Filmmaker and journalist Miriam Weinstein says, "What if I told you that there was a magic bullet—something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children's chances of success in the world, your family's health, our values as a society? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce and within the reach of pretty much anyone?" Weinstein goes on to share what you may have already guessed—this “magic bullet” is a meal shared with families and community (from “The Surprising Power of Family Meals,” published in 2005).
I grew up in a home where my mom made dinners most nights for our family. The consistency of sitting down at the table with my family served as a mooring in my life, a place where I could always find safe harbor. I realize we live in a day where a nightly ritual like this may not be possible for everyone. But creating time for regular gatherings around homemade meals is important for more reasons than one—even if we can only pull this off every so often.
Cooking Improves Our Health
It won’t come as any surprise that when we choose the ingredients we cook with and prepare them the way we want, we have more power over what we put in our bodies. We also have more control over portion sizes. And think of the handy leftover options that can easily be taken to work or school the next day.
Cooking not only allows us to have more control over our health, but the cooking process itself can also be fulfilling and therapeutic. The key is remembering that cooking doesn’t have to be fancy or gourmet. Using whole ingredients that are fresh and seasonal whenever possible makes for surprisingly delicious meals. And those are just some of the obvious health benefits of cooking.
Cooking Helps Deepen Community
For me, cooking meals is as much about the physical benefits as it is about the soul benefits. My friend, Teresa Blackburn, a food and photography stylist, recently said that for her food isn’t the main motivator; rather it’s the people around the food. There is simply nothing like sitting down with another person, or group of people, and fellowshipping over a meal. When I leave a dinner party I almost always get into my car thinking, “I really needed that.” And I’m typically not thinking about the amazing Bolognese sauce or berry trifle, although maybe I needed those, too. What I needed was the conversation, community and place of belonging.
One of the main reasons behind writing“A Place at the Table” was the hope of getting people together and encouraging us to offer others a place at our own tables. When we open our homes and serve our guests (even the simplest of meals), we’re participating in God’s gift of community. Sometimes this means sharing a meal with Christ-followers, and other times it means eating with those who may not yet know him. Jesus also speaks in Luke 14 about inviting people into our homes who have no way to pay us back. No matter who is at our table, when the love of Jesus is present, we get to share in the joy of participating in his redemptive work. And this is not just nourishment for our bodies, but it also nourishes our souls.
Cooking Empowers Us
Cooking can be intimidating, especially when cooking for others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve panicked the day of a dinner party because I was afraid the chicken would be too done or not done enough, or the dessert wouldn’t set or the water wouldn’t boil fast enough. But when you pull off a meal for your family, spouse or friends—even if you burned the pine nuts along the way—there’s a sense of achievement and empowerment that comes along with such a feat. Plus, it gives you the confidence to try something a little more challenging the next time.
If Jesus has called us to anything, he’s called us to be servants. I’ve always thought of preparing and cooking meals and opening our homes as some of the most natural and meaningful ways we can serve others. If we can overcome our fears of messing up a dish or not having our homes quite right, we’ll be empowered in new ways to nourish the people around us. Not to mention, it’s a great feeling to be able to walk into a pantry with only a few ingredients and be able to pull off a meal 30 minutes later. This is possible for anyone with a desire to cook and be in community. You just have to be willing to try your hand in the kitchen and make a few mistakes.
Cooking Makes Us More Grateful
Whenever food is overly convenient or plentiful we tend to not appreciate it as much as something we took our time preparing. We may enjoy the fast food meal we grabbed at the drive-through window, but we won’t savor it the way we will the food we shopped for, chopped, cooked and served.
I’m reminded of an afternoon I was in the Amazon jungle and a native pastor’s wife, Maria, welcomed me into her home. She was serving chicken for dinner and asked me to stay. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the chicken she was serving wasn’t dead yet. It was roaming around her backyard, minutes from having its head snapped off. The energy and care Maria put into this bird, from birth to chicken soup, was a far cry from my running to the refrigerated aisle of the grocery store to buy two boneless skinless breasts. This offered me perspective.
While most of us will never have to cultivate our food, harvest it, cook it and finally eat it for survival, my hope is that we’ll hang onto the cooking piece. Because what I simply cannot get away from—and what has changed me over the years—is that food is a blessing, and cooking is an invitation for us to be involved in that blessing. When we cook, we’re more grateful for God’s gift of food. We’re more connected to the miracle of his creation. And lastly, sharing the meals we make with others is one of life’s greatest joys. At least I think so.
Kelly Minter is passionate about teaching the Bible. When she’s not singing, writing, or speaking, you can find her picking homegrown vegetables, enjoying her six nieces and nephews or riding a boat along the Amazon river with Justice & Mercy International. A Southern transplant, she delights in college football, long walks, and a diner mug of coffee with her closest friends.
Check out Kelly’s cookbook, A Place at the Table: Fresh Recipes for Meaningful Gatherings, available on Amazon, LifeWay.com or anywhere books are sold.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Rawpixle