That's what the scriptures say isn't it? Well, not long ago we were asked to do a small thing by a couple of the Lord's apostles. Since I figured that they might know a little something about how the Lord works I was interested. So I paid attention. I mean I want "great things to come to pass" just as much as the next sister. And even I might be able to do something right if it's small enough.
Well, you know what it was? According to them, apostles of the Lord no less, it's important to eat meals regularly with our families, especially dinner.
Really? That does seem like a small thing doesn't it? And considering the realities of modern life....highly impractical. When I first heard this I wondered in my "raggedy convert" way how that could possibly be of eternal importance anyway. I mean we're talking burgers and meatloaf here.
I was still wondering the next day when I asked my 3rd period high school class what their favorite family dinner was. (Hey, it was only five minutes till the bell rang and 4th period was lunch!) There were about 12 kids, mostly seniors, all hanging in there to graduate despite their various disabilities.
One piped up right away with a mouth-watering description of his Nana's tamales and his mom's enchiladas that made us all hungry. He said they have these for every birthday, anniversary, graduation etc. when all the family gets together. (Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins etc.)
I said, "How often does that happen and can I get invited to the next one?
He replied, "Sure Mz Dub, two or three times a month at least. I'll ask my mom." He also shared another glowing description of his mom's spagetti, which he says they have at his house every Tuesday when it's just his family. I heard teenaged stomachs growling and somebody threw a pencil at him.
"What about the rest of you?" I asked the class, "What's your favorite family dinner on a weeknight?"
I was very surprised that every other student said they never ate with their families during the week. Not just seldom mind you. Never. There were lots of reasons for this....parents worked, everybody got home at different times.... it just wasn't convenient. Most didn't eat with their family on weekends either, except on rare special occasions.
"So, what do you do for dinner?" I asked.
Cereal, sandwich or microwave was the answer for most of them. A heated discussion on the virtues of "hot pockets vs ramen noodles" ensued. One girl gave her recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches. (Toast two pieces of bread. Unwrap a slice of cheese. Put it between the toasts and nuke it for 30 seconds.) Those with cars said they relied heavily on the dollar menu at the fast food places. That started an argument about Jack vs Mac. The bell rang before it was decided.
The class left and it was finally lunch so I unwrapped my peanut butter sandwich and thought that it was a little sad about their dinner situations. What could you do, though? That's modern life. I began to think about those modern lives as I chewed. Several of my kids had family members in prison..... fathers, mothers, brothers, or cousins. ( Not the "Tuesday was spagetti" kid though). In fact, a couple of them had a really close, personal working relationship with the juvenile justice system, complete with probation officers that I met with on a regular basis. (Not the Mom's enchiladas kid though) I recalled that one boy had spent the entire Thanksgiving break in the Durango county jail and was highly incensed, not because he'd missed his family Thanksgiving but because he'd planned to spend all four days getting wasted at parties. None of them lived with both parents. (Except for the Nana's tamales kid) One lived with his father and five brothers, each of them with different mothers. One sweet girl was pregnant but would graduate at the end of the semester before the baby was due. She lived in the projects with her mom, who worked two jobs to support them.
I began to think about the young man who ate spagetti every Tuesday with his family. His life was very different from the others. I knew this student's parents well and had even met his grandparents at one of the school games. They all were involved in this boy's life. I knew, too, that the culture in their family had included regular dinners together for more than one generation. It was just the way they did things. Could "small means" have made a big difference over the years? Is there something going on at dinner that I missed? Are we talking about more than meatloaf here?
This was still on my mind the next Sunday during Relief Society meeting, so I asked the sisters if they'd heard this "dinner together" counsel we'd been given. I also pointed out that I worked outside the home and that there was no possible way I had time to cook a fancy meal every night after the day I usually had! I believe I may have said, "Get real!"
The response was amazing. Some of it outraged, even. Boy, did I learn a lot!
First I learned that NOBODY has time to cook a fancy meal every day whether they work outside the home or not. Then I learned that, "It's not about the food, stupid." Apparently none of the apostles ever said a word about fancy meals. They just said to eat together as a family. One sister pointed out that nothing was mentioned against paper plates or "Taco Tuesday" from the local chain either. She says she serves them with bagged carrots, sliced cucumbers and ranch dressing which she counts as salad and that her family looks forward to it every week. Another sister says that any self-respecting LDS woman with half a brain could put a family meal on the table in 15 minutes anyway.
A deluge of dinner ideas followed. I'll share but the women who told me about them don't want their identities revealed. What people eat in the privacy of their own homes is highly personal. None of these meals would be featured on, or even admitted to, on the cooking shows. We're talking day to day, get the gang rounded up around the table, even when you just walked in the door 15 minutes ago, food. There's no arugula anywhere. Remember there's 365 days in a year and that can be a long winding road full of potholes. Here's a couple of the things they told me. Keep it quiet.
-- Sloppy Joes /Cottage cheese and pineapple/ The no peel raw veggie salad thing.
( I learned Joes are quicker and less trouble than burgers. Brown any ground meat, drain and mix with bottled BBQ sauce.) Use raw veggies that don't need peeling like those little carrots, celery, red bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini etc. Serve with ranch. Onion or sesame seed buns look better here. 10 minutes.
-- Can Can Chile and Cornbread (Boxed Crackers if the wolves are nipping at your heels.)
Brown 1-2 lbs of any gound meat. Or get 1-2 lbs ground meat out of the freezer because you forgot to do it this morning when you were rushing out the door. Put it in a pan with a little water, put the lid on and start cooking. Every now and then turn the frozen clunk over and break it up until all is browned. (Do this any time you forgot and need browned meat.)
Mix with 1 or 2 cans each of diced tomatoes, beans (like pinto or kidney), Hormel or other canned chile. Season with chile and garlic powders, heat, covered, while the cornbread bakes. Add 1/2 can of creamed corn to each box of mix, by the way. 15 minutes.
-- $5 Pizza from the pizza store / Bagged fancy salad (Alright there might be some arugula.) /Peach sundaes (Vanilla ice cream, topped with sliced peaches and a sprinkle of brown sugar) 5 minutes.
-- "Crock pot" Put something in it before you leave home. Serve with crescent rolls or biscuits from a fridge--3 minutes when you get home plus baking.
*Big Crockpot Bonus
The crockpot will make the house smell good. One sister reports her son said that when he comes home from school or practice and smells dinner cooking, "It feels like a hug."
Several sisters said that their ovens have a "delay start" feature that makes it possible to place even frozen stuff in there and it will magically start cooking later so it will be ready at dinnertime. Comes with the "dinner smell hug" bonus too. (I looked. I think mine has that. Who knew?)
The list went on and on. The point being that since this "small means" might end up making a big difference it's worth a little thought and planning. More than one woman said that presentation means a lot when serving simple dinners like these. One bought a set of those plastic baskets they use at burger places. She uses them on burger, Joe, or hot dog nights. She buys bakery buns with sesame seeds, not the cheap ones. She says it doesn't take any more time and makes a big difference. She has a special red and white checked tablecloth for those occasions too. Everybody gets a root beer on those nights and she's been called the " best cook in the world" by her six year old.
Every woman there said that a well stocked pantry and freezer make ten minute meals way easier. One smart lady says she cooks large amounts of pasta, brown rice, and dry beans on Saturdays, puts them in zip locks and keeps them in the fridge or freezer for almost instant stir frys or spagetti. She buys big bags of stir fry veggies at the big box store to avoid peeling, and lots of boneless chicken on sale which she slices and puts in freezer bags in meal sized portions. She freezes the meat flat so it defrosts in the microwave in a couple of minutes. You'll need those cans of fruit, and packages of cornbread mix too. Also, when at the grocery make sure you buy plenty of "instant salad and sides." Don't get caught with your pantry down.
Another sister said she was really helped by the advice of the BYU cooking show lady who said to have dinner at the same time each night no matter who's at home. Forget coordinating schedules, because chances are you can't. Sometimes everybody will be there, sometimes not. Whoever is there "connects." And, no matter where they may be, the whole family knows its dinnertime and that people who love them are gathered.
One lady said that their family always prayed for any missing persons when asking the blessing on the food. Her teenaged son once told her that whenever he looked at the gym clock at 6 PM during practice, he knew that his family was having dinner together and that they'd just prayed for him.
That might be an important thing for a 16 year old to know don't you think?
Small means. Sure. But just burgers and meatloaf going on here? I don't think so. Maybe it's about the connections that make the difference. Maybe it's the encouragement and comfort we give each other as we pass the potatoes. Maybe it's about laughter, love, belonging and family, and about being able to count on it regularly.
I'm not sure what it is, but the brethren have me convinced that great things could come to pass when we have dinner with the people we love. How about you?