With the push for healthy food, the restrictions of rising food allergies, and their hectic schedules, many women find cooking a meal at the end of the day to be a burden that is simply too much to bear, so says Amanda Marcotte writing for Slate. No wonder we have such a love-hate relationship with our kitchens.
In her article, “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Family Meal,” she concluded that it may be time for our home-cooked dinners to come to an end. If cooking is a burden for everyone (women especially), and most of the family would rather eat out anyway, why not just go for takeout? Some responded that Marcotte has missed the point entirely and that a family meal actually has important things to offer our society.
Studies show that a meal shared around a table, especially a home-cooked one, does much for our families and our society. It can help curb childhood obesity, thus preventing diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses. It can delay a child’s exposure to harmful influences like pornography and premarital sex. It can foster family relationships and help a child perform better in school. The family meal is a hallmark of a healthy culture. There is a wholesome Norman Rockwell-like image to sitting down and eating together.
But we need not throwback to a time before baking mixes and frozen dinners to feed our families. And as Christians, our decision to cook or call for a pizza doesn’t hinge on an appetite for nostalgia, but a desire to serve and love the people who sit around the table.
In my family of six, Mom would cook hotdogs and macaroni and cheese. She’d dish out leftovers. On special nights, she’d make one of the kids’ favorite meals. This was hardly gourmet. Some nights took more work than others, but it was consistent. Even then, part of me thought it was too labor-intensive, cooking every night.
I eventually came to love cooking—then came two babies that keep me too busy to play around with recipes or do anything too elaborate in the kitchen. The joy of cooking many days is nowhere to be found. Sometimes it’s homemade tacos—everyone’s favorite—and sometimes, it’s a Hot-N-Ready pizza.
As Marcotte argues, where the meal comes from doesn’t always matter. Regardless of how it arrives, I serve my family by putting food on the table. Providing food for our families isn’t about showing off with a Pinterest recipe or adding another task to our endless to-do lists. Instead, as Christians, when we see our labors as acts of service, the meal takes less focus and the people we are providing for becomes the primary focus.
It’s easy to view our efforts to feed those outside of our home as acts of service and see the feeding of those on the inside as just “what we do.” We even have a word for it—entertaining or hospitality. We extend such grace to honored guests, but our families are the first guests we ever receive. Cooking for our families is about gathering a community, fostering love and affection, and enjoying the gifts that God has given us.
A meal together is more about togetherness and service. It’s about feeding weary souls, meeting basic needs, and showing our kids that we are there for them. Even Jesus saw the importance of gathering for a meal with his disciples and friends, as it was a regular part of his ministry to others (Matt. 9:10, Matt. 14:13-21, Matt. 26:17-30, Luke 7:36-38, Luke 19:5, John 21:12). It was in these settings that his most intimate teaching was done and where his humility as our servant king was evidently seen.
A shared meal, an effort put forth, an inviting kitchen are all drawing us into community. As Jen Pollock Michel says in the recent Her.meneutics e-book Crave:
Our efforts matter for our families. If I didn’t prepare the traditional puffed apple pancake for Christmas breakfast, I’d have holiday mutiny on my hands. “But it’s Christmas!” What all that mouth-watering expectation points to is the importance of tradition. Traditions have a way of rooting us in a particular time and place; they birth in us a sense of belonging.
When we provide for our families through even the most basic meal we are telling them that they matter to us. We are telling them that their lives have value. We are telling them that we want them in our lives. At the end of the day our children may not remember what we made them to eat, but they will remember how we gave them what they ate.
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