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Love, Family and Food

Posted on: February 13th, 2012 by Michelle

Working at a bistro, I have lots of interesting conversations with people from all walks of life. The other day, for example, a doctor stopped by for a warm meal, having just returned from Haiti, where he was volunteering with Doctors Without Borders. He told me that while he was happy to be helping people in need, he often longed for things from home, specifically this very special salad from his neighborhood bistro. Our conversation got me thinking about how closely food is tied to our sense of home.

Love, Family, Food-2What is it about food that makes us think of home? Of family? Perhaps it’s the simple act of coming together to enjoy a meal. By doing this, we show our love for each other, even as we’re nurturing our bodies with yummy food. Growing up, my family was fairly chaotic, but we always sat down for dinner together. Dinnertime was a chance to pause and relax, allowing us to regroup, even for a short time. As a child, this dinnertime routine became an anchor in my day. And I find that having a meal cooked lovingly for you is nurturing on such a primal level.

Now, my husband and I have created mealtime routines for our own children, 5-year-old Atticus and 3-year-old Meadow. It’s amazing how much our kids enjoy the sense of ritual that comes with eating together.

Our mealtime routines usually start in the morning, when we eat breakfast as a family. While my husband and I make eggs, the kids snack on a piece of fruit (although in the summer, they like to pick green beans from the garden and eat them before breakfast!). Once the omelets or breakfast burritos are done, everyone gathers together for our first meal of the day. It’s a really centering time, and I occasionally worry that we’ll lose this sense of calm once Atticus starts school next year.

Love, Family, Food-3When dinner rolls around, our meals get a little more complicated. With my job at the bistro and my husband’s position as a professor, we’re not always able to have dinner as a whole family. We’re usually able to gather as a group two nights a week, although whoever is home during the other three days always eats together. Despite our different schedules, we’ve still been able to create a few fun, centering dinnertime rituals that help end our days on a family-oriented note.

For instance, while dinner is being prepared, the kids are given a heaping bowl of fresh raw veggies. This settles them when they are really hungry and waiting for the meal, and it takes some of the pressure off of trying to get them to eat veggies during dinner.

Next, to gather everyone to the table, I have one of the children ring the dinner bell. This is less abrasive than shouting that “dinner is served!” and is a fun task for either Meadow or Atticus. We also light a candle and dim the lights to create a warmer atmosphere.

Once everyone is seated, we say a blessing or a poem, expressing thanks for our food and wishing peace to our friends and family. My daughter, in particular, likes the saying that goes, “We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all, we love each other” (which is pronounced “utter” to rhyme with butter). I also have a book of poems that I sometimes read from. It’s a nice way to expose the kids to a bit of culture and verse, which they don’t get to hear much during the rest of their day.

For dinner, we typically have something like roasted chicken or hamburgers, along with a vegetable dish. We live right next to the ocean, in Gloucester, MA, and I recently started going to the fish market once a week. I tend to like markets more than grocery stores, which can feel cold and overwhelming. At the market, I’m able to see the fish, talk to the farmer, and get a real sense of the food. It’s also so fun to pick out new seafood items to try for dinner. Lately, we’ve been eating a lot of native shrimp, and we even tried cooking a squid!

Love, Family, Food-1Honestly, though, figuring out our meals is one of the most challenging, time-consuming parts of the dinner process. My husband cooks more than I do, so I’m in charge of food planning and shopping. I go to local farms to buy meat and raw milk, but sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day, and I’ll swing by Trader Joe’s for mealtime necessities. Our family also uses a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture organization) during the summer and fall, which allows the kids to learn about interesting vegetables.

As we experiment with new recipes and foods, I wonder which meals Meadow and Atticus will remember from their childhoods. In twenty or thirty years, what will they eat that will remind them of our family? Which dishes will evoke a sense of home, like the salad did for the doctor who traveled to Haiti? I’m not sure if I’ve figured it out yet, but by emphasizing peace, love, and family unity during mealtimes, I’m hopefully creating a positive mealtime experience for my children, which will warm their hearts when they think of it in the years to come.