mama with five kids, currently ages 13 down to 4 years old.
I know what crazy feels like, especially at the meal table!
I by no means have this area all under control… we still have to wipe smashed peas and carrots off our dining room chairs at least ten times a week. 🙂
Over the years, my husband, Jeremy, and I have learned a few things that help bring life to our family meal times, so that’s what I want to share with you in this post.
(Be sure to keep reading, because at the end of this post I have a special book (by one of my favorite authors and mentors!) to tell you about!
Here are five simple ideas that help us keep meal times intentional:
Simplify Every Way You Can
When you’re pregnant, have a newborn, or you’re raising preschoolers (or several of the above all at once!), simplifying is the name of the game.
I used to think that doing things like eating sandwiches for lunch or using paper plates meant I was a lazy mom or homemaker.
That absolutely is not true.
Streamlining your efforts isn’t laziness, it’s wise.
It means you’re saving your precious time and energy for the BEST things (like getting enough sleep, or reading books to your little ones, or spending time with your husband) instead of allow the demands of life to totally consume you.
A few ways I have cut corners over the years (I still do many of these things!):
- use paper plates on busy weekday lunches
- eat sandwiches, leftovers, or other very simple meals for school day lunches
- teach my young kids to help out with chores like setting the table, clearing their dirty dishes off the table, etc
- cut corners on meal prep… rotisserie chicken instead of roasting a whole chicken myself, or using a can of organic beans instead of soaking and cooking my own
- use a Slow Cooker a lot!
- don’t apologize when you choose to use mixes or other healthy but quick meal solutions
Do one small thing to make your table pretty
I feel more civilized when my table is pretty.
I try to always do at least one thing to add beauty to our family meals… even if we’re eating sandwiches on paper plates or last night’s left overs.
The idea isn’t about achieving perfection.
I want my children and husband (and myself!) to feel refreshed at the table.
I want them to realize that I value this time, enough to put some effort into the atmosphere.
Most days, I overlook the crumbs and imperfections, and just enjoy the pleasure of a pretty dish or a cheery vase of flowers.
Here are a few ideas.
- a vase of fresh or silk flowers on the table
- light a candle
- a pretty table cloth (I’ve collect quite a few over the past two years, and I change them out daily)
- festive dishes… these can be plastic, china, or paper!
- music in the background… Pandora is almost always on at our house
Remember, don’t try to do these all at once, Mama, especially if you’re raising little ones.
The idea we are reaching for is simplicity. One small step toward beauty and civilization can make a hum drum meal feel special.
win the war on clutter
I’m reluctant to even mention this one, since I know many of you sweet readers are in the trenches with babies and little ones.
If that’s you, then someone suggesting that you not have clutter in your house probably feels like a heaping dose of guilt!
Believe me, I’m not trying to impart guilt, nor imply that your house should be entirely clutter free. Mine isn’t.
But I do know how clutter seems to suffocate some of us particular mamas, especially when you’re trying to sit down and eat a meal with your husband and kids.
I absolutely despise clutter, and for the most part I keep it out of my kitchen and dining room. (In the visible areas at least. The drawers and cabinets are another story altogether!)
Here are a few ideas for keeping those flat surfaces in your kitchen and dining room clear of clutter:
- sort and throw away or file mail right away (this habit is a life-saver!)
- invest in a mail sorter, file cabinet, or organizers for your drawers (so you can sort and put things away easily)
- keep a table cloth on your kitchen or dining room table… you’ll probably want to keep it cleared of clutter that way!
- don’t keep things you don’t use or need
- don’t keep things you don’t have space for (I’m a minimalist when it comes to kitchen gadgets and appliances)
- if you homeschool at the dining room table, make a game of everyone putting away their books and papers before lunch time (we used to play 10 Minutes ’til Tidy)
Sit down and Eat
I’m not even going to suggest that you young mamas need to “relax” at the meal table (unless you’re on a date with just your husband!).
I remember trying to eat with a baby in my lap and a messy preschooler in the high chair beside me. Relaxing was not even on the horizon.
But I did sit down at the table and eat with my kids, and I believe every mama should do the same.
A sweet friend once told me that she didn’t even have a chair at the table because she usually just ate on the go while she ran around the kitchen getting stuff for her kids and husband.
Mama, you are a precious member of the family, not the maid. (If your family expects you to be the maid, then it’s time to live with some healthy boundaries in place.)
Sit down and eat.
Your presence at the table will bring a sense of order, as well as instill in your kids the importance of gathering at the table for meals.
Initiate Positive Table Talk
Healthy, positive communication is so important in a family, especially at the meal table.
Jeremy and I are very intentional to cultivate positive talk at meal time. This hasn’t always come easily for me, and that’s another story for another day!
If your kids are old enough to engage in thoughtful conversation, I encourage you to check out these free, printable Family Dinner Questions. Our family has used these for several years, and my kids love choosing a question for meal time.
When your kids are little, here are a few ideas for using meal times for positive talk:
I promised to tell you about a new book by one of my favorite writers, Sally Clarkson… so here we go!
I’m on the launch team for Sally’s newest book, The Life Giving Table, so you may have noticed I’ve been sharing about this book on social media lately.
The reason I’m so thrilled about The Life Giving Table is because I feel like cultivating meaningful meal times is all but a lost art in our fast-paced, social-media-driven culture.
Sally draws upon her years of experience as a mother and mentor to call women back to the meal table.
She’s passionate about the meal table because she believes, as women, it is our best platform for reaching and shaping the hearts of our children, friends, and loved ones.
I agree with Sally.
The Life Giving Table is available for preorder on Amazon now (you can order it right here). The official release date for the book is October 3.
If you are hungry for mentoring from Sally on this topic of the family meal table, please create a little down time for yourself this week to listen to her newest podcast, “The Art of Loving Well at Your Table.”