Thursday, August 5, 2010

Grace Before Meals Offers Healthy Servings of Ideas & Recipes for Family Mealtimes

Father Leo Patalinghug,well-known cooking priest, who defeated Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Throwdown,” has a new version of his book, Grace Before Meals,  as part of his ministry ( to strengthen family relationships around the dinner table.

So let me start by saying, bless us, Father Leo, for our family has sinned:

Sometimes, we eat fast food in the minvan.
Sometimes, we don’t eat together. 
Sometimes we eat in front of the television (but it’s always an educational show, I promise you—“ The Next Food Network Star” and “Gilligan’s Island” count as educational shows, right?).
Some of us eat pie for breakfast, when there’s pie around.
Some of the younger of us don’t like to stay seated.

I’m sure we’re not the only family to break the rules of what constitutes a “good dinner” or a “good meal.”   That’s why Grace Before Meals is such a great resource.

Grace Before Meals is not a “rule book,” but encouragement and some great tools to challenge families to gather around the table and create special traditions regarding mealtime.   Themed chapters focus on traditions and recipes for different times, from the common (New Year’s Day, Mother’s Day), to the not-so-common (sports teams, the Feast of the Sacred Heart).

Many things make this book worthwhile to have on your cookbook shelf, but two features stand out:

*First, the recipes.  While some are not exactly health-conscious, they are largely made with wholesome natural ingredients.  Available in the new version of Fr. Leo’s book is the secret recipe for his “fusion fajitas” with which Father Leo beat Bobby Flay on “Throwdown.”  My only “beef”  (pun intended) is that there are not photos of the finished dishes, something I love in cookbooks.

*Second, the “Let’s Talk…Let’s Listen” section at the end of each chapter.  The questions are great conversation starters, and “Let’s Listen” provide some scripture verses to look up and share regarding the topic.

For instance, in the Father’s Day meal section, questions include, “Do you think it’s harder to be a mom or a dad? Why? “ and “Which television fathers are the most realistic?”

Recently, I was part of a conversation with a group of moms about whether the old-fashioned “family dinner” is required for connected, happy family life.   Why not other mealtimes, like breakfast, or other activities, like game nights or excursions, to build closeness?

G.K. Chesterton, a man who clearly loved meals, pointed out, that meals are sacred, but so is all of life:

“You say grace before meals.  All right.  But I say grace before the play and before the opera, and grace before the concert and the pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

As Chesterton says, it’s not an either/or.  Family connections can be built around any sort of activity, though there’s something unique about cooking and mealtimes that foster connection and conversation. 

The cooking and the mealtimes are going to look different in every family, and Grace Before Meals reminds us to make those family connections and conversation a priority. 

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