The following is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.
Over the summer, I let our meal planning routines slide. There were trips, food-laden events, picnics, and hot days that simply didn’t inspire me to cook. Now that we’re back into the school year routine, I’m working more, and my eldest has homework for the first time, so I needed to rethink our meal planning, cooking, and eating schedules.
I love cooking, but when I’m under pressure and have a ton to think about and do, it can sometimes feel like a chore. I re-evaluated my approach and discovered several things:
1. Last school year I put too much pressure on myself to serve a brand-new homemade meal every night. I would plan a full, from-scratch meal for every dinner, but I wouldn’t always manage to actually cook them because life sometimes gets too busy. I decided to stop feeling guilty about that and instead embrace a more simplified approach. And we always have leftovers anyway; most recipes are not designed for one adult and two small children.
2. I needed to plan for things like baking muffins, roasting almonds, and so on. Simply “intending” to do them one week doesn’t actually mean it gets done.
3. With my elder daughter’s new role as a homework-laden first grader, and both girls’ need to go to bed early, we can’t have the sort of relaxing family meals every night that I’d prefer. Sometimes we need things to be quick and easy, and this is just the way it is right now. But I wanted a way to mitigate the loss of quality family time.
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A weekly Sunday Feast
After some thought, I decided we’d start a weekly Sunday Feast ritual.
For us, a Sunday Feast looks like this:
It’s a mid-day meal. I’ve always liked the idea of eating the biggest meal of the day in the afternoon, but that doesn’t work for most of us anymore. I thought it would be fun to at least try it once a week.
It really is a bit of a feast. I cook something big (like a roasted chicken) along with copius side dishes, baked goods, and dessert. The early mealtime works better for this. The real reason for The Feast, however, is that I can prepare a long list of foods that we can then use as leftovers (for lunches, snacks, and one or two dinners later in the week).
It’s “fancy.” OK, it’s not really fancy, but it’s fancy by our standards. We eat at a well-appointed table, with a tablecloth, multiple candles, and whatever else is around that day. It’s in between a run of the mill weekly meal and a holiday dinner.
Like most days, the kids help me if they feel like it, and they often do.
It’s a meal made up of whatever is in the fridge. Counter to what you might expect, I don’t do an enormous shopping trip for The Feast. I do make sure we have something big, like a chicken, but most of the rest of what I make is intended as a means of making sure we’re using up what’s in the fridge.
So far this has meant a lot of things like carrot salad, homemade applesauce from slightly-soft apples forgotten in the bottom fridge drawer, and roasted veggies made from the various random bits of veggies left from other meals.
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Committing to a Sunday feast, committing to family time
I know this is not a new idea. People in many cultures have always eaten a special weekly meal. But I think this is increasingly rare with our busy lifestyles. Committing to a Sunday Feast means, first and foremost, committing to being home as a family from around noon or one until the end of the day. It means we don’t sign up for extracurriculars on that day, we don’t run around and do our errands, and we won’t be making many social plans unless they involve inviting friends over to feast with us.
Starting to cook in this way has really revolutionized the way I think about feeding my family. I now see Sunday as the anchor to the entire week’s eating. It’s the day I replenish our kitchen with ready-to-eat food that may not always be prepared on the day we eat it, but is at least still homemade. It’s a small compromise that keeps us with a constant supply of healthy food and away from pre-packaged snacks and meals.
And best of all, it’s fun! There really is something special about it. My girls enjoy it as much as I do. It’s also relaxing even though there’s so much cooking involved. On the first Sunday feast, I had my family fed, a fridge full of newly made homemade food, and a clean kitchen by 4:30 in the afternoon. I’ll take my excitement where I can get it.
What sorts of meal rituals do you share with your family? Do your family’s meals follow a weekly cycle?