Do you ever feel like you’re going through the motions at mealtimes? Listen in for easy steps and conversation starters to make the most of mealtimes and build stronger relationships within your family. A Mealtime Makeover is possible, no matter what ages your children are. It’s not about the meal; it’s about the time shared around the meal.
Episode 9 Resources: Make the Most of Mealtimes
- Episode 8: Keep Conversation About Jesus Going
- Join me on Instagram @teresadglenn
- Grab a copy of my book Becoming A Peaceful Mom ~ Through Every Season of Raising Your Child
Read Episode 9 Transcript
Last time we talked about three relationships that we want to nurture as we build connection between our child and God, and I shared a prayer practice that our family used for over ten years, that helped us learn to pray for each other. In this podcast, we’ll talk about another way to nurture these relationships—by making the most of mealtimes.
I learned a humbling lesson one day that changed my approach to meals. During the preschool years, my husband’s work hours were long, and he wasn’t home for lots of meals. Breakfast and lunch were manageable, but by suppertime I was exhausted. The rest of the day was like a secret countdown—get through the meal, bathe the children, and tuck them into bed. I concealed my attitude from them, but I didn’t like how I felt on the inside.
Then one day I watched how they came to the table for our meal. Cecilia hurried to her highchair, and the boys eagerly climbed into their booster seats. It had been an ordinary day, which meant we were together for most or all of it, with squabbles and moments of correction mixed in. Their faces were lit up as they chattered loudly waiting for me to sit down. And then it hit me as I put the food on the table, They really look forward to this ‘next event’ in their day.
But it’s not about the food, because they didn’t always like what I served. They look forward to more time being together and having our attention. And here I was, going through the motions with them, while envisioning me on the sofa in my pajamas.
First of all, I still daydream about putting on my pajamas when a day feels long. But on that day, I felt sad because I realized that my children looked forward to being with me at every supper time, and I was missing an opportunity to build something good—and lasting. If we want our children to want to be with us as they get older, we have to foster that when they are young.
I asked for God’s forgiveness and for him to give me strength because exhaustion is an everyday thing, to give me motivation to want to change mealtimes, and to give me direction for how to make this time better. I trusted him, to help me learn, how to make the most of our mealtimes.
One night I said, “We’re gonna start doing something new at supper. I’ll ask a question and everyone, including Daddy and me, will answer it.” Parents, be ready to answer first and be sure to share at your child’s level of understanding.
Some good starters:
Tell us about something that made you laugh today.
Name one thing that made you sad or disappointed today?
Name someone who helped you today and how they helped.
Tell us one thing you learned today.
As they get a little older, add questions like these:
Name something that is hard for you right now.
Name a time that you believe God helped you this week.
Share a time that you said a prayer today.
Interchange other feelings like happy, relieved, mad, excited. This exercise will help your child learn to identify feelings, too. At the end of sharing, Terrell or I would say a quick prayer of thanks, or for help, that fit the theme of our questions.
One unexpected gain from this family time was how the kids set up teachable moments that helped me show them the “right way” before they behaved the “wrong way.” Here’s what I mean: One night I asked everyone to share something they learned that day. Cecilia, who was four, proudly said that she’d learned how to write the letter “c”. Both of her older brothers’ facial expression said, So what? So before words spilled out, I quickly said with animated excitement to her brother Terrell, age seven, “Terrell, why don’t you tell Cecilia how glad you are for her!!” He saw my king-size prompting nod and obeyed, “Cecilia, that’s great that you learned how to make a ‘c’.” Cecilia beamed, and later I privately told Terrell how proud I was of what he said and how I knew he’d blessed Cecilia.
Questions help our child learn how to share, provide a focus for conversation, and when necessary, shift the supper table atmosphere and catalyze quality conversation. Often a meal is the only time in the day when our family is sitting still, looking at each other, and listening.
The activity of eating relaxes the atmosphere so that a child might share personal thoughts or answer thought-provoking questions, without feeling like he’s under the microscope. For example, a child shares that he feels good about his performance at football practice and then adds that he hopes the coach will start him in the game. Week by week, he’s learned that he can trust us with his feelings. Or, another child unloads that she’s lost a friend, because she has experienced over and over that we are a safe place for sharing and that we will pray for her.
A Mealtime Makeover is possible, no matter what ages your children are. It’s not about the meal; it’s about the time shared around the meal. So, if cooking isn’t your thing, no worries.
- Pray God’s grace for everyone because by this time of day we’re all tired.
- Prepare your heart to come to the table without the baggage of the day. Maybe while you’re prepping the meal, unload to God.
- Make a simple plan for conversation: Have a 1-2 questions ready. This ensures that some of your time together focuses on relationship, not only going through the motions of eating. We shared this way 2-3 times a week until we hit the teen years. By then, sharing had become natural.
- Be flexible. Aim for quality time that contributes to who you want your family to become. I wanted ours to enjoy being together, respect each other, and learn to get along even when they’re struggling.
Quality time looked different every night. Some nights we just cut up and laughed a lot. Or, one or two people shared about something they did or plan to do, and we engaged with them. During some meals Terrell and I told about upcoming plans. Other times, more than one person came to the table preoccupied, upset with someone, or wanting to just get-through the meal to go do something else.
During conversation, look your child in the eye with love, no matter how you feel inside. Some days this was hard for me, and-I-messed-up-this golden opportunity: Instead of leading by displaying grace that said, Hey, I love you even though we are having a HARD day, I would behave like a child, too, and wear my attitude on my face and in my tone. That’s why the grace prayer is first! God knows how hard this time of day can be. Persevere and depend on him.
Mealtimes are what we make them. This small block of time holds huge promise. We learn to share, and God grows closeness among us. It’s not a closeness that ends our conflicts, because those are gonna happen when our wills clash. Y’all, it’s even better. It’s a closeness that God shapes as we decide to be vulnerable with each other, practice trust, and one meal-at-a-time witness the face of someone who listens, because they love us.