Family dinner at home is back on menu in busy lives

by Denise Dykstra

“Hey, Mama, when are you going to make some new recipes again?” Eli, our 17-year-old asked me.

He asked me as I was making one of my most favorite meals, one that I had not made in forever, but that Eli was not such a fan of. We have been so busy that making a big meal like I was, seemed an oddity and it wasn’t that long ago it was the norm.

I think that Eli was missing those family meals.  At least, that is what my mom’s heart wants to think anyhow.

At the beginning of the year, I began making one new meal a week.  Basically, I was just sick and tired of every single meal I made and I was just plain sick and tired of making meals.  Anyone else feel that too?  I would watch a cooking show or flip through a cookbook (but it was mostly a cooking show, because I like to see what I am about to take on before I actually take it on) and choose a meal I had never made before.

Sometimes it would require ingredients I had never even purchased before. After dinner, I would post on Facebook what the recipe was and my family’s reaction to the new meal.  My thinking was,  if I was looking for a new meal, someone else would be too, and this way they could get a new recipe and a review.  Some of the meals were not hits at all and some became a part of our regular rotation.

When spring arrived, we got busy and I dropped the new meal idea and I have not picked it back up since.

I have intended to try some new meals.  In fact, I recently received a new cookbook that I am thrilled to dive into, but I have not had any time to even open it up.

This past week I have been rushing to and from so many places.  Sadly, I have been late to each appointment, and in one instance, completely forgot to even show up to meet two of my friends (I felt horrible). It’s not that this week was any different than any other week, it’s just that this week I have been floundering through it.

I was chatting with a friend and she asked, “Now that we are all doing a lot of our normal life again, do you think we have forgotten the things we wanted to hold on to when we were all quarantined?”

The question stopped me.

I thought of my conversation with Eli earlier in the week. I thought of how rarely the four of us sit down and eat dinner together.  Not that long ago, dinner was the big topic of our daily conversation.

To be fair, dinner has always been the topic of conversation in our family.  When the boys were very young, I would bring them to school, and at each class as I was leaving a child they would need to know what was for dinner when they arrived home.  One day, in frustration, I  answered with “I don’t know!” and a look of terror came over their faces.  “Are we going to have no food?” they asked.

I started meal planning before Pinterest made it cool.

When our family was young, dinner together around the table was the soapbox I would stand on, it was my “on this hill I will stand firm.”  I would declare how family dinner was being lost and we must fight to take it back.  I touted the importance of it setting a tone in our homes.  And then a new season came upon us, and we found we would eat dinner together at the table so rarely that we would comment on the oddness of it.

But when quarantining hit us all, we all became the lone source of making the food we ate.  Our family ate dinner together again and I had realized how very much I had missed this gathering around the table to share in food.  Although, It’s not just the food, it is the conversation.  There is something so powerful about food; we hold so many memories tied to food.

Shepherd’s Pie is a staple cold weather meal here in our home and every single — every single — time I make it it is critiqued according to who likes it what way.  Our oldest couldn’t care less about the potatoes.  Our second oldest always would prefer we use some meat he had harvested.  Our third prefers no cheese, thank you very much.  Our youngest just critiques the whole thing and reminds them all of their Shepherd’s Pie preferences.  My husband wants to make sure I am using his green beans and his corn he grew.

I’ll never forget the time we didn’t know that Isaac was coming home for a surprise Christmas visit from the Navy and this was the meal I had prepared.  We gathered around that long dining room table that Isaac made in woodshop class when he was in eighth grade and that pot of Shepherd’s Pie was the first meal he ate back home.

Somehow, it fed all of us, as well as the friends who stopped by that night and stayed for dinner.  It’s the meal that my friend who lives in Texas requests every time she comes up to Michigan.  It’s the first meal I learned to make on my own as a married woman.  It’s the same meal my mom made for her family of six, back when I was a little girl with pigtail braids.

(Recipe: Brown one pound of hamburger.  Mix in green beans, corn and cream of mushroom soup until creamy consistency.  Top with mashed potatoes.  Bake at 350 until bubbly (approx one hour), add shredded cheese to top of potatoes for the last five minutes.)

I thought of my friend’s question about what changes we had made during quarantine that we are missing now that we are back to busy.  In a week that I have rushed to and from, and felt unsettled, as though all was spinning at a crazy speed andI was barely hanging on, I decided that even in this time of rushing we still need something to ground us.

For us, family dinner is our anchor.  Even if we can only be together sharing the same meal once or twice a week, we need the anchor of that family practice.  I think it may be the very thing we have been missing without even realizing we were missing it.

What is it for you?  What practice did you begin or refined in quarantine that in our “back to normal” you have forgotten and want to bring back? Or have you kept that new practice all along and how has it improved your soul?

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