Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Making the Most of Mealtimes

new logo When I get home from work, I’m often tired and hungry. By the time we sit down for dinner, I’m frequently ravenous (unless I’ve already devoured everything in the fridge while waiting for dinner, in which case I’m stuffed). Either way, I don’t usually have a lot to offer in terms of deep and insightful spiritual teaching.

Our evening meal is generally a time to share news about the day, but sometimes this can turn into a blame-fest of epic proportions. As they report the events of the day, my children occasionally accuse one another (and sometimes, in their enthusiasm, they’ll accidentally implicate themselves) in various types of wrongdoing. Frankly, I’d rather not know about some of those things, and the bickering that ensues among the children can wear on the soul.

Joshua, are you in there?
Much easier to curl up on the couch and hide from everyone as Joshua did this morning. He claims he was “sick” but I think he was trying to avoid work.

A few years ago I began the dinner-time practice of asking each of my children to tell us all about something for which they are thankful to God. This has a happy, dual effect: first, it produces silence, sometimes as much as ten seconds’ worth, while everyone thinks furiously over the day for the best event of the day (my children are competitive, even in thankfulness). Second, it focuses our minds on God’s gracious provision for our family, and pulls us out of the morass of blame and accusation. It is hard to be negative after the second or third round of blessings — and we’ll sometimes go around the table four or five times, if we get on a roll.

happy easter

We ALWAYS enjoy a table set with crystal and china. That’s just who we are. :) Right.

Recently, we’ve been struggling with a higher level of sibling rivalry than we’ve seen before. I decided to change our meal time conversation a little, and I asked, “What is one positive thing you can say about your brother or sister?” There was a stunned silence.

The absence of chatter stretched ominously. I ruled out a few half-hearted attempts that had to do with a sibling’s possessions or were, under the covers, insulting.

“I like my brother’s cool toy!”
“I like it when my sister isn’t so annoying.”
“I really enjoy my brother’s friends!”

The silence persisted. My children found great difficulty in thinking of praiseworthy attributes in their siblings; upon reflection, I felt convicted that my own stinginess with praise had left its mark on my family.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

As much as we enjoy watching a movie over dinner, or even just sitting around recounting the events of the day, a meal together is not to be scorned as an opportunity to instruct your children in godliness. A couple of times, recently, I’ve asked a few open-ended questions that have provoked some really interesting discussions.

computer homework

When all else fails, pull out the laptops and bond over computer time.

Mealtimes are also great because they provide some natural protection from being found out as a know-nothing parent. Sooner or later, the kids will come up with something you can’t answer; if this occurred in a normal conversation, you’d have to sit there like a deer in the headlights, mouth gaping helplessly. But at mealtime, you can spend quite a bit of time thoughtfully cutting your meat, pretending to chew, adding condiments, etc., while you think furiously.

Child: “So, Dad, why does God allow suffering?”

Dad (quickly stuffing a forkful of meat in his mouth): “Er, mumph, rumph, umph.” (Waves graciously for his wife to take a stab at answering the question.)

Mom (smiling, voice syrupy-sweet): No, you can answer that one, dear, as soon as you’ve finished chewing.

Most children will lose interest after twenty or thirty minutes of chewing.


Kathy’s Meal Time Suggestions

  1. Ask each child to list one thing for which they are thankful.
  2. Pull out the day’s memory verses and have the children go around the table, reviewing their verses. Clap, cheer and reward appropriately.
  3. Pick one characteristic of God, a Fruit of the Spirit, or godly virtue and ask the children to define the word. After the family agrees upon a definition, inquire what it means to live out that quality.

    What does ‘purity’ mean? How do we recognize it? What does it look like to be ‘pure’ today? Why does God care about ‘purity?’

  4. Play the “What If” game and ask for possible solutions.

    If you went to your friend’s house and saw him take money from his sister’s bank, what would you do?

    If you were at youth group and everyone wanted to watch a movie you know wasn’t allowed in our family, what should you do?

    Take a few minutes, ahead of time, to write different scenarios on slips of paper. Let each person select one to present to the family.

  5. Ask the children to fill in the blanks on the following sentences:

    “Today I served God by ____________ ”
    “I think my brother/sister is a good __________ ” (rodent/vermin species not allowed)
    “I know the Lord loves me because _____________ “

We’d love to hear other suggestions for encouraging, positive family meal time conversations. Leave a comment and tell us things you have enjoyed doing as a family. How do you use meal time to teach your children more about God?

Project 365 – Day 274

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9 thoughts on “Tuesday Tips for Parenting – Making the Most of Mealtimes”

  1. You know, just HAVING a daily family mealtime is a shocking rarity in modern Britain.

    We just converse. {g} We do often get into the Big Conversations, but don’t formalise it, except occasionally at our Saturday evening Shabbat meals.

    We’ve found our family meals to be a great time to invite other kids, who never normally experience such, to see what mealtimes can be like. I see this as a kind of ministry.

    BTW, sometimes it’s much easier for kids to be appreciative of eachother under cover of anonymity. We used to write things down and put them in a bowl to be read out at the end of the day. When the recipient can’t tell who wrote the nice thing, it’s just easier to be warm and loving. At least it is in our family.

    Maybe that’s just us, though! {g}

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I love to hear postive encouraging comments regarding the meal we are eating, especially because I probably just fixed it! :)
    I have found that excusing a child who complains about the meal from the remainder of said meal goes along way to encouraging complimentary comments in the future!

  3. Our boys just turned three and already we have the tradition of family dinner firmly established. Since they are so young, our teaching them about God and his blessings usually isn’t much deeper than, “We pray before our meal because we thank God for what He gives us.” However, lately the boys have begun asking to say the blessing before dinner and the things they come up with amaze me! Hearing a three-year-old little boy thank God for Mama and Daddy is truly touching.

  4. We often do “highs and lows” at dinner and each of our kids says the best and worst part of their days. I will try to incorporate some of your ideas; they add some depth to an already fun routine. Great suggestions.

  5. I love the idea of reading a funny, short story at the table or telling jokes. Laughter always diffuses the bad moods that can set in and help digestion.
    Elisabeth Elliot’s father used to read at the table and she has fond memories of mealtimes.

    When I was growing up, my father came home from work and we all ran to the door yelling, “Daddy!”. He hugged us all and then he got the paper and a glass of wine and sat in HIS chair for half an hour. While he sat and read, we were not allowed to talk to him or play in the living room. When his half hour was up, he would find us and play with us until dinner was ready which gave my mother time to prepare our meal without being interrupted.
    By the time we ate, we were all in a good mood and ready to eat.

    That worked well until we got old enough to have homework and were too big to play!

    Because Ian is gone so much and I cannot devote the energy needed to constant correction at the table, I explained to our kiddos that the table is a place for conversation and peace. Nobody is allowed to say anything negative at the table. If they do, they miss the rest of dinner and leave the table. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but my children have always come back truly repentant and apologetic….they still miss their meal, but the are welcomed back into our fellowship. asked for ideas for teaching about God at meal times…I don’t use that time to teach with words, but by example and a light heart that simply enjoys being together and listening to whatever pops into the heads of my kids that they want to share. If it’s a hard situation, we can calmly and respectfully discuss it.

  6. After you have kids as old as ours you’ll be ever so grateful for having a single meal together a couple of times a month. After they get their drivers licenses, jobs, and FRIENDS…. you hardly see them anymore! Enjoy all the meal times you can while YOU still control their schedules (LOL)!.

  7. We have most evening meals together if Brian is not away (obvious on that one!). We used to talk a lot at meal time, but it is all about the eating for the Littles, so it isn’t as relaxed as it used to be. We are trying to teach them that a family meal is about sharing, but we have a ways to go yet in that area.

    I’m going to try some of your ideas and maybe that would help.

  8. I LOVE when we all sit down for evening dinner but to be honest it doesn’t happen as often as I like. Monday through Thursday’s the meals get prepared, the table is set and the candles are lit and whoever shows up to eat shows up. Carlos has been so busy lately that this week he didn’t make it home for dinner one time but in his place we were blessed with my niece one night and Landon’s friend another. Our table is always open . . but I covet the nights that we are all together sharing that meal.

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