What are your memories of the dinner table growing up? Do you have happy memories of time with your family? The dinner table is a place where meals are shared, stories are exchanged, homework is done, milestones and holidays are celebrated and relationships woven. The dinner table may just be the center, the heart of home.
I have bright memories of my family’s dinner table growing up. It was the one time in the day when all of as a family would gather around the table and talk about the day’s events. It wasn’t just a place to eat, it was a forum for debate, a place to laugh and share thoughts and stories. To this day, when my siblings and I gather around the table with my parents, the conversation is spirited, and at times, it’s a lively competition to get airtime to speak.
Growing up, our parents were very committed to putting nutritious food on our table. My mom is a great cook, and some of her staples were chili and cornbread, sloppy Joe’s on homemade whole-wheat buns, or spaghetti sauce with ground beef and spaghetti squash (long before it became a popular, low-carb option!). She always made sure we had a large beautiful salad, accompanied by her homemade poppy seed or honey mustard dressing. One of our favorite meals was her grapefruit and poppy seed salad, made with grapefruit, butter lettuce, fresh avocados, sunflower seeds (which she toasted in a skillet) and her homemade poppy seed salad dressing (Recipes below!). On the side, we would have whole-grain garlic bread, buttery and warm , served from the small electric “bunwarmer” on the sideboard.
We never watched television during dinner, the exception being during the ’92-’93 NBA season. We were huge Phoenix Suns fans at that time and I do remember watching one of the nail-biting playoff games during dinner. If we brought anything to the dinner table, like a book or something we wrote, it was there to share with the family. There wasn’t a spoken rule about it in our home, it was just known that dinner time was family time and we didn’t know anything different.
Once dinner was ready and the table was set, we all gathered around and prayed. We would take turns saying the dinner prayer each night, usually a short and simple thanks. My parents had a little tradition of kissing (one quick kiss, to clarify) after the prayer, and for the longest time, I thought that’s what all married couples did. After I was first married, I nearly gave my husband a kiss after our dinnertime prayer a few times, which he was not expecting!
During dinner, my parents were great at asking us questions. They genuinely wanted to engage us in conversation and hear our thoughts and opinions. We talked about the happenings on our little five-acre farm, how the animals and garden were doing, and about the irrigation schedule. We talked about what we were learning and reading, and about politics and world events. My dad, an electrical engineer, would sometimes explain his latest work project, providing illustrations on his napkin with a pen he kept handy in his shirt pocket. We talked about the ephemeral and the eternal, the rising cost of alfalfa hay, God and everything in between. My dad would sometimes recite scripture relevant to the topic from memory, and I loved to hear the sound of it – still do.
Best of all, we laughed a lot. No one shares your sense of humor like the people you got it from! The prize of our uproarious laughter would go to the most clever pun or witticism one of us could muster. There were somber dinners, too, when one or all of us were going through a tough time, but those along with the happier memories all contributed to the grounding theme of my childhood dinner table and set a precedent for me.
My husband had a similar experience growing up in his family, so we both have committed to television-free dinners. We have to work at it (and sometimes I slip here) but we also try to ensure we don’t bring phones to the dinner table. If we play a clip on a laptop, it’s a YouTube to share with everyone else. (Sometimes dinner DOES need to stop for a video of a cat petting a pig’s head as they nap together, right?) Each family dinner begins with a prayer; sometimes our daughter Ellianna says the prayer now too. We also try to makes sure that what goes on our table is nourishing to our health and well-being. We buy organic (no chemical) foods for the most part, and focus on fruits and vegetables and protein.We also love a good treat and to celebrate special occasions. I’ll never forget when my husband rigged a small chocolate fondue pot using a bowl, two cans and a candle for Valentine’s Day.While schedules don’t always allow us to all sit down to dinner, but we have more dinners together than not.
The memories of my childhood dinner table nudge me to consider my own dinner table and the tone it sets for my family. I want to be present for them, to serve them (and to be served -many times my husband and Ellianna serve me something they’ve made together). I want to come to the table ready to engage with some of the dearest ones in my life and not to miss the opportunity to build memories in these simple, precious and fleeting moments.
The dinner table is a symbol of sharing life together: to celebrate, to take time in the day to pause and thank God for our abundance, and for each other. It is an opportunity to look our loved ones in the eyes and really “see” them, to hear the things that matter to them; to connect, to share stories and laugh heartily. It’s a place where we can nourish our bodies with whole foods and serve one another. To think about the dinner table and what it represents in your home is a simple way to examine the essence of life and how you and your family are experiencing it and will remember it.
Recipes from my Mom’s Dinner Table:
Delightful Poppy Seed Dressing
- 1 1/2 cups raw honey
- 4 tsp sea salt
- 1 1/3 cup raw, organic apple cider vinegar
- 4 cups organic safflower oil
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup water
Mix honey, vinegar, and water in blender. Slowly add oil, keeping the blender on low. Continue blending until dressing is starting to get thick. Stir in poppy seeds. Refrigerate. Dressing keeps for weeks
Grapefruit Poppy Salad
- Washed butter lettuce leaves
- Avocado, cubed
- Grapefruit (peeled and sectioned, only the membrane)
- Sunflower seeds, lightly toasted and salted
- Delightful Poppy Seed Dressing
Place lettuce leaves on individual plates. Top with avocado and grapefruit. Sprinkle on sunflower seeds. Drizzle with poppy seed dressing. Serve with whole grain garlic bread for a delicious and complete meal.