Happily Even After
Time to Eat
By Josh Noem
Having a boy who is almost a teenager at the dinner table is kind of like eating with a vacuum cleaner. Oscar is just 12, but his food intake is ramping up. We no sooner sit down to eat and he has two heaping forkfuls down already.
I remember those days. As a teenager myself, I was not self-aware enough to know that I was shoveling more than eating, but I remember my mom’s words:
“It is not a race.”
“Finish what is in your mouth before taking another bite.”
Now I find myself using these same phrases—they tumble out of my mouth before I even know what I said.
It is a good reminder for myself to slow meals down. Gathering around the dinner table is such precious family time—it is a shame to squander the opportunity by being absorbed in what is on the plate.
In the past month, I’ve discovered two delightful cookbooks at the library—one on southern cuisine and another that encourages cooking from scratch. I’ve been putting on quite a culinary display, if I may say so myself (ahem, brushing my shoulders). Meals in the past month have included ginger-glazed carrots; Coke-and-bourbon meatloaf; pulled-pork sandwiches with an Asian black barbeque sauce; roasted chicken and vegetables; homemade bacon marinara sauce; panzanella salad with slow-roasted tomatoes; and bacon cornbread with maple-flavored ice-cream.
The new recipes have reinvigorated my interest in cooking, so I’ve been feeling creative in the kitchen. But with all of the focus on preparing the perfect meal, I found myself getting consumed by the food, rather than using the aesthetic experience of the meal as an opportunity for joy and communion.
Mistaking the means for the end is a trap I often fall into. I am the primary caregiver for our children, so I squeeze some freelance writing work in during the mornings or evenings, or when they are at school. It makes for full days—if I am not writing, I am buying groceries, making a meal, cleaning up a meal, helping kids with homework, or some other task. In all of that, it is easy to forget that my primary responsibility is to simply be with the kids and to enjoy sharing life together. Often, ironically, I feel too busy for that. I’m troubled by free time because I feel the need to use time productively.
This is why meals are a great reminder of what is important in family life. We ask about what kind of day we each had. We tell stories. We make decisions together. We share information about our life together. We remember things we’ve done. We talk about things we hope to do.
When we eat meals together, we are nourishing more than just our bodies—there are more efficient ways to get calories, after all. Eating a meal together is about sharing life together, and that is the essence of family life—that is what gives us gratitude, joy, resilience, hope, freedom, unity, and courage.
These are the things that make a body strong.
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