11 December 2012

Setting the table

Food is part of many of our family celebrations. When you think about Christmas lunches and dinners, Thanksgiving dinners, as well as birthday celebrations, Christenings, wakes and weddings breakfasts, food is eagerly brought into all those milestone events that bring extended families and friends together. But food is much more than part of a celebration, food is part of ordinary life and something that every one of us deals with every day of our lives.


Meal times are so entrenched in our daily lives, they're used to break up the day. We have breakfast soon after we wake up, lunch in the middle of the working day and dinner, tea or supper at the end of the day. As homemakers, our lives are partially driven by growing, shopping for and cooking food. If you go out to work, it's usually a quick breakfast, packed lunches and a planned meal when everyone returns home. Either way, food divides up the day and everyone deals with it.


It makes sense to me to use the day's main meal to come together as a family. Bringing everyone to the table to talk and listen, while enjoying a good meal, reminds us all that we're part of our family. Sitting down together teaches young children that it's important to stop everything, sit down and reconnect. Meal times can teach young children how to be part of their family. Young couples can talk about the day's activities over dinner and feel the absolute pleasure of being together again. Older couples feel that connection too. Here in our home, every day, the table is set with a tablecloth, cutlery, plates and glasses. Often fresh flowers and candles are set out beside the water jug or tea pot. Setting the table sets the stage for the meal; preparing for the meal makes it special.


Meal times are a significant part of family life, particularly the meal when everyone sits down together. It's important to keep the tradition of setting the table going. Setting the family table every day is a good job for young children and will bring them gently into doing their share of productive work for their own family. If you start young, and children grow up working alongside older members of the family, it gives them self confidence and a sense of pride, it makes them feel like an important part of the team. It gives you the chance to work closely with your children too. You can show them how it's done, explain the concepts of left and right and discuss the meal that will follow and why different meals need different knives, fork and spoons.


I have had the benefit of seeing many children grow from babies to adults and it is those who were expected to do age-appropriate work in their family homes when they were young, and grew up helping and being a part of their family and its work, who generally developed a good work ethic and became confident adults. Setting expectations for children to help when they're young makes it easier for them when they're older. 

And it can all start by placing knives, forks and glasses on a clean tablecloth every day. If we remember that sitting down to eat together is important, and encourage the younger members of the family to be part of the preparation, it is a gentle introduction to work for them. Almost all of us will spend many of our life hours working, either for pay or for love. Starting that work with setting the table is ideal. It's slow and easy work. It contributes to running the family unit successfully and it gives a sense of being a real part of the family.

Small steps. Always.


28 comments:

  1. Your patchwork tablecloth is so pretty. I guess you don't worry about stains on the light fabric - your home made cleaners must work well!

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    1. Lisa, even for tea or coffee stains, I just rub some homemade laundry liquid into the stain, let it sit for ten minutes, then put it in with the normal wash. It always comes out well.

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  2. I still have fond memories of my father returning home for lunch everyday before I started primary school! His surgery was a five minute drive away and he always made the effort to come home to spend that extra 50 minutes with us. I also love that my parents always have a pot of tea on the table with lunch. It's something I always partake in when I visit them but don't often do at home myself. It's so civilised I think I just might start :)

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    1. that is a beautiful memory to have. I think it's time to get that tea pot out. :- )

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  3. Rhonda,

    I completely agree! It's so important for kids to grow up knowing how to set a table and the importance of having at least one meal together a day!

    Unfortunately, I see more and more young people who don't know how to set a table. Many have never used much cutlery, their usual meals being burgers, chicken strips, pizza etc.

    Our family mealtimes are so important to us, it is a bonding time, a time to talk together, share our day...we love it, and so do our children!

    Deanna

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    1. Gee, Deanna, I never thought about children not using cutlery. It's good to know you and your family take full advantage of meals together.

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  4. setting the table.....do what has to be done...that´s what makes us happy, I guess.
    Thank you dear Rhonda, for reminding me, I sometimes forget it´s that easy.
    Sanne from Germany, mother of six

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    1. Hello Sanne, you have six little helpers there. They can help you prepare for the family meals.

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  5. If you asked my brothers and I ( aged 63,62 and 60 )about laying the table as children we can all still remember exactly what each of us had to lay. Anything missing and everyone knew who to blame.
    Helen in France

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  6. I learned early on that our five children displayed better manners when the table was "correctly" set with a cloth tablecloth, napkins, plate, glass (not plastic) drinking glass, and utensils (love your word cutlery). There was a time when Dad came home from work later than I wanted the children to be eating so we ate early, then played until Dad came home, then sat with him while he ate. We still have two teens at home and family breakfasts and dinners continue to be important. The day doesn't go as smoothly for me if we don't eat together (and then read a chapter of scripture). The day seems incomplete if we don't get together at the end and share a sit-down meal. Traditions and rituals bond us together and make for many happy memories.

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    1. So much is taught and learnt around a happy table -lovely to see you incorporate the spiritual as well as the body (nourishing food) & the mind (memories, feelings of security & belonging). Traditions aren't just the things we do at festive times, but in our day to day lives that as you say "bond us together and make for many happy memories". I well remember setting the table and afterwards gathering up the table cloth to shake the crumbs off outside. Love being able to continue sharing meals & conversation at the table with my 84 year old father. He came to live with me while mum was in the nursing home. Since she died 3 years ago we have built and are making it a home that I know she would love- a place where family and friends are welcome (20 church folk last night), and fruit trees, berries, veggies and native plants are slowly being introduced. Rhonda has inspired me to even take up some beginner knitting - one my mothers favourite pastimes.

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  7. Before we even had children I told my husband that dinner time would always be as a family around the table, just as it was for me. And from the time my oldest could sit up in a highchair, we have done it - eaten together around the table every night (it was a very early dinner for us when they were babies though!). Breakfast is at the kitchen bench, lunch outside on the deck when they're home, but dinner is always at the table together.
    The kids are asked to set the table, and now clear at least their own plates, and put them in the dishwasher. The older they get, the more they can do. I don't want to be cleaning up after them when they're teenagers, and I don't want them going into the world expecting someone else to do it for them either!

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    1. Rachael, I just love your last sentence. It is a gift to equip your teens for life.

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  8. Hi Rhonda, what a timely post. We had our granddaughters staying with us on the weekend - they are 5 and 3. I was making salads for lunches which we would eat at the table on the verandah. There was no tablecloth but I automatically gave them the cutlery to put in the appropriate places and then they each carried their own plate to the table. Eating together is so important and is is wonderful to be able to share the nuances of this ritual with another generation.

    Thank you for your thoughtful writing.

    Fairy xx

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  9. Good Rhonda, I couldn't agree more. We have three children, 17.15 and 10 and we eat at the table, set by the younger, every day, sometimes the meals are more rushed than I would like due to commitments but we still do it. XxBrenda

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  10. I am laughing Rhonda. Some days we have three or more clean cloths on the table. It drives me bats. I am constantly cleaning spilt tea.

    I do agree that a family table is so important.

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  11. Hi Rhonda
    My son has just started to set the table he complained at first but once he did it and we told what a great job he did he likes doing it now

    Linda from Melbourne

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  12. Some fond memories of the daily ritual with my family growing up
    setting the table ☺

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  13. We always ate a family dinner, even though I've been a single mom since they were quite young. Late dinners if someone had late swim practice or something else. One thing I did when the kids were little was to add a little ceramic pig to the table. It was actually a salt shaker but that's not how we used it. When someone used bad dinner table manners, I would move the pig to be looking at them. Whomever the pig was looking at by dinner's end had an extra chore to do. (In the beginning it moved a few times!) It was a nice quiet way to remind them of their manners without interrupting a conversation. They loved telling their friends about the pig when they stayed for dinner! The pig still sits at the table but my girls are both off to college. It's a fun reminder of their younger days.

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  14. On the subject of tables and tablecloths ... does anyone know if you can buy large oilcloth tablecloths in Australia? I remember the one my friend had in England - it was superb quality and had a pattern reminiscent of Laura Ashley's designs, it was so pretty and any spills were just wiped clean. I know you can buy oilcloth by the metre here but the patterns I have seen thus far, do not appeal and the oilcloth seems very thin. I have a large square table so I guess I might have to buy oilcloth fabric off a roll. I'm hoping to find a vintage style pattern.

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    1. Hi Ann, I have an oilcloth table cloth, it's black and white old drawings of household equipment. I often use it when the little boys are here. I bought that by the metre at Spotlight and I'm very happy with it. A friend of mine bought oilcloth from here http://www.metooplease.com.au/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&category_id=47&page=shop.browse&Itemid=82&limit=50&limitstart=0 but she also got some shabby chic type pattern for about $50 a metre! I'm not sure where she got that but it was from an online shop.

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  15. Our 3 and 4 year old grandsons have just started to set the table and it is so sweet to watch. They take their job very seriously and do a very good job too.

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  16. I agree with you, Rhonda, when you say to ask the children for a help to prepare the table. This is easier when they're children...... as young boys and girls, coming back to school running and eating in a rush and running to study...... but my kids, specially my daughter, always helps me in the evening.
    Breakfast time is, for me, a special moment to live on my own.... I wake up early in the morning (about 5,30/6) , put the kettle and the coffee maker on, turn on the laptop..... prepare some biscuits..... and here I have about 1 hour and a half, 'til 7 in the morning when my family wake up....
    P.s.: love your romantic tablecloth

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  17. Thank you, Rhonda, this is a lovely reminder. Although our son sometimes squirmed at having to sit at the table for most of our meals, and later on thought that I was "fussing" a bit too much with laying out proper linens, cutlery, etc., he now looks back fondly and with gratitude (Yes LOL) at those times and at what he learned (he's now 26). Some of our best conversations have taken place at the table. And as a chef now, he's especially tuned in to the value of how food looks on the plate and table and how much the surroundings enhance it. I love your tablecloth - I have a lot of unused quilting fabric (some of it given to me) and I think it would be a rewarding job to choose some nice prints and make a couple of cloths of just the right size (our round table extends to an oval, and it's often hard to find tablecloths for it, as it's wider than "normal"). Thanks again - you so often hit just the perfect note :)

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  18. "Yes" to these BEAUTIFUL, small steps. Each and all of them. Your table settings are warm and inviting.

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  19. Hi Rhonda,
    I live on my own and still set the table for myself and eat my meal. I know most people would say who could be bothered. It is the time for me to sit and eat the meal I have prepared and reflect on the day. At times I read and plan the next day or plan my next project. Perhaps it sounds that I would go to all that trouble but it makes me happy.

    Antoinette

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  20. Thank you what a great article and i loved reading all your comments. We sit down as a family always for dinner and my children even the 22 month old sets the table. Breakfast is just me a the kids as dad goes to work at sunrise. We often have guests for dinner and my 6 year old decorates personal place mats for every one, puts flowers in a cup and even sprinkles herbs over the table to smell nice and "look fancy". Even when cooking and eating outdoors setting up and clearing your own place is expected and done without any fuss. As a bonus the food is always enjoyed and thanked for.... Ali

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