This week, as many of us are gearing up to get back into the routine of school, I thought I would share a bit about our quest to develop good dinnertime traditions.  We fell off the wagon a bit this summer, and we’re really trying to get back into the routine of not only eating together at the table together, but of making use of the time as a family bonding experience. Dinners with four small kids can be hectic, and sometimes it feels like more work than it’s worth. But this is one of those long-haul practices. I’m hoping the time I’m putting in now to develop mutual enjoyable family meals will mean they will want to come back to them as adults.

We are trying to develop habits that are meaningful. Over the next few days I’m going to talk about some of them: lighting candles for others, table talk, keeping a gratitude journal, the manners candle, and reading. But today I want to talk about our first ritual: prayer. Starting meal with a prayer is a pretty common tradition. I like it because it makes us pause to be thankful, and also signifies the beginning of the meal. With four hungry and impatient kids, it’s nice to have that ritual to signify when it’s time to eat (and when it isn’t).  I feel like it sets the tone for the meal. We usually have our children pray spontaneously. That is a part of our faith tradition. But there are some nice rote prayers that you could use if you prefer more structure. This is a simple, casual prayer for mealtimes that is easy for children to memorize:

For food that stays our hunger, For rest that brings us ease, For homes where memories linger, We give our thanks for these.

Another alternative suitable for children:

Thank you for the world so sweet, Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the birds that sing, Thank you God for everything.

If you aren’t the praying type, you could always recite a short meditation. A classic humanist alternative to a Christian prayer is this meditation from the humanist writer Nicolas Walter:

Let us think thrice while we are gathering here for this meal. First, let us think of the people we are with today, and make the most of the pleasure of sharing food and drink together. Then, let us think of the people who made the food and drink and brought it to us, who serve us and wait on us, and who clear up and clean up after us. Finally, let us think of all the people all over the world, members with us in the human family, who will not have a meal today.

For something shorter that children could memorize, here is a nice Buddhist meal gatha:

We receive this food in gratitude to all beings Who have helped to bring it to our table, And vow to respond in turn to those in need With wisdom and compassion.

Do you have a prayer or meditation when you begin a meal?