Boy moms know that much of their time and energy can be spent on feeding hungry, growing boys. But have you ever considered it a ministry? In part 1 of our ‘Raising Teen Boys’ series, Marnie Hammar shares how a comment from her son helped her realize that her boys were not only craving the nourishment from the food itself but from the connection that comes from gathering together and filling both their bellies and souls.
My oldest thunked his soccer bag down on the counter, opened the fridge, and let out a slightly alarming sound that announced he was hangry. He needed a quick pre-practice snack. He circled the kitchen, from pantry to freezer to the fridge again as I listed ideas, most of which involved peanut butter and that banana sitting far too close to his cleats.
“Mom, why don’t you cook anymore?” he asked, as he shoved some utilitarian protein and calories in his mouth, and headed off to practice.
A few years earlier, I might have taken offense at this statement. I confess, I’ve been a reluctant meal planner. This making-the-food part of being a boy mama has been bumpy at times. I’m not a cooking-is-therapeutic person, and I hate how cooking leads to dirty dishes. Yet, God’s perfect plan for this family included the endless calling to feed three hungry boys. Over the years, after failing to make cereal an acceptable dinner, we’ve landed on a solid, perhaps even admirable, collection of home-cooked meals that are met with applause.
So as I stood in the kitchen that day, I felt joy and validation in what he didn’t even understand he’d just communicated to me at that moment. I did cook. He wasn’t starving. We had plenty of food in the house.
A Deeper Longing Revealed
No, there was more here. His expressed frustration told me of a deeper longing.
All three of my boys (16, 13, and 10) play sports year-round, which means that three to four times a week, dinner becomes a grab-and-go situation. To meet the demands of revolving car departures, our dinner rotation leans heavily on the crockpot and quick meals built around handheld protein: meatball subs, tacos, and anything we can grill and put in a bun.
The question, “Mom, why don’t you cook anymore?” communicated to me that my dear son was missing the kinds of meals that come on the slower days. He wasn’t complaining about my cooking. Rather, he was asking for a different kind of nourishment.
He was longing for the nourishment that comes not just from food, but also from connection.
FOOD IS A LOVE LANGUAGE
It’s no wonder there was longing. Hasn’t food been about connection, even from the very beginning?
The Early Years
In the baby years, the act of feeding and nourishing is inherently connected with bonding. Nursing and bottles are always delivered with snuggles, and tiny spoons full of rainbow-colored mush and rice cereal are offered with eye contact and praise. Then, in the toddler years, we present sectioned plates filled with foods cut into stars and triangles and place them on top of truck placemats. Every bite is centered on nurturing our little ones.
In the elementary years, as we pull out the flour and the sugar, we gain eager kitchen helpers who stand on chairs to crack eggs and pour vanilla. We plan themed meals together, like yellow food night, Mexican night, foods that start with “C” night, and our sweet assistants enjoy quality time before we even sit at the table.
The Teen Years
And then the teen years hit.
This is, I believe, when feeding boys becomes dramatically different from feeding girls. The way that boys enjoy heaping portions of chicken wings and seconds of all the carbs—and how they express audible excitement over macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes or strange foods like chicken fries—is innately different from how we girls enjoy our food. Mass quantities and increased frequency of caloric intake become a priority. As their schedules clog with activities, work, and friends, and the time for meals together squishes tight, sometimes meals look more like tossing protein and calories at them—like that pre-practice snack.
Food is Ministry
Food, then, is a love language for boys in two different ways. The offering of food is an entry to their hearts, but it’s just one part. While they’re filling their faces with the foods they love, we also have the opportunity to fill their souls with the connection they need. Our teens still need the connection that came so naturally in the early years—they just may not realize it.
Feeding these boys is a ministry.
WHAT’S ON THE TABLE DOESN’T MATTER
Before we go any further, let me ease your mind about what we’re feeding these boys. It really doesn’t matter what’s on the table. Yep, I said that. Connection and fellowship does not hinge upon having perfectly cooked, organic, slaved-over-for-hours meals. (I’d love to be that girl, but I’m okay with knowing that most of the time, I’m not.) Of course I want to offer healthy, nourishing meals. But in understanding food as a ministry, we mamas must also know that connection does not require perfection. So here are some key things to keep in mind as you minister to your growing boys.
1. You Don’t Have to Be a Gourmet Cook
Finding recipes that don’t stress me out makes all the difference in creating an environment for truly connecting as a family. For me, it needs to be simple, and it can’t take all day! I am always on the lookout for meals that I know they’ll love that also don’t require me to know all the fancy Food Network words. (Though I will also say, I love watching the Food Network for motivation!)
2. You Don’t Have to Cook From Scratch
Thank You, Jesus, for rotisserie chickens. Most grocery stores have healthy meals prepared and ready that are better for filling bellies than the chicken nuggets in my freezer. Freshly prepared and ready meals count! When I pull in from a Costco trip, and my boys help unload my mom-bus, and they see the stuffed peppers and the street taco kit, and yes, the rotisserie chicken that I can turn into about 18 different meals, they are so happy!
3. You Don’t Have to Prepare a ‘Slower Meal’ Every Night
As a family, in the season we’re in right now, we generally have two slower meals each week to balance the crockpot and quick grill meals we lean on during the busiest nights. Those sit-down-and-breathe meals offer the connection we need—and knowing that we’ve planned for them takes away the guilt on those nights that we inhale drive-thru waffle fries.
4. You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
Does the idea of donning an apron and slaving away for hours each day make you want to throttle June Cleaver? Just me? We mamas are not relegated to the kitchen by ourselves. Invite your family into dinner prep. Divide the tasks. Share or rotate the clean up. Assign different family members different nights. The work doesn’t need to fall only to us.
THE MINISTRY LIES IN THE CONNECTION
By nature, as mamas, we are gatherers. Our gift of gathering isn’t just about the food—it’s about gathering our people. I’m not just making yet another pot of spaghetti—I’m creating an opportunity for connection. That’s the ministry.
Just as God enjoyed the sweet aroma of sacrifices offered to Him as a connection with His people (Genesis 8:21), the sweet aroma of what simmers in our kitchen can serve as anticipation of connecting with our people. When we pass the spaghetti, when we share stories of our day—we commune. When we ask questions, and take turns sharing, and hear updates— we see hearts. Gathering together feeds our souls, creating ‘koinonia’—fellowship, community, and communion. That fellowship doesn’t come from scarfing a meatball sub in my mom-bus; it comes from the intentional pause a meal offers, as we reconnect as a family.
The Ministry of Food
The ministry of food is about the communion of hearts and the breaking of bread and sharing in the body. It’s about receiving life together (1 Corinthians 10:16).
A week or so after the hangry “Mom, why don’t you cook anymore,” I began a more intentional approach to gathering my boys. The younger ones are now more involved in both meal planning and prep, and now I give my oldest more notice of when our slower meal days fall each week. And he hasn’t missed a single one.
Choosing to embrace the ministry of food in raising boys is about understanding that food is a love language. These boys of ours need the food, yes—but they also long for the connection. When we invite them to gather together, they will come to fill their bellies. The connection that follows will also fill their souls.
Then, when everyone is full, be sure to teach them about the ministry of dishes.
TWO RECIPES FOR THOSE AMAZING ROTISSERIE CHICKENS:
CHEESY CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
- 2 Cups Cooked Chicken, diced (I use the meat from 1 Rotisserie Chicken)
- 1 Small Can of Diced Green Chilies
- Can of Cream of Chicken Soup
- 1 Cup of Sour Cream
- 2 Cups Cheddar Cheese
- 1 T. Chili Powder (or more, to taste)
- 1 ½ t. Cumin
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 baking dish.
- Mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, except ½ cup of shredded cheddar. Save for the top of the casserole.
- Layer six corn tortillas to cover the bottom of the baking dish. They will overlap. Spread half of the chicken mixture on top of the tortillas. Layer six more corn tortillas on top. Then spread the remaining half of the chicken mixture on top of the second layer of tortillas. Sprinkle remaining shredded cheddar on top.
- Cut three corn tortillas into triangles, spray them with cooking spray (so they’ll get crunchy), and arrange them around the edges of the casserole.
- Sprinkle chili powder on top and bake uncovered for 30 minutes—until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serves 6-8.
TERRI’S BAKED CHICKEN ALFREDO
- 1 Box Noodles (I use Cavatappi Noodles)
- 1Cup Ricotta Cheese
- 1 Egg, lightly beaten
- ¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
- 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
- 1 Teaspoon Italian Seasoning
- 2 Cups Cooked Chicken (approximately 1 pound)
- 1 Jar Alfredo Sauce (I use Bertolli)
- 1 to 1½ Cups Shredded Mozzarella
- Milk, a splash
- Parsley, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; spray a large baking dish with cooking spray.
- Cook a box of pasta according to directions, drain and set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, dice the chicken, and cook until done.
- In the large baking dish you are using above (this way no extra bowls!), mix together the egg, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, garlic, and Italian seasoning.
- Add alfredo sauce and mix well.
- Mix in chicken.
- Add cooked pasta and stir really well.
- Pour in just a bit of milk (maybe ⅛ cup), and mix again. Sprinkle mozzarella and a little more parmesan on top of the pasta mix. Sprinkle parsley on top (for looks).
- Place uncovered in the oven for 20-25 minutes—until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serves 6-8.
WANT MORE FROM MARNIE ON RAISING BOYS?
We invite you to check out the printable Marnie created with 40 conversation starters to help you connect with your family during dinner—or anytime. You can sign up and gain access to Marnie’s Boy Mama Library by clicking the button below!
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