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There's an old saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think that the stomach, for all of us, is actually quite a powerful portal. Which brings me to my Facebook post last weekend.
Sometimes I’m surprised by the things that get people talking on Facebook.
Last Saturday, after posting what I thought were some “introspective” or “profound” observations about life and love – along with some pictures of my girls from our family’s traditional Valentine’s Day Mystery Dinner – I posted a little question about food.
And my Facebook feed exploded (figuratively speaking) over the next two days.
Here is that simple post:
The responses were varied, including a bunny trail about favorite Atari games on that revolutionary early-80s console. (How could anyone forget the thrills of Pitfall and Frogger?)
But there were also some great comments about food and family memories.
One friend commented that Puerto Rican food was “home” for her. Another admitted that lamb always got him talking about his grandmother. Twinkies. Ovaltine. Fried potatoes and peas with gravy. Fried potatoes and pinto beans. Chicken and dumplings. Tuna noodle casserole. All these foods and more made an appearance.
Each post made me smile, because I could tell that the memories these foods evoked were making my friends smile, too.
I realized that my post wasn’t really about food – it was about family memories.
That got me thinking: What memories am I making with my kids and food? What are the occasional treats that bring joy to my family? Are there special or silly meals that help create a sense of “who we are” as a family?
One tradition my wife and I started a few years ago is a Valentine’s Day Mystery Dinner at home for our girls. Instead of having a date on one of the busiest nights to go out, we celebrate as a couple either before or after Valentine’s Day. We stay in on the night itself, and our girls dress up and wait in the office while I come one at a time to escort them to the table.
My wife, Michelle, and I then serve as both waitstaff and cooks, while the girls try to decipher the "mystery menus" (each item of the meal is renamed something based on the theme).
That’s just one example. It’s fun, but a little complicated. And it definitely requires some planning.
Yet making memories with food doesn’t have to be complicated.
Learn what foods your children like, and look for opportunities to weave them into the daily menu – sometimes with a wink and a hug.
Use an inexpensive treat (like an item on a fast-food dollar menu) as an occasional surprise.
Get some of that sugary cereal you never buy because it’s expensive – and, well, sugary – and make it an occasional “treat” breakfast a few times a year.
Whatever you do, remember that every day, even in the mundane moments, the environment we create with food, fun and being together often leaves lasting memories.
Someday, our kids will reminisce with their kids about those same memories. And we might be surprised by what makes the list of the most memorable of memories.
Maybe even a hard salami sandwich, some chips and a Pepsi.
So, what foods make you nostalgic? And how do you use food, meals or treats to create memories with your kids?
By the way, if you want some tips on making meals a more effective family time, check out our Facebook page called Make Every Day Count. Research shows that dinners together just four times per week improve the health and well-being of families. Check it out!
Leon Wirth (@LeonCWirth) is a contributor for Dad Matters and the Executive Director of Parenting & Youth at Focus on the Family.
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When my dad would head off to hunting camp, my mom would also take a little "retreat" from the kitchen. She would set my sisters and I up in a semi-circle in front of the TV (a treat in and of itself), put the little metal TV trays in front of us and give us each our own Swanson's "TV dinner". I'm not sure what grade that meat can be considered, the mashed potatoes may have actually been 40% recycled cardboard, and the cherry cobbler invariably overflowed into the oven setting off a smoke trail akin to an old western movie but those were some of the most cherished food memories for this pre-school-aged crew.
I love the story of the TV dinners with your mom! That's a great way of doing meals differently for a short period of time or a special occasion that really makes good memories!! Thanks for sharing!
I should have added to my post that my dad now is known for his family recipe BBQ pork ribs! My girls' first question when we go back to the Midwest to see family is "Will grandpa BBQ some ribs?" (Of course they may have heard me ask him that request many times!)