"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands," wrote King David (Psalm 19:1). The marvelous processes that allow our body to function every day do likewise, and so should we who inhabit them.
Before we look at the ABC’s of nutrients, we also need a reminder about the importance of the context of our nourishment. We are not animals that graze in a field or gather at a trough; we do not inhale our food and then wander away. We are meant to be nourished at the table in more ways than merely transporting food from plate to stomach. Meals are a time for socializing, conversation, sharing, and celebration. Family meals can be particularly powerful events in the lives of both children and adults. They can and should be the occasion to share the day’s events, decompress, commiserate and encourage one another, laugh, learn how to speak and listen politely, instill values, establish one’s identity as a member of a family, welcome guests, and acknowledge God’s provision.
"If more of us valued food on a day-to-day basis and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." —J. R. R. TOLKIEN
In a classic case of scientific research bearing witness to common sense, a study of more than five hundred adolescents reported in 1997 by the American Psychological Association found that those who ate dinner more often (five times per week) with their families at home were less likely to be depressed or involved in drug use, more likely to have better relationships with friends, and better motivated at school, compared with teenagers who ate with their families less often (three times per week).1
Family dinners are, unfortunately, an endangered species, threatened by overcommitment, crowded calendars, and electronic distractions such as TVs and phones. If you take away nothing else from this chapter, make a decision that shared family meals will become a priority in your home. As part of that process, consider the following:
• Set aside three, if not more, nights per week (perhaps including a "cook’s day off" meal after church on Sunday) that are designated for family meals. The expectation is that "all hands will be on deck," even young children, unless prior notice is given.
• After considering the ages and abilities in your family, establish routines that will spread the work around. The tasks involved in planning the menu, preparing the various components of the meal, and cleaning up can be rotated among the able-bodied family members who are living at home. Younger children can learn to set the table, and everybody should help clear it.
"Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." Proverbs 15:17
• Table manners (including such niceties as pulling out chairs for the ladies and not starting to eat until everyone is seated and grace has been said) can and should be encouraged.
• Televisions should be turned off and phones unanswered, taken off the hook, or (in the case of cell phones) turned off. This is a time to talk to one another, unhindered by the yammering of the tube or the demands of whomever decides to dial your number.
• Speaking of talking, without being too restrictive on the topics of conversation, it is wise to address hot issues in the family at some other time. If mealtimes are a constant hotbed of bickering and animosity, no one is going to want to show up. Ideally, the family
table should be a place of warmth, respect, safety, genuine interest in what everyone has to say, and mutual support. If the kids are having a little trouble with this, some role modeling of respectful conversation from Mom and Dad will speak volumes. And, if no one seems to have much to say, ask a few open-ended questions such as, "What was the highlight of your day?" or "What didn’t go well today?"
• While you’re at it, mealtimes can also provide opportunities to talk with your children about the foods they (and you) eat and why some are definitely better than others. Obviously, learning by example at the table—sampling the foods you’re discussing—also speaks volumes and helps set patterns that will continue long after children have left home to live on their own.
Adapted from The Complete Guide to Family, Health, Nutrition, & Fitness, copyright 2006 by Tyndale House Publishers (www.tyndale.com).