I round the corner into the kitchen carrying my shoes, having just turned off the bedroom light now that I’m ready for work. My two young daughters sit at the counter while eggs splatter away in the frying pan as my wife pulls out colorful plastic cups and plates—all to the singsong rhythm of my four-year-olds questions and comments. After a flurry of coffee-prepping and high-chair strapping, we sit down. I say a brief but genuine prayer of gratitude and grace to begin an ordinary yet extraordinary fifteen minutes of our family’s typical weekday: breakfast, together.
Though they may feel like a mundane necessity, family mealtimes together are a multi-purpose opportunity to honor biblical priorities for fathers. Consider this article as a humble dose of practical persuasion to make the most of your family mealtimes.
What does the Bible say?
The conscientious reader may ask, “Is eating our meals together as a family a biblical necessity?” The short answer is, “No.” We could scour the Scriptures for mealtime themes—God’s fellowship meal with the seventy elders at Sinai (Exodus 24:9–11), Christ’s feast-saving miracle at Cana (John 2:1–12), the resurrected Christ making and sharing a fish breakfast with His disciples (John 21), and the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). As a theme in Scripture, sharing a meal does establish and strengthen the relational bonds between God and man.
But we will find no mandate in the Bible how many daily meals a family should eat together, or what they should do with those times. What we will find is a biblical vision of family life that requires plenty of monologues and conversations, interspersed between—and pertaining to—countless shared life experiences (Deuteronomy 6:6–9; Ephesians 6:4). These plans, debriefs, short chats, and long talks, are the bread-and-butter of discipling children. And if you want to strengthen these habits in your home, “table time” can do some heavy lifting.
What follows are all suggestions for how we can make the most of our mealtimes.
If we are not careful, the best intentions for making the most of mealtime will fail if we don’t actually make it to the table together. Don’t miss the scheduling step! Discuss with your wife just how many mealtimes on a typical week you believe you should try to share together as a family.
No two families will have the same schedule, and it’s not always helpful to compare your mealtime habits to those of other families. But we can probably all agree that the more shared meals, the better for our families. And that requires some planning.
Things to Try
Here are a few ideas to help you improve your family mealtimes.
1. Try family breakfast.
Hear me out. If your work schedules at all allow it, try to sync up as a family at breakfast. First, the “breakfast appointment” helps everyone get moving in the morning. Second, it is a great time for dads and kids (or dads and stay-at-home moms) to sync up before parting ways. Share each other’s plans for the day; pray for God’s grace together; look each other in the eye.
2. Help out, Dad.
Some dads are super-chefs. Some dads (like me) can pour the drinks and set the table, be the one to get up in the middle of the meal when we need something (let your wife sit), or clear the table and help with the dishes. Whatever your domestic aptitude, doing something to help with the meal is a service opportunity you know you will have every day. Show your family you’re part of the team, not just a consumer.
3. Don’t keep mobile phones within reach.
Make mealtimes a non-phone zone. Of course, we want to avoid the cartoon of whole families sitting together and scrolling their apps independently. But furthermore, try to avoid answering calls or texts during this time. This is a moment each day in which you can demonstrate to your family that they have your full attention, and what is happening at the table matters more than whoever and whatever could be trying to reach you. (We can check our phones in 25 minutes. It can wait.)
4. Ask questions.
Within reason, almost any open-ended question is a good one, if it gets the family talking. “How was your day?” is a great start.
5. Let your kids talk.
I can easily want to talk out my own day with my wife at meals; but I need to let my kids talk, too. Listening to your kids shows love and care. Listen to them at the table!
6. Let your wife talk.
But sometimes Mom needs to talk, too. At least in our home, my wife has usually spent much of her day in kid-level conversations. Gently encourage your children to give mom the microphone sometimes.
7. Add on family devotions.
This is not an article about family devotions, but mealtimes are a great time to add it on. It also sets the tone for healthy spiritual conversation and discussion to happen at the table.
Just after 7:20 a.m., I get up from the table and sling my backpack onto my shoulder. Each girl (two daughters and my wife) get a kiss, a shoulder-squeeze, and an “I love you.” We see each other for about 10 minutes at the breakfast table, on a good day. We only pray once. We discuss maybe two or three topics. But multiplied over each week, month, year in the life of our family, this ordinary habit has powerful potential.
Family mealtimes can be valuable habits as we seek to honor God’s calling on us as dads. May we be wise in redeeming family mealtimes for the spiritual health of our families.
Growing Fathers Team
Caleb serves as Director of Worship at Northwest Valley Baptist Church in the Phoenix Metro area. He also heads the music department at Arrowhead Christian Academy, where he directs choirs, teaches a Bible class, and coordinates upper school chapel services. He and his wife, Heidi, have two young daughters, Charlotte and Anna.View all posts by Caleb