by Neil Anderson, Head of School

I love a good meal. A nice table, solid chairs filled with people I love, ample time, and… oh yes, good food. Food is what defines a meal, but hardly what makes a good one. It is important that our children grow up healthy and strong, eating the meat and vegetables that put hair on the boys’ chests and help our young ladies become princesses. The “meal” is formative beyond nutrient consumption though. In the Christian home, the meal becomes a critical opportunity for discipleship, education, family nurture, and even training in manners.

Meals are a regular part of the Biblical narrative, from the Israelite traditon of feasts to Jesus’ method of quality time with his disciples to the promise of what is to come in the new creation. In these contexts, eating is a means of relational investment, celebration, quality time, and education.

I have two goals in writing about meals. One: If you have not yet begun to regularly use a meal as context for family nurture, I am hoping you will reconsider. Two: If family meals are already a regular part of your home routine, I want to tempt you towards milking more out of them–no pun intended.

I believe a couple of lists would be appropriate here to avoid an all-too-lengthy post:

Reasons for regular family meals

  • Families need time to ALL be together on a regular basis. It seems tragic to me if this time is only on weekends, at bedtime, or on vacations.
  • I don’t know about you, but much of what I remember from my childhood, by way of family time, happened at the dinner table.
  • Dinner might be one of the rare moments in the day when you have all your children still for an extended period of time at once.
  • It’s a valuable Christian tradition that is worth keeping intact. If we do it, it is likely that our children will too when they are parents.
  • Sharing meals teaches our children that we value family in a practical way.
  • It’s a good accountability measure to get mom or dad home from work at a healthy hour.
  • It’s an excellent context for family worship, nurture, education. See next list.

Ideas for regular family meal content

  • Nothing formal, just be together, laugh, touch base, look each other in the face, regularly realize God’s goodness to your family.
  • Disciple
    • Read through books of the Bible together.
    • Read from a family devotional.
    • Sing hymns before or after… maybe practice morning assembly material?
    • Let a different family member be the prayer focus each meal.
    • Use the meal as a context to learn about and pray for people who rarely have full meals… we eat all of our vegetables because we are grateful, not necessarily because we like them!
    • Ask probing age-appropriate heart questions (grammar school in mind here)
      • How do you know God was part of your day? What made you happy today? Did you have any struggles today? Did anything make you mad? Sad? What did you do about it? How were you obedient? How were you disobedient? Is there anything you need to make right? Did you honor your father/mother? Did mom or dad do anything we need to ask forgiveness for? Did you love your siblings well? What are you proud of? Are you giving all the credit to Jesus? Etc.
    • Ask thought-provoking questions about God and His world
      • Why do you think God made things this way or that way? Why do you think God does this or that to us? Did you know that Bible says x,y,z -amazing thing? What do you think Jesus thinks about this or that?
    • Share your life with your children. Answer their questions about what goes on during your day. Tell them when your days are hard or stressful. Tell them what mistakes you made that day and what you did about it. Tell them what you love about being a mom/dad. Tell them stories of what you were like when you were a kid.
  • Educate
    • Ask what your child learned in school that day. You will find that you will have to be specific here, especially with most boys, which may require you to know ahead of time what they learned. In most cases Mom does most of the home teaching, so if Dad leads this time, this is a great opportunity to show your children that Dad values their education and is seeking to be a part. It is also a form of continued education since you are basically having your children informally narrate what they have learned. This is often more effective than formal narration.
      • I understand you are reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at lunch. What is happening in the story? What did you learn about Napoleon today? Was he a good man? What did he do? Are fractions easy or hard? You need to eat at least one third of your broccoli.
    • Work through a great piece of literature during dessert. There are several great anthologies of short classic children stories that are good for this. Or read the Narnia series along with us. Rereading sections at home would be great for students as they are sometimes distracted during lunch.
    • Do some informal education through a fun facts or trivia book.
    • This may sound weird, but we often make our kids answer questions in order to get their dessert. We have fun with it, silly and serious questions, usually a mix from all different places in their curricula (Recite Romans 12:9-14. What is an adverb? How do you say “father” in Latin? Who is your favorite dad?). They still get dessert if they get it wrong.
    • Teach your children manners. If you don’t have meals together, it is hard for children to have any regular context for learning manners. Different families have varying amounts of expected formality at the home dinner table. Even if your expectations might be lower at home, children will need to know how to put more formal manners into play when it is expected. We have some day-to-day expectations (sitting properly, chewing with mouth closed, saying “please pass,” asking to be excused, etc). But we also have mock formal dinners every once in a while for fun. We break out the “fine china,” make sure everyone is properly clothed, and pretend like we are at a fancy restaurant. Our children get to learn some finer manners in this context. And Dad gets to remember his.

I am sure many of you have great ideas from your experience- please share! We do not have dinner together every night. I wish that were the case. But we do as much as possible. Saturday breakfast and Sunday lunch with extended family have been significant in our family as well.  We do different things from the list above in different seasons of life as the Lord leads.

At our recent “TCS Dads and Donuts” gathering, I was at a table discussing application questions from Bill Streger’s encouraging message.  One of the TCS fathers at the table happened to have an older and younger set of children. The older ones had already left home. His comments renewed my passion for the dinner table. He said he would pay any amount of money to have one more meal with one of his older ones as a child again. I know we will all feel the same. Let’s treasure these times and glorify God at our meals.

Neil Anderson / Head of School