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Gather at the Table
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Many Benefits of Family Meals
Gathering Together on a Deeper Level
For Teens: Take Over the Kitchen
For Kids: Finding Your Place at the Table

My mom is an excellent cook. So some of my best memories growing up are associated with food and the meals at which that food was shared.

For my mom, cooking is her way of showing how much she cares. After each of my children’s births, my mom and dad would show up at dinnertime—food in hand—to share a meal with my husband, Mark, and me, then clean up and be out the door again.

This visit, though simple, meant the world to Mark and me. It gave us good nourishment and good company—not to mention one less thing to worry about—during a rather hectic and exhausting time.

Many Benefits of Family Meals

A number of studies have shown that children whose families regularly eat meals together eat more healthful foods and are less likely to engage in behaviors such as smoking, doing drugs or drinking alcohol.

Families that eat meals together regularly also have better communication. Meals are a time when members of a family can bring up topics of interest, concerns or questions. Some of the best family stories I’ve ever heard were told around a dinner table.

Of course that’s not to say that all meals are without their struggles. Some nights I’m tempted to take my food and go eat in a closet. I must constantly remind myself that despite my nightly mantras of “Use your fork,” “Don’t aggravate your brother” and “I’m not going to tell you how many bites you have to eat, just eat,” the important thing is that we are spending time together as a family.

Gathering Together on a Deeper Level

Gathering together to share food and companionship is not just something we do as a family within the confines of our homes. It is also an integral part of our faith.

Each week at Mass we come together to celebrate and break bread. Many of Jesus’ miracles centered around food and celebration, such as the Wedding at Cana and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus even chose the setting of a supper to commemorate his last evening with his friends before his death.

Eating meals together can be a wonderful expression of love and companionship. Here are some ideas to keep your family gathering at the table:

• If for some reason your family can’t seem to arrange your schedules to have dinner together, switch the family meal to either breakfast or lunch. If that’s not possible, try to schedule at least one or two nights a week to have dinner as a family. The important thing is to take the time to be together.

• Draw up a weekly schedule and assign each person a night. Have that person pick what he or she would like for dinner that evening and then invite that person to help prepare the meal.

• In the best of all worlds, families would sit down every night to a home-cooked meal. The reality of two-income families, school, friends and extracurricular activities doesn’t always make that possible, though. Remember that it’s the time spent together that’s important. So even if you don’t have time to prepare a meal, a delivered pizza is more delicious when you all share it together.

• Eliminate distractions during dinner. My daughter, Madison, repeatedly asks if she can eat her dinner in the family room so she can watch cartoons. To combat this nightly fight, we’ve started turning the television off before dinner is ready to be served. Likewise, let the answering machine pick up any phone calls. If it’s important enough, the caller will leave a message.

• Continue family traditions by making meals that have been passed down through your family over the years. Recently, my mom spent an afternoon teaching me how to make one of my grandma’s recipes using the same utensils and pots my grandma had used.

• Begin each meal with a prayer. You can either use the traditional mealtime prayer or create your own. After the prayer, ask each family member to offer one thing or person for which they would like to pray or express thanks.

• Create a family cookbook. Collect favorite family recipes and gather them in a cookbook. If they are handwritten, make copies or scan them into your computer and print them out. Give a copy of the cookbook to members of the family as a keepsake. Or give one as a gift for someone just entering the family, such as a new bride or groom.

Next Month: The Advent Wreath



For Teens: Take Over the Kitchen

One of my favorite ways to express my care for family and friends is through cooking. Sometimes it’s dropping off a plate of cookies when they’ve had a bad day. Other times it’s preparing their favorite meal for a special occasion.

Do you know if your best friend has a favorite treat? What about your sister or brother? Do a little investigating. Then surprise that person with that treat.

If you’re feeling ambitious—and have permission—volunteer to make a dinner for your friends or family. Not only are you doing something nice, but you’re also learning cooking skills, which you’ll need someday.

For Kids: Finding Your Place at the Table

Do you have a certain seat that you sit in every night at dinner? If so, mark your place by creating a place mat for your spot at the table. Take a large piece of construction paper. Write your name in large letters on the paper. Draw or glue cut-out pictures of things you enjoy onto the paper. These could be pictures of your favorite meal or your favorite toy. (You may want to get the place mats laminated so they don’t get ruined. An adult can help you with this.)

Make a place mat for everyone in your family. While you’re eating together, explain to everyone why you put the things on their place mat that you did. Ask if there is anything else they would add.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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