How to Enjoy Mealtime

Author: Elizabeth Foss


By Elizabeth Foss

One of the most tragic casualties of the fast-paced nineties lifestyle is family dinner time. When I was growing up, family meals were a constant I could set my clock by. Every evening at six we all sat down, ate a real, home-cooked meal and shared events of the day. Those dinners are actually my strongest association with "home."

Today dinner is often rushed, ordered in or carried out, and eaten by individuals apart from the whole family as they go from one activity to another. It doesn't have to be that way.

When scheduling activities of various family members, try to find a common hour of time to have dinner together. The meal may have to be served earlier or later than a traditional time, but a late afternoon snack or something light before bed (depending on when dinner is served) should keep everyone happy while facilitating time together as a family. Before allowing children to take on several outside commitments, prayerfully consider whether the sacrifice of family time will be beneficial.

Practically speaking, there is a way to put a home-cooked meal on the table every night while only investing about 20 minutes in the kitchen, including clean up time. Debbie Brock, the mother of six children in Seattle who introduced me to this method, calls it a modern day miracle of loaves and fishes. Jill Bond, the Florida mother who has written a book about it calls it (The Bonding Place).

Simply put, it is a method of cooking and freezing multiples of the same meal in order to save both preparation time and grocery money. Bond's method suggests a family cooking weekend once every two, four, or six months, where everyone peels, chops and mixes in order to freeze meals for months. Marsha Jacobeen, a Fairfax mother of five boys, froze ninety meals one weekend in August. She says she is hoping she won't have to cook until Christmas!

While skeptical about the real benefits it would provide, I did decide to adapt the system to my own needs. Seven months pregnant when I wanted to start, a weekend of cooking sounded utterly exhausting. Also, I knew we couldn't plunk down six months worth of food money at once, despite the fact that there is significant savings when food is bought in bulk. Instead, for four weeks, I chose three meals per week that I would multiply by five. I froze four and we ate one.

By the end of the month there were 48 meals in the freezer -- 12 different entrees. We eat from the freezer every night but once a week. On that night, I cook five of one meal to replenish my stock.

The benefits have far surpassed my expectations. Now when the boys want to play outside all afternoon, I play too. I am able to relax and enjoy them rather than worrying about getting a decent meal on the table. If the baby wants to be held and rocked and nursed during the "arsenic hour" familiar to all mothers, that's what we do. All my peeling, chopping, and mixing is finished. Finally, there is a much simplified clean up. It all computes to a relaxed family meal.

The benefits to ministry of hospitality can't be over-estimated. When there is an illness or death in the neighborhood, a hot meal is only minutes away. If a friend is having a particularly bad day, I am able to offer to cook dinner for her. Unexpected company is no problem; with 48 meals in the freezer, there is always more than enough!

The system is a study in wise stewardship of both time and money. It would be an enormous blessing in times of illness or unexpected unemployment. It is wonderful when a new baby arrives. I can only imagine the benefit it would be to two career families and single parents. Instead of rushing to cook or ordering out when the body and soul both are crying out for replenishment and respite, there is a way to meet those very basic needs. The most hectic time of day can be transformed into a relaxed, enjoyable chance to focus on family. This article appeared in the October 27, 1994 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.