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I just finished dinner with my family and thought it would be an appropriate time to write this post.  One of my loyal readers contacted me and suggested I write about the importance of family meal time. First, I have to give you 2 important small town definitions:

Supper: meal eaten at home. What do you want for supper?

Dinner: meal eaten at a restaurant. Where do you want to go out for dinner?

Supper time was protected time growing up in Republic, Ohio. No matter what activities we had going on, we made time for a family meal. My mom was a pro at coming up with quick meals that were mostly prepared before work and could be easily finished by her teenage kids and husband while she was on her way home from work. I didn’t realize how weird some of the things I ate growing up were until I told my big city friends about them. A few memorable foods:

Hamburger gravy – This was ground beef cooked in some sort of gravy, served on top of boiled potatoes, which was then topped by applesauce. A regular staple in our home. I have never made it since moving out (sorry, mom).  

Liver and onions – I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.

Home grown vegetables – I didn’t eat a canned vegetable from a store until I went to college. Living on 150+ acres meant plenty of room for a garden. All summer we harvested green beans, peas, red beets, carrots, peppers and corn and canned or froze them to be eaten the rest of the year.

Beyond the memorable food were the memorable conversations we had at supper. It was time to talk about what happened at school and work that day. We learned at the family dinner table that jobs and bosses can be tough. We also learned that our parents cared a whole lot about what was going on in our lives. We brainstormed solutions to problems we were facing. We talked about upcoming events, performances and trips. While no single story is singed in my memory, I remember staying at the table to talk long beyond when our plates were clean. I remember laughing until we cried.

I’ve brought the importance of family mealtime with me throughout life. In college, I had dinner with my roommates. When my husband and I were newlyweds, it would have been easy for us to order pizza and sit in front of the TV to eat, but we never have. We’ve always had a weekly meal plan, a trip to the grocery store, and food prep time. Today, we still sit at the same table we bought for our first 800 square foot apartment with our two daughters for breakfast and supper. We are a healthy and happy family because of this focus for the past 14 years.

I asked each member of the family for his or her favorite meal. Here are the recipes:

Mary Beth (age 7) – Roast Beef. Specifically this Mississippi Roast.

Katie (age 4) – Lasagna. We use the recipe found on the Barilla pasta box.

Husband RobSpicy Sausage Pasta

Natalie – Swedish Meatballs – All small town girls rely heavily on the treasured recipes from the church cookbook. This one is found in the St. John’s United Church of Christ (Tiffin, Ohio) cookbook. authored by my mom.

A quick story about the evolution of swedish meatballs during my marriage. I was excited to make this recipe for Rob soon after we were married. I told him it was one of my mom’s best meals. I carefully prepared the meal and we sat down to eat. As we both took our first bites, we looked at each other in confusion. Me, because it didn’t taste anything like when my mom made it, and my husband because he was worried about what he was in for if this was my ‘favorite meal’. I quickly told him that something must have went wrong because this tasted nothing like my mom’s recipe. He sighed in relief. I didn’t give up and over time have perfected the recipe. We relive that experience every time we have this meal.  

You can check out my Pinterest board for more dinner inspiration. The appropriately titled folder “Recipes to make again” are things our family would recommend to yours.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: There is always time to eat as a family. Putting away devices and turning off the TV allows us to tune into quality family time. It is a time for children to learn how to communicate with their parents and time for all family members to practice being good listeners.

How do you make family mealtime work for you? What is your family’s go-to recipe?


Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.


  • Louise says:

    Great post! Meal time with my 17 year old starts at the grocery store. It’s certainly more fun than the chore of going alone! I have a similar Swedish meatball recipe from my hometown church cookbook too! Love my cookbooks from “the good ole days” 🙂

    • Natalie says:

      Thanks Louise! My girls have always been cart-riders at the grocery until recently. They decided the kids area at Giant Eagle would be more fun – a bit bittersweet!

  • Cindy Kane says:

    Thanks, Natalie, for taking me up on writing about country meal times. I served Katie’s lasagna recipe. It turned out great and fed a large crowd. I want to try Rob’s spicy sausage pasta. Thanks for the links to recipes.

    I love family meal times. Unfortunately, due to work schedules that never coincide, my husband and I can only share a meal together on Sundays. Maybe because it only happens once a week, but those have been the most enjoyable and relaxing meals, full of wonderful conversation about everything that has been going on all week. Keep those family meal times going!

    • Natalie says:

      Cindy – I’m so happy you tried one of the recipes! Even thought your family meal times aren’t frequent, it sounds like you make the most of them!!

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