By Chef Centehua
Dinner time in our home is our sacred time. In my opinion, it is one of the most intimate experiences we can enjoy as a family as well as a community. Food brings people together: it is communion between people that we care for. When we break bread together, we are sharing much more than physical nourishment; we are sharing in spiritual sustenance as well, for I really believe that man does not live on bread alone but is truly nourished by the love shared in relationship with family and friends.
The dinner table also connects us to the earth. When we close our eyes for a moment before we partake in our feast, we ponder the sacrifice made. Whether animal or vegetable, a lot of work and resources are needed to make every meal possible. The practice of giving thanks makes a lot of sense to us. When we are grateful, our immune system gets a boost and every cell literally becomes more receptive to the nutrients in food. Now, we are not of a particular faith and we are not subscribed to any religion or dogma, and none is needed in order for us to bow our heads and tune in to the present moment. We can feel our connection to the earth, acknowledge how blessed we are and celebrate our gathering with a grateful heart.
I have found that the dinner table is not very common in our present culture. Many families eat while watching TV, or they eat at different times and miss out on real human connection and intimacy. Studies have shown that children in families that have dinner together more than three times a week are less likely to smoke, use drugs, suffer depression, suicide, etc. The more a family eats together, the better the experience, the richer the conversations and the more the kids will feel like important members of their culture.
The dinner table provides the grounds to establish and cultivate mindfulness and appreciation. We encourage everyone sitting at the table to be mindful of their language and the topic of conversation. When needed, we give each other gentle reminders about our difference in age and needs. I really think the dinner table is a place where we become appreciative and present, so conversations are to be inclusive and uplifting for all but still a safe place for subjects to be discussed and feelings honored.
Oftentimes, the food takes all our awareness, and we have moments of silence where we collectively enjoy every bite and have no need to speak. That is usually my intention, to make yummy and nutrient rich foods as simple or as gourmet but tasty enough to awaken the senses. At dinner time I like to leave the world outside and enter into that sacred place where all that matters is our union and our love. This is why I really think that taking a few moments to breathe and find stillness before our meal is an important practice to quiet the mental activity and center in our hearts.
I really look forward to dinner, not just because I love food, but rather because I feel the need to center and slow the day. We are busy and filled with activities and responsibilities. We get up and go to school, go to work, go run errands, go, go, go! Finally evening comes, and I am in the kitchen preparing a delicious meal that will nourish and comfort my family. It takes time and energy to cook food, so the intention that goes into the meal is of vital importance. Food is another way to say “I love you,” “I want us to thrive together,” “I want you to feel your best and be healthy.” Great alchemy happens in the kitchen and we don’t even know it, but that is why we feel so alive and nourished by a homemade meal made with love … In my opinion, it is the love that really makes it all good.
I’ll be honest: sometimes it is challenging for me to focus after a busy day. Perhaps I feel emotional or tired, so instead of rushing to the kitchen out of responsibility, I take time to settle down. I take five or ten minutes to sit quietly and breathe slowly and become relaxed. I will ask the kids not to disturb me for that time, as I need a few minutes to myself. The kids are receptive and see Mom taking care of herself. I have found that by simply asking for what I need, I am cultivating self love and I am then able to shift my mood gracefully. I think that, as moms, sometimes it’s easy to lose oneself in service and, while that is a beautiful and very noble role, we must not forget to take care of ourselves. I also enjoy a cup of herbal tea while I prepare food, and I will often bring in flowers from our garden to inspire and add beauty to the evening.
I will also add that, besides the strengthening of bonds that are cultivated at the dinner table, there are also other quite important and subtle lessons. We grow a lot of our food, so the kids will eat what we grow and this helps them understand how to close the nutrient cycle and why we are having kale again. Garden to table provides the opportunity for deeper connection to our sustenance. Also, every child is asked to wash his/her dish after dinner. They know that it took time and effort to make dinner and that mom greatly appreciates the help cleaning up. Service is being available to love, and love is the best motivator. We don’t bargain with our kids or bribe them to get them to help. It is simply what we do: we help each other out. Dad will lead by example and praise the chef while picking up and encouraging the kids to tidy up so mom can rest.
Dinner time is a family affair and strengthens us on many levels — spiritually, mentally and emotionally. It is my favorite time of day, even on those challenging days. Evening comes and I feel grateful, for if we have food and family, we have health and love and, in my opinion, we then have it all.