The Mealtime Movement

I have often heard that families are created around the dinner table. That the most important hour of the day is 6pm, that we must take pause and say grace and eat the potatoes together, evening after evening, without fail, no matter what, forever and ever, Amen.

Dinner time is sacred, it has been written.

And it is sacred, of course, but I don’t think it is sacred because of the hour, or the table setting, or the menu.

I think it is sacred if, and only if, you choose to see it as sacred.

At noon, when the clock changes hands, we do, too. I work in the morning; Ken hangs out with Bee. And at noon, we switch, but not before our own sacred mealtime.

There’s no menu, not really. We cut produce and open the jelly jar, make some toast, grab some hummus. Bee moves from the counter to the stool, the stool to the counter, an endless waltz of toddler energy, a booming soundtrack of her latest adventures. Sometimes she wants a story, This time about a hedgehog, please, but wait, how big was the hedgehog? No, I want him smaller. And I want his name to be Margaret. No, Stewart. No, Margaret Stewart the Third.

Some days, we forget the sacred. We focus on the list, the mess, the dishes, the doldrums.

But other days, on the ones we make orange smiles and tell another hedgehog story and feast for three minutes or thirty, whatever time allows? On those days, our laughter is the sun.

I used to think the only way to do family dinner was around the table. I didn’t see nourishment anywhere else, in any way other than a steaming pot roast at 6, and pass the salt, please.

But now I know better.

To the mother passing wrapped sandwiches – 2 no meat, 1 no onion, 1 with everything, hold the pickles – in a van full of kids on their way to football practice and violin lessons and drama club: sacred mealtime.

To the father flipping grilled cheese on the skillet at 2am while warming formula for the baby: sacred mealtime.

To the toddler filling her own! bowl! of! cereal! for the first time: sacred mealtime.

To the college kid reheating cold rice in his dorm fridge: sacred mealtime.

To you and me, to the sticky fingers and the ketchup stains, or the absence of both: sacred mealtime.

To the ones you love, to the ones you don’t understand, to the ones you’re fighting with or grieving with or working toward: sacred mealtime.

To the ones you keep showing up for, keep cutting apples for, keep wiping crumbs from, keep passing butter to, keep refilling water for, keep spreading love and patience and jelly to: sacred mealtime.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” Oscar Wilde said this.

Meat and potatoes optional.

I have a friend who lights candles and plays music during each of her family’s meals. It makes the food taste better, she says.

I tried it, but the pizza still tasted like frozen pizza.

I don’t light candles, mostly. I don’t play music, mostly. I don’t do tablescapes, mostly, and I don’t do cloth napkins, mostly, and I’ve never met a napkin ring I understood, mostly.

But I do have some tips for a memorable meal, and they are simple, and they are not at all simple:

Love. Joy. Forgiveness.

(And also dessert.)


This essay was written for The J.M. Smucker Company, who has been bringing families together to share memorable meals and moments for over 115 years! Join the Mealtime Movement right here.


  • I love this online space you’ve shaped and created, Erin. I’m soaking in the simple beauty, the sweet grace, the practical creativity all in early this morning.

    It’s lovely here. And I’ll be back …

  • I absolutely love this essay. I have been trying to be more mindful of my meals; really tasting the food and savoring the company of who I am with. This summed it up perfectly.

  • yes, yes, yes, and yes!!!!! and I have to add that your daughter is beautiful. And my favorite line…”and on those days, our laughter is the sun.” YES!!!!

  • Oh, I love this once again. You always have a way of saying exactly what I wish I was capable of articulating. My “word” for 2016 is “rhythm,” and I’m still just exploring exactly what rituals/habits/etc. I hope to invite into my life this. Thank you so much for this inspiration as well as the just flat-out practical ideas for making mealtimes sacred. We’re already good about sitting down together for dinner most nights, but I’m eager to be more mindful and intentional about it.

  • Lovely thoughts. I enjoy reading this essay. Thank you! I am thinking about the people who are alone at 6 pm eating dinner. God bless them all!

  • Thanks for the reminder, Erin. I get frustrated because Forrest needs to eat by 6:30 before bedtime hits, I want to eat before that same bedtime ritual hits but I’m often eating something different, and my husband would happily eat sometime after 8:00pm so what do I make for us that lasts nicely – arrrgh! Tonight I’ll let go of the stress and frustration and remember we’re all together in the same house and that’s what matters. Thank you, thank you. xoxo

    • I have SO been there! Ken eats later than I do on most nights (he’s up later), and sometimes dinner looks like a short picnic in her room (just the girlies!) and others it’s a sit-down with everyone and others we’re all just standing around eating stuff from the counter. It’s not always consistent, but it’s just right for us. :)

  • You have such a beautiful way with words, and I so appreciate your ability to not only write the truth but to write it well! Always look forward to hearing what you have to say.

  • How I envy you! With a 22 month old that won’t stay in his high chair and eat unless you are also seated with him (and who in general has no favorite foods and will eat anything but only when he is hungry) and a niece who came to us 6 months ago with a weight problem and a list of about only 10 things she would eat (none of which were fruits and vegetables), dinner is a STRUGGLE. We have to have something healthy, something we will eat (so we can model stuff for our niece & son) and we have to eat together so that everyone gets fed. Also, the kids go to bed at 7:30, so we have to eat by 6 at the latest, which gives us about half an hour to cook after I get home from work. :-/ I WISH I could just put together a PBJ and have them sit down and eat it. But alas, we cannot. The single biggest change that has come with kids has been with food. We would eat between 8 and 9 every night and I would often cook for an hour before dinner. Cooking was my nap. I freaking love to cook. And now we eat so many trader joes frozen meals, canned soups and pasta with salad that it makes me all kinds of sad.

    • Oh Laura, I’m so sorry to hear this!!! It’s so hard when the things that nourish you (cooking a good dinner) don’t nourish your family (actually eating a good dinner). I’m hoping this is a short season and in the mean time, God bless Trader Joe’s, yeah?

      p.s. Oh how I grew up on canned soup! My mother worked as well, so it was Dinty Moore beef stew, canned tuna and sometimes frozen lasagna for our dinners! Wouldn’t have it any other way. ;)

  • We’re expecting our first, Little B, in March and something we have talked about is meal time. Granted for the first few months Little B’s meals are on demand [and certainly sacred] but my husband and I have pledged to eat together most mornings and most nights. The sacred for us comes in the cooking, even if that is opening the take out boxes together, and the quiet, we make sure the TV is off and phones are away. This post is a good reminder that meals are important for families at every stage and that connecting over food is one of life’s truest pleasures.

    • i love that you’re thinking ahead to this, and yay – congrats on your little one coming so soon!!!! :)

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