This week my computer bit the dust- so here I am, blogging from a Rent-A-Center one until I can figure out how to replace it! Say a little prayer that I am able to recover files from the hard drive, otherwise I will have lost several special family photos that were never backed up and some files I cherished… I appreciate your good wishes… 😉
I hope everyone has had a lovely start to the school year! We are set to begin on Friday with a special scavenger hunt kick-off, which I will post about soon! With such a large influx of new members at the co-op (we are almost to 80 families- I’m so thrilled to see my vision coming to fruition!) I have the special privilege of helping many families prepare for school, and I want to wait until I finish sending out the many packages this month so I can begin our year without a huge to-do list that might cause my mind to wander when I begin our very special first week.
A few weeks ago I posted about our meal plan, and boy was that ever a popular post- I think it got more views than all of my other posts combined! I know you mamas (and papas!) are thoughtfully preparing food for your children, and I know that sometimes we make these beautiful meals but are not sure quite how to pull it all together at the table. With all the manners being ignored, whining about what they want more of and what they want less of, tantrums over not getting the blue cup, and inability to sit still, meals with our children can sometimes be stressful. How do we make meal time reverent, peaceful, and pleasant for all involved? Well, it might not be that way every time, but I think it can be achieved most of the time.
First of all, we need to have realistic expectations. I probably remind my children at least five times each to sit properly. For us, this means legs out in front of you, not bunched up underneath you; and leaning slightly forward to avoid food all over your lap- the least amount of accidents seem to happen when sitting this way! There was a time when I would start to feel cross by the 3rd reminder, but I’ve realized- if I just set my expectations to sweetly and frequently reminding them, I don’t get that cross feeling. Think about the things that may bother you at mealtime. Now, somewhere in your mind, the thought “They shouldn’t behave this way” has probably shown up. That thought is not productive! Exchange it for “They should behave this way, because it comes naturally to them, and if it is terribly inconducive to a pleasant family meal together, I will patiently help them learn a new habit.”
Secondly, we set the mood. Having a few special placemats and napkins- perhaps learning to fold the napkins, if they are cloth, in special shapes (like bunnies- google it and you will find plenty interesting shapes and video tutorials) and an easily accessible utensil tray can do wonders for inspiring creative table setting. I often ask my oldest to create a nice arrangement on the table- if we have flowers, he will go outside and pick some, if it is winter he might arrange a centerpiece of pinecones and shells, or even blocks, in the center. Let them use the table as an art installation as they set it. Let them set places for their dolls or stuffed animals. Make up a setting the table song, or play a certain song when it is time to get the table ready. Have a predictable list of who sets the table and when (for instance, I have one child help me every morning, another help me every afternoon, and they do it together in the evening- a gret lesson on collaboration!). If you haven’t done this at all, start by doing it yourself, and surprise your family with how you’ve arranged things or what is in the centerpiece (a few wooden animals?), and they will catch the spirit if you are enjoying yourself! I know it may seem like a big production if you are not used to this, but think about it- you are going to have three meals a day every day with your children. This is an incredible opportunity to make memories, set traditions, and enjoy each other. Make it special! I also find it reduces stress while eating when everything has been laid out attractively, and I’m not hearing plaintive cries for missing utensils the moment I’ve sat down and taken my first bite.
One way we make the table special is by using our “birthday rings”, or as I prefer to call them, “celebration rings”. I balked a little when I first bought one, thinking- really? Should I invest in something I will only use three times a year? And then I realized- wow, we can use this every day! They come in four separate pieces which together, form a circle. I set one semi-circle piece in front of each child’s plate and fill it with their own special figurines, and a candle in the center. If your children are too young for a candle right in front of them to be safe, use all figurines, and just have one candle in the center of the table (and never leave the flame going if you move away from the table!). We do this for our morning meal, because I find the soft candle light at that early hour really creates a gentle mood for beginning our day. We only use the ring as a full circle on birthdays, so it is still very special on those occasions. The birthday rings are available here through the co-op if you are a member… and don’t forget your private member discount code! Our next Grimm’s order is due by the 18th. It will be our last before Christmas as we will have some exciting new brands to bring in for our big holiday order on November 15th (I’ll send members an email with more details soon!).
When we light our candles, we say this verse (I do not know where it comes from, but if you know leave a comment and I will gladly give credit):
“I can light a candle, God can light a star; each one looks so beautiful shining where they are.”
Then, we sing our grace. Having each child participate in the singing helps keep them occupied instead of squirming around wondering how long they have to wait until grace is finished 😉
Next, we often hand out food servings as illustrated in this sweet video from Rahima Baldwin’s daughter, Faith Collins. She talks a bit about how mealtimes are a wonderful time to teach manners, and shows exactly how she takes advantage of this opportunity in her daily work as a caregiver. I think you will smile from ear to ear just like I did- what a sweet glimpse into life with small children!
If you have a spiritual tradition, I highly suggest incorporating it either during or at the end of one of your meals. Thinking holistically, if we feed the body, we want to also feed the spirit. Perhaps a short passage can be read, or you can simply share blessings or prayer requests at some point during your meal. I have a copy of Nancy Campbell’s workbook “The Family Meal Table and Hospitality”, and just glancing at the chapter headings always inspires me- “The Table- A place of… Training,Teaching, Togetherness, Affirming, Anointing, Atmosphere, Binding, Building, Blessing, Loving, Listening, Laughing, Encouragement, Example, and Enjoyment!” Create your own vision and list of what you’d like your table to be like, and take a small step to bring this vision to your family.
Most important at the table is your presence. You need to be there, eating with your family. I know it can be tempting for some mamas to get a quick phone call in or start tidying up the dishes while the kids are busy eating, but they need you to be with them, setting the tone, carrying the space, helping them build a good foundation for healthy eating. I strongly suspect many of our “emotional eating” disorders may have to do with a lack of having spiritual nourishment alongside the physical nourishment. We are not just flesh and blood, and mealtimes serve as a gracious reminder that we all need to nourish the spirit as well. Many of us with young children don’t have the time for a lengthy morning meditation, but we can share and reflect on something simple but meaningful at mealtime and experience the energetic uplift that gratefulness offers. Mealtimes also serve as a binding, knitting together time- I love the metaphor of “breaking bread”, with the idea that we all partake of the same loaf and in so doing, are all united in sharing the whole.
I’d love to hear how you make mealtimes special in your family!