The serving of food

19 July 2011
I watched Masterchef yesterday because I wanted to see what they did with their guest, the Dalai Lama. I thought it was a strange mix to have the Dalai Lama on a cooking show but he has made me think about many things in a different light so I was keen to see what happened.  One of the judges remarked on his saying: "I sometimes think that the act of bringing food is one of the basic roots of all relationships." It's a quote I had not heard before but how could you not agree with it wholeheartedly.

Many people think of cooking and the serving of food at regular times every day as a chore that is endured rather than enjoyed. I choose to think that the person who decides on what food will be eaten, the person who chooses the food, either at the shop or in the garden, and the person who serves what has been gathered and cooked, is the person who brings the family together every day. That is an significant role to play in any family or group.

A shared meal should be a part of everyone's day. Unfortunately many people eat alone.

When everyday activities, especially in a young family, see children at school and parents at work, a meal that is shared in the evening is not only a symbolic act of drawing the family back into the home again, but is also a valuable way of reconnecting and learning what each person did during the day. This is a time for sharing not only the food but thoughts, plans, worries and solutions. If you have children in the family, this time spent together may give you the feeling that everything is fine, or it may alert you to something you should be concerned about. A couple living together but separated when they're at work, need to know they will sit, relax and share a meal and the day's news later in the day. Still now, Hanno and I sit down at a set table every evening for our meal. When we have people visiting, it generally involves sharing a meal. There is something about sitting at a table that has been prepared with cutlery, glasses, a water jug, and maybe flowers and candles, that tells all who sit there, they're welcomed into this home.

I know it's sometimes tough, especially with a young family, to provide that shared meal day after day. When I was younger and experiencing those busy days, when fatigue took over and all I wanted was to sit down with my feet up, or, better still, sleep in a cosy bed, I thought about the possibility of not having a family to share anything with. Imagine that. That every day you had no one to eat with and share experiences with. That usually brought me back to reality and I felt privileged to cook meals and serve them to my family. It doesn't matter what is served - it can be simple, or full flavoured and hearty, it's the sitting down and sharing that counts. Last night Hanno and I had fruit for dinner, tonight it will be soup. It's not just the food, it's the connection as well; the combination of the two nourish us and let us know we part of something bigger than ourselves.


  1. I had to laugh at your posting this morning. I brought a new toy yesterday and sure had a bad attitude at having to cook tea - I just wanted to play with my new toy. But actually the main issue was I had not planned what we were going to have - planning would of saved my head thinking Oh WHAT are we going to have...if we could eat takeaways I am sure I would of weakened. But once I got cracking we had a nice simple meal. Today I will play with new camera...
    Love Leanne

  2. Your post brought tears to me eyes, Rhonda. The daily work of "feeding and watering" a large family is very tiring, but oh so rewarding if I stop to look at it in this light. Mealtimes are such basic rituals that are ripe with opportunity to create routine, comfort, tradition and peace. Taking wholesome meals together builds healthy families and keeps them together. So simple. So powerful!

  3. Our children have always loved sitting around the table to eat. We use it as time to catch up on each others' day, to chat, to make plans. It was the same when I was a child,and it felt like a special time- maybe that's why it was important for me to do the same with our children.

  4. Have you ever read Edith Schaeffer's Hidden Art of Homemaking? This post reminds me of how she looks at homemaking and meal preparation, especially when it comes to table settings.

  5. My little family of 3 always have dinner together at the end of each day.

    It is one of the things that helps to bond us as a family, we talk about anything, share our day, make plans, laugh and feel cared for.

  6. Rhonda, lovely post. It brought two things to my mind.

    Here in the US, and I suspect there, too, when a family is undergoing a grief period, or death in the family, the first things people who care think about is delivering food to them. It is something they can do to give comfort, often when there is just nothing else.

    The other thought: My sister works for a preschool program here in the state, Head Start, for children from high-risk, low-income families. The children all have their midday meal family style, that is, passing to each other, sharing and using good manners. This is typically for many the only time they experience this dynamic, as their families are stressed out and not child-centric.
    --Kay, PacNW USA

  7. I think it is also important to appreciate the time and effort that goes into preparing the meal. When my children were younger my husband always made sure that I was thanked for cooking the meal. Now some of my older children have nights where they cook, we always make sure that they are thanked for the time and effort spent preparing the meal- it makes it all worth while when someone appreciates what you do!

  8. What a good explanation of what I already know to be true! I couldn't have put it in those words, but we place so much importance on the evening meal when we are all together. We have young children and I involve them in preparing the table and collecting flowers. Then they feel part of a special occassion.

  9. I totally agree. I have been an avid Master Chef fan and that comment was the most powerful statement I have heard in a long time. It made be re-evaluate the way I do things and the reasons why. Food is such a wonderful bonding element. Doesn't matter whether it is a crumpet and cup of tea or a magnificent feast - if there is love in your heart it comes out on the plate. Such a simple lesson in a complex world! ;)Sharyne

  10. Thanks for this post - I read daily but rarely comment (its been years I think!). This one touched me because dinner as a family is so important to me.

    We grew up always eating dinner around the table as a family - even if you weren't hungry, you still had to sit with everyone (unless you were very ill). Unless work was the issue, you were always home for dinner and I cherished that.

    However, my mother really didn't like to cook - my dad is totally unadventurous and downright picky and never says thank you - that would make it extra hard.

    My husband brought in saying thank you to me for cooking (which I do love to do - partially because he is such a willing eater, even when I 'experiment'). He always thanked his parents when they cooked and now our 3 yr old says thanks too.

    We also do a short prayer before dinner holding hands, even my hubby who isn't so on board with praying. If we sometimes miss the prayer, our little one will tell us to wait, because we haven't prayed yet.

    Something another friend once told us she does is they go around the table and everyone has to say something Good, then bad, then silly from their day. She says she hears such interesting things from her daughters that way, that they might not otherwise mention. As our son gets older, we may try to add that to our routine.

    We've eaten at a number of friends' houses over the years, where they sit on the couch, with food on your lap (SO awkward to eat that way!) and around the tv. I've even had to ask to turn the tv off, because I find it impossible to carry on a conversation with that right in the background. They don't know what they are missing, really.

    Sorry such a long response, just really passionate about this and hope that some who read this may start adding this to their simple lives.

  11. Sharing a meal together is key to keeping an intact/connected family! We use that time to grow together by sharing our days, and what we've learned or read. We discuss everything from theology to gardening...

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. You are pertinent as always. I love to share food with people. I am currently bonding with an elderly neighbour in my new neighbourhood over cookies! He's recently widowed and I guess no one bakes him cookies much any more. Using the excuse of too many left after the farm market, we now have a Saturday pm date for cookies :-). We dont eat around the table as often as long as I would like, but we do all eat at the same time in the same place most nights and it's appreciated by all in our family. In a few mins I have to write a to do list with time lines so the under-occupied teens can finish dinner whilst we are out LOL.

  13. Oh I love that quote from the Dalai Lama. Cooking is not one of my passions, but providing people with food is. Does that make sense. Providing good food for my children when they were little and eating it with them around the table was very important for that social aspect.And now that they have grown it's food that always brings us together along with their partners. I'm now giving my daughter cooking lessons once a week.Unfortunately when my girls were little I wasn't in a "space" where i could share cooking skills with them but now I am enjoying the time we spend together in the kitchen.I posted a little on this last week.

  14. Years ago I was a single mother with one child and I ate alone at night everyday..I hated he became a toddler I started making the main meal of the day at lunch time he would help set the table and he and I would sit and eat together..Now I am married and have a load more children I have never stopped having lunch as our main meal of the day..its an anchour point of our day..the children set the table,make up a drink,we give thanks to God and chat ,giggle and eat and enjoy our food together I love it.. the years are rolling by now ,One thing I hope that never changes is at the very least Sunday roast with everyone together

  15. I think it is wonderful that you and Hanno choose to sit down together at your table. I'm reading a book at the moment called 'Come to the Table A Celebration of Family Life'. The author states 'When I see my table I see my life' - that is true for me. It's not only where I serve food but where I literally count my blessings because it is the place where we gather where bodies, minds and souls are nourished. My favourite scene in the movie 'The Blindside' is when the mother played by Sandra Bullock turns off the television and gathers her family around the table to eat together. It was a very powerful scene in a powerful movie that I hope did encourage some families to return to the table.

  16. I never fully understood why people bring food to a family after they have lost someone until recently. We miscarried our second baby (our first is 2.5 years) 3 weeks ago, and a dear friend of mine insisted on bringing us a homecooked dinner when we arrived home from the hopsital. She actually took it a step further - she made us a tray of lasagne (with enough for dinner, plus lunch for my partner the next day) plus a large quiche for the next night, plus a large salad (enough for both nights)and a bottle of softdrink. At such a hard time when I would have not even thought about cooking it was so sweet to have someone who took the time to prepare some hearty meals for us, so we didn't have to feel guilty about giving our daughter (and ourselves) deep fried junk until we got ourselves back on track. I'll never forget it, and how simple it is to look after someone's most basic needs in a time of tragedy. Sorry - that was slightly off topic but I just wanted to share!

    We try and eat at the table most nights, and I love when we do. We only have one TV and it is in a different room so we have music on and talk. I love it and I think it makes a difference to our everyday family life.

    On Saturday nights we nearly always have friends over, and we used to get junk food for tea, but recently I have been cooking a main meal and a friend brings salad and sometimes garlic bread, wine or dessert. It is such a family thing to do but I look forward to it each week. I am sometimes nervous cooking for others, but everything has been well recieved, and I get a little rush from providing them with a homecooked meal :)

    PS - wow, two comments from me in two days, I am coming out of the shadows I think :)

  17. In my younger days I would set a pretty elaborate table in my older days and weaker body , I ask the guests to wash their their own plate, take as much as they like and eat what they take..

  18. I've enjoyed reading your insight to these 'chores' IS sometimes hard to keep up with what is expected of you...I usually tire around 5pm which doesn't help with preparing the evening meal....
    You have given me a lot to think about...for the last few days I have been tackling cleaning up the dining room table.....
    I do find it rewarding preparing a good meal for my family...but sometimes I just don't have the energy to show it.
    What a great post Rhonda.

  19. the setting of the table, eating together and the clearing of the table were all the best times of the day. It was when the kids would open up and talk to us and we would share in their world for a little while.
    Then the computer and tv would take over again.

  20. Very true. Some of my favourite family memories are around the dinner table. I write for a teenage girls magazine, and this was the topic of my next article. I would like to encourage teenagers to stop taking their meals to their rooms, turn the TV off and think of ways to get their families to reconnect.

  21. What a wonderful post! We have always eaten at the table and always will - except for Friday night pizza night - eldest (at home) is 19 now and often says how her boyfriend loves being at our place because 'that don't have this at his house', at first I thought whats 'this', but I guess its the togetherness. They don't eat together really at all unless they go out for a meal. Our four year old says grace every night and most nights is up on a stepladder helping with the dinner. All the children have always 'thanked' me for the dinner before they start eating. To us this is normal, but I guess to so many its not. How sad that such special moments are being 'lost'.

  22. Hi Rhonda Jean! Thanks for this post. As a mother of six, who are home allllll day, every day, I definitely weary of the endless meals I must plan, buy for, and cook (and, more to the point, clean up.) An awful lot of the day's time goes into cooking and cleaning up -- just those two things alone, for 7 or 8 people day in and day out. Anyway, you are right, imagine not having them, imagine being alone. Now I am feeling a bit like I should check out who on my street is alone and not eating with anyone. I'm already cooking for 8, what's one more? Thanks, Rhonda Jean.

  23. Rhonda I really enjoyed reading the sentiments expressed in your post and also the comments have made enjoyable reading. My father was an Italian immigrant...I think it's genetic with me lol...the preparing and sharing of food is so important, even as a teenager I would 'cook up a storm' in mum's kitchen for my friends.

  24. oooh yes! This is the big Kahoona!
    Over 28years of family life, this is the one I live bye!Food bonds families!
    I hear so many people say how much they hate to cook....well, I say,'Yeh, but I love to eat!'
    When I had 3 little ones, I just cooked more simply, now I have fun experimenting with maybe one new recipe a month. The kids are in their 20s,but come home most Sunday nights to have dinner together! I say to DH, if it's only food that brings them home...I'll cook anytime. And I have to make it Vegetarian, Coeliac and Low Fat.,but now it's like water off a ducks back:)

  25. Hi Rhonda,
    My dad and I share meals together. When we started cooking at home, it seemed like a real chore at first. NOt anymore. It's fun...we talk, laugh...and it's a wonderful time :) :) Have a great week. Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  26. Great post, and so true. I almost always have a sit-down dinner with my husband and if we have lunch together, a sit-down lunch as well. (Breakfast tends to fall by the wayside a bit for both of us). Eating together is one of those primal things.

    I blogged about 'intentional eating' a while back here (for those interested) where I also focused on the importance of sitting together to eat:

    This Good Life

  27. Thanks for another motivational posting on your daily blog. I rarely comment but frequently read your blogs and they just seem to have spot on comments so appropriate each time to spur me on.
    Earlier I was feeling a tad blah and then realised that a great way to welcome home my hubby and youngest son tonight would be a roast meal.. prepared with love and thankfulness that I have a special family to love and serve. A time around the mealtable to share about our happenings, joys and sorrows but most of all, our family!
    Food is one common factor all humans can share in that helps us relate and be relational...
    Your blogging also helps us relate to one another over common experiences across the universe! Amazing!!!
    Lynette (Adelaide)

  28. Reading this post reminded me that I had forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer for tonight's dinner!

    I'm making chicken nuggets with eggs from my ladies and home-made breadcrumbs from the leftover loaves of bread after having family stay for the weekend. I'm sharing this meal with my children with lettuce from our garden and vine-ripened tomatoes brought over to me by a friend from a tomato farm on Sunday.

    I love the 'quote' about nurturing relationships with food. It is so true.

  29. I grew up in a home where we always had guests at dinner. Anyone who was around at dinner time was invited to join the family. My mother taught me so much about the importance of hospitality and sharing food. I try to do the same thing in my own home now. Food seems to make even difficult situations a little better:)

  30. Hi Rhonda,
    this is one of the reason i like your blog...really inspiring. Thanks.

  31. A friend directed me to your blog, and I find so much of interrest here. I'm starting to think that the simple act of sharing food, could be the road to bigger things!

  32. This is the one hard and fast rule in our home. We all ALWAYS sit around the table together at mid-day and in the evening. No excuses accepted!

  33. A lovely a child of a family of 6 we always ate together, it wasnt always happy as families go through ups and downs, but we always did it....
    I have three children of my own now, and we always sit down together, our home is small , our table small and cozy and it is something we do together...its not always on time....its not always to everyones liking.. ( laughing ) but my children have learnt to share their day, try new foods, enjoy old ones, talk about what is going on in their lives....and just be 'together'.....I hope it is something we can continue as they get older....and something they will remember and pass onto their families too........

  34. Thanks for sharing. But those meals are ever so important, they set your baby for life.


  35. Meal times are such a sacred time for us. We gather around our family table to share, laugh, eat, pray. A couple of years ago, I printed off a sheet of questions, laminated it then cut them up and popped them into an old depression glass jug. Some of the table questions were 'name a country you would like to visit and why' or 'what do imagine your wedding day to be like' etc. We don't always get these out now but when we do, they are great conversation starters! I love hearing how the children's responses change to the same questions as they get older.
    Taking time to prepare healthy meals that are served with flair and love actually warms my heart (even though it is hard work especially after a busy homeschooling day!)
    Nice to hear how others believe in the power of love around the family table :-)
    Lusi x

  36. Eating together is a great part of life.

  37. I think this is hugely important. My husband and I make a point to turn off all electronics and just sit and have dinner together every night. I think it brings us so much closer. I just found this site today - and I thought it was so beautiful, and speaks to the impact of sitting and breaking bread together. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wonderful words.

  38. Oddly enough, it was much easier for me to prepare meals and for us to have family meal time when they were smaller. As they got into high school, that was when they didn't want to endure the family meals. In fact, they didn't even want home cooked meals! There was about a two year period where if it didn't come out of a box and it couldn't be microwaved, they wouldn't eat it. That was much harder to deal with than cooking ever was!

    We used to have a once-a-month meal where we used all the good china and silver. It was a formal table setting and even during their box food phase they were absolutely REQUIRED to participate. My middle son complained during one meal about having to know how to use all the utensils properly. I replied that someday he was going to fall in love with a woman that he was going to want to take to nice places. I didn't want my sons to feel embarrassed to take their significant others anywhere, and if he didn't know how to use the silver, he *would* be embarrassed. His reply: Mom, Taco Bell has sporks!

    Of course, that was ten years ago and the fifteen year old is now a 25 year old who just took his lady out to a VERY nice restaurant where ties are required. I am glad we had those mandatory dinners, as I would bet he is as well!

  39. LOVE this post!

    Growing up my family (dad, mom & myself) *always* sat at the table. During the weekend when we were all home, we did lunch and dinner.
    My husbands family, they would grab their dinner plates, fill them and go off to whatever room they wanted to be in. A lot of times with a TV tray in front of the telly.

    When we had our daughter it was VERY important to me that we ate dinner together as a family. I thought it would be an easy tradition. Not so much. It was SO hard to get my husband into it. It was foreign to him. :(

    I am happy to say that our daughter is 6.5 yrs old now and we have been sitting at the family dinner table. It makes my heart so happy to do this. What makes it even more special is my daughter gets SO excited to set the table herself. She will go out and gather flowers from the garden some nights.

    I am thankful my husband finally "got it" and we all enjoy our time together!

  40. This is a topic I have wondered about for a while now. It is interesting that something that is so important to human life like the growing, gathering, preparing & sharing of food has become such a 'chore', well at least in 'western' countries where we have an abundance of food without the effort.

  41. We're just starting down the path to a greener, rat race free and more self sufficient lifestyle and recently brought home seventeen young hens. We are now getting around a dozen eggs a day and besides the obviously superior quality, it's changed the whole way my kids look at food. From my three year old who collects the eggs to my two big kids who are coming up with new recipes for them, planning and creating meals has become a real family experience. My kids can't wait to sit down to eat and are taking real pride in being part of our new lifestyle.

  42. thanks Rhonda, that was lovely. I believe everything you said, the coming together of the family, the bonding that might otherwise never get to happen, it is so crucial. I will send this link onto a few of my friends who could perhaps use this info themselves.



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