One of the things that I would like to get back to is to make every meal that our family eats special. I recently read the play, Our Town, by Thorton Wilder. The main theme of the play is to appreciate every day life. As a busy mom of little ones, it is so tempting to rip a paper towel off the roll, plop a bit of food onto a paper plate, and shove it in the general direction of a hungry kid. There are times when this is appropriate (such as right now while I am supposed to be taking it easy and Fr John is in charge of dish washing and ninety million other things). However, when I make this a habit, what does that say to my husband and children? I think that it says "I have to feed you and I want to get it over with as soon as possible, so eat."
When I take the time to set a lovely table for our meals together, it shows that I care about what I am doing. It tells my husband that I appreciate the work that he is doing to put food on our table. It shows my children that I love them and enjoy being their mother. It helps me remember that making food for my family three or more times a day is not a monotonous chore that I can't stand, it is part of my calling in life. Setting a pretty table is a little more work for me. There are napkins to wash, dry, and fold and a few more dishes to wash. But you know what? I wash, dry, and fold laundry every day. What is a few more pieces of cloth? I rinse, load the dishwasher, and put dishes away every day. What does it matter if I add a couple more things to the pile?
Here are some of the things that I like to use when I set a pretty table:
- A centerpiece - flowers, a plant, candles, or even a pretty basket are nice choices
- Pyrex containers - these are great because leftovers can stay in the containers and a lid can be added to keep things fresh
- Ramekins and pitchers - excellent for condiments, dressings, milk, etc.
- Cloth napkins - so much nicer than paper! I like dark napkins to hide stains
- Napkin Rings - If every family member has their own, napkins can be used for the day rather than just one meal (as long as they aren't too messy)
- Fresh Herbs - These are great for cooking, but don't forget garnishing the finished dishes with them
- Tablecloths, runners, chargers, and/or placemats - linens for the table add so much
- Coasters - essential if your table is made of wood
Check Out Meredith's blog post from awhile ago for more good ideas:
Live Well on Less: Breakfast
Live Well on Less: Breakfast
Do you try to make mealtimes special? What are your tips?
This is sooo me! Especially this yesterday afternoon: "I have to feed you and I want to get it over with as soon as possible, so eat."
My husband is almost never home for ANY meal, so it's very easy to fly by the eat of our pants. This post is inspiring me, and with several broken dishes lately, I think I want to spring for your all-white idea. Great for our anniversary next week!
I am so guilty of this myself. I feel pretty bad when I set the table with all china and the kids wonder what happened to the plastic plates! The truth is, I had toddler/baby city going on for so many years that I got in the habit of using mostly non-breakable things for meals. In addition, we tried using shorter glasses for the children, but then we couldn't tell them apart (5). So I still have the multi-colored plastic cups on the table. I can certainly set a pretty table, but tend not to do it on a regular basis.
The dark napkin idea is a good one. Most of my napkins I've picked up at thrift stores or were hand-me-downs, but I think I can spring for a set or two of new dark ones. I like using cloth napkins too. Instant civilization and little investment.
Good point about the dishes and glasses, Matushka Anna. I was given a set of coasters that has different birds on them. The children have their favorite bird and use it for every meal. Maybe that would work for your five? The dishes are hard. I hate when a dish breaks (and so does Fr John). Would Corelle work?
I must confess to being guilty of serving out of pots from the stove. In fact, early in my homemaking, we had a priest over to our home, and he teased me a little when I served our meal: "Nice pot." Another time, a friend from Texas laughed at me (it was a good-natured laugh) about serving soup from a pot on the table. Maybe since I am simplifying my menu a bit and not being obsessive about serving lots of sides, I can try for fewer pots on the table! I HAVE brought out a crystal bowl that we now regularly use for salad, and I love having it on the table.
I DO like having the kids' dishes be plastic so they can clear their own dishes at the end of the meal. My husband was brought up doing this and now does it completely instinctively, and I'd like my kids to have the same instinct--without breaking my dishes. :)
Oh, I do so love to set a pretty table. I've just moved to setting the table "family style" instead of dishing up plates before they go on the table, and it's so much nicer! No popping up and down for seconds, and we can enjoy one another's company.
At our house the girls each have their own mug (the baby has a bee, the middle has a bird, the eldest has a lamb). We all use china and it seems the only plates that get broken are broken by the grownups. Ha.
I tend to subscribe to the belief that children can be careful with breakable things, so I have tried to teach our children how to handle breakable dishes and glasses. I think that we've had two or three things break over the course of our parenting.
I love the idea of the children clearing their own dishes, Patty! I've been lazy about that and resolve to do better!
First, I have to tell you that this series of weekly posts is just wonderful and I am really enjoying them. Thanks for writing them.
I recently transitioned to cloth napkins. Part of me just hated throwing away the paper ones, but I thought that adding the patterns and colors to the table would be a nice touch and it was. I found a pretty metal bowl at Target that looks like a bird's nest and lay the ironed napkins in it as they are laundered. I got many different patterns, but all of the same color scheme and it is a nice touch to the table at all times.
I just finished reading Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life and the author did a good job developing the idea that serving at the table in special dishes says a great deal to the people who are being served. She also mentioned that she didn't like the idea of people clearing their places as they finish their meals as it left some members of the family alone to finish their meals at a half set table. She wrote about how having the clean up being a separate part of the meal, during which the family continues the conversation from the table, to be a great benefit to the family bond. I agree.
While I agree with you, Mat. Emily, about kids being taught to be careful with breakable things (or to use open cups instead of the sippy variety), that is one thing *I* have become lazy about. And maybe I am a bit too attached to our dishes! :)
Oh, and I second the cloth napkin idea! We use them more often now that I just throw them in with the clothing loads. We also have the different napkin rings to extend the life of the napkin too. And while it might seem counter intuitive to use cloth napkins outside at the picnic table, they don't blow away like the paper variety!
I love doing this too, though I don't do it regularly. My husband, a very practical guy, thinks that I'm crazy every time I do it, though I think he secretly enjoys. By the way, I love your plates; they are so charming.
Thanks, Leah! We got them for our wedding and I really, really like them! We are a little short on place settings... I would really like to buy a few more someday. Maybe for our upcoming anniversary!
Mary, that is something we need to work on with our kids: getting them to stay with us while we finish eating. Of course (most of the time), my husband and I sit with each other while we finish eating. But the kids tend to get up to play.
Do you (or anyone else?) do this in your house? How do you manage it? We do it at restaurants, of course, because there is nowhere to go. I'd welcome suggestions for implementing this at home with kids who are almost 5, 2.5, and on the way!
I still think the kids should be responsible for their own plates, though. But I agree that I'd like the clean-up to happen after the meal is properly finished.
And yes, thank you for this series, Matushka!
Uph. I went crazy trying to make these very points to my mother and mother-in-law, whose motto was, "Less Work for Mother." Me, I'm with you -- what's an extra napkin or five in the wash??! And it makes all the difference when you are trying to bring your children up to be civilized in this most uncivilized society.
I think it would be difficult with small children to accomplish what I mentioned above. We moved into it as our children matured. Now, we don't clear the table until the last person is finished. Michael is responsible for clearing and cleaning the table. Macrina unloads the previous load from the dishwasher and then Emmelia loads and hand washes. I clean the counters and sink and we just talk the whole time. This way, no one is responsible for themselves as individuals, but takes part in caring for the entire family.
I think encouraging the children to stay at the table until all are finished takes time to implement. It's a matter of gradual habit formation and we have to consider the strength of the child to sit still for so long. My 3 year old will often wandered off before we are finished and that is fine. By the time he's 6 or 7 he'll be able to sit and talk longer.
Thank you, Mary. It's a relief to hear you say things like that. I tend to think that way as well about taking into consideration the strength of our children in implementing habits like this (or even in what we allow them to do in church). For my oldest, it stretches her so much just eating what we're eating without complaint. As she matures and is able, I'd like to work on her staying with us longer at the table, and hopefully the younger kids will follow suit, but I just don't think it would be doable right now.
I like what you have to say about cleaning together as a family. I guess the reason I want my kids to be responsible for their plates is because in my parents' house, it seemed that Mom was left to do ALL of the cleaning. So having kids at least take their own plates in to the kitchen is an improvement to that. I often do have the kids help me bring the rest of the things in from the table, and having us all help as they get older would be the ideal.
I love this post! I try to make the pretty table when we have guests, but not always when it is just our immediate family. I fairly regularly use a table cloth, but sometimes I just like the way the wood table looks without it.
I have a question for you: Do you typically put the food out in bowls and then distribute or do you put the food on the plates and then bring them to the table?
As far as serving the food goes, it really depends. I often fix a plate or bowl for us all for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is served family style more frequently, but it also depends on what we are having. When I make a big Sunday dinner, for example, I will often put everything out on the table and serve the children from the table. HTH!!
Oh, Emily, I just love to do the same thing. This is not a brag but a concern, I am the ONLY person that I know around here who does this every night. Can you believe that?
Anyway, my heart wants to create for my children the memories I have from growing up of a beautiful table, good food and conversation.
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