Here’s what counts: family members gathering around a shared table, catching up, laughing, talking and eating together.
You can help set the stage for these special, everyday times with a few simple touches:
Tablecloth. This makes a big difference in atmosphere, believe it or not. Dishes and silverware are quieter on a cloth-draped table. You can get creative with the visual presentation, using color, prints and texture. Get a variety of tablecloths. I usually check out the clearance aisle at the discount store for them. You can use a twin sheet or even a quilt.
Centerpiece. Even one flower in a vase makes it special. Use seasonal items—ceramic snowmen in winter, mini-pumpkins in the fall, a potted ivy in spring, cut flowers in summer. Little ones can make a Lego sculpture or arrange Hot Wheels cars. Look around the house for new ideas for a beautiful (or cheerful or funny) table. Even leaves and rocks can make an interesting focal point.
Candles. Now we’re talking atmosphere. Big, fat pillars, graceful tapers, round balls, tea lights, ceramic holders, crystal candlesticks—the more, the better. Candlelight calms little ones, creates a peaceful scene and says “special.” Even if you leave the lights on and serve a pot of chili, candles are a nice way to add a little extra zing to the table.
In addition to these simple touches, mix it up occasionally. Have a “theme” meal. Mexican food with a bright tablecloth, Mexican music in the background, individual salsa dishes, tortilla chips in baskets. Italian food with a red checked cloth, candles in green bottles, and “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp playing. Have some fun with it!
Occasionally pull out the china and good silverware. If you don’t have any, go to the dollar store and buy some fun new plates, enough place settings for your family. They are usually available to match the current season and it’s always fun to eat on new dishes. If you have to, buy gorgeous paper plates and napkins!
Try new recipes, especially if you’re in a rut. A note of caution: start small. Don’t make an all-new recipe with questionable ingredients the main dish with little else to eat. Don’t force new foods or have an attitude of “you’ll eat it or else.” Nothing spoils a family meal faster than harshness or forced eating.
Children love it when “we always.” We always use the red checked tablecloth when we have chili, we always have this on Fridays, we always surprise Daddy with candles. It gives them a nice feeling of childhood security that they’ll look back on with fondness.
Above all, keep it simple and doable. Having family meals together is truly important, but not at the expense of stressing out Mom. Just remember that going the second mile is where the fun begins. It doesn’t take much more effort to spread a cloth and light a candle than it does to throw plates on a bare table, but the payoff is enormous.
You don’t have to have children at home to make meals special. Even if you’re eating alone you can choose the prettiest glass and light a candle. Nurture your own need for beauty—it’s food for the soul.
Try it this week and see the difference some special meals can make!