8 Easy Ways to Turbocharge Your Shabbat Table
How to make the Shabbat table a highlight of your family’s week.
Shabbat is the greatest parenting tool. It’s a day of connection, 25 hours of media blackout that can help create a radiant home with deep, unbreakable relationships. The Shabbat table can become a highlight of a family’s week, but it requires preparation and strategy. Having the forethought to create an inspiring and stimulating Shabbat table takes work, but it’s worth it. There are few opportunities more conducive to reaching our children and transmitting our values.
Here are some nifty ideas I’ve collected for creating an exciting, kid-friendly Shabbat meal.
1. Let your kids choose the menu.
It may surprise you if the traditional Shabbat foods are not up there on your family’s lists of favorites. Good food is essential to enjoying a meal. So be open to rethinking your choice of cuisine. It may mean getting rid of the gefilte fish and matzah balls and serving lasagna, but hey, I won’t tell.
You can implement what my mother did when we were growing up. On the Shabbat closest to his or her birthday, every child had the opportunity to choose the full menu for each of the meals. Some of my warmest childhood memories come from the meals when my entire family ate the special chicken recipe that I loved.
Another variation of this is theme-based Shabbat meals. Task the artistic troops with decorating and setting the table, and involve others in the preparation of the correspondent food. Turn your dining room into a Mexican fiesta or a Hawaiian luau. Break out the dancing and party it up!
2. Choose a stimulating discussion topic and have a family debate.
Think of a topic yourself or find one in a thought-provoking book, a weekly email, or your synagogue’s take-home newsletter. There are so many stimulating topics out there to get you thinking. Choose teams, divvy up the issues and stage a debate, GOP style (rhetoric and political bashing optional).
3. Keep the meal short and the discussion relevant.
If you want your kids to stay at the table through the Shabbat meal then keep the meal within the ambit of your kids’ attention span. The courses should move. You can discuss your brilliant insight into the Talmud a different time. And that discussion about your guest’s work in his CPA firm? Later.
4. Assign a presentation.
Some children like presenting a Torah thought. Others are natural actors. Some may have a piece of art or writing they are proud of. Grab the opportunity with the family together and attentive to have a child highlight some of his recent activities and to make a fun presentation. Hold a “press conference” in which the child answers questions to “reporters” about this and other aspects of his or her week. Or have them plan a short skit about that week’s Torah portion.
5. Learn a new Jewish song.
Ever thought of having a theme song for your family? Teach an upbeat song that not many people know. Then sing it on family trips and use it to identify one another from afar. Or create a Shabbat orchestra with banging clapping, whistling, singing and harmony. For those not musically inclined, there’s always the option of a chant, cheerleader style.
6. Choose your guests wisely.
A guest can make or break the family Shabbat experience. You don’t have to invite that guy who makes you uncomfortable just because he needs a place to eat. When inviting guests, consider how your kids will take to them. Some folks can keep children (and adults) spellbound with their fascinating lives and stories. Are your guests the type to engage others in a positive way? Do they have a particular job, culture, or history that can add spice to your table?
7. Hand out prizes.
Why limit handing out candy and small presents to the Passover Seder? Reward good questions and participation with special “Shabbat treats”. I looked forward to Shabbat the entire week when I was a child because it meant I could pick out two favorite treats after my mother lit the Shabbat candles. I have seen my father-in-law’s dining room become a marshmallow war zone. Throw manners to the wind and let the prizes rain down! Your kids will remember it for life.
8. Involve the family in Shabbat preparations.
As a kid, my job every Friday was to chill and prepare the beverages for the entire Shabbat. Soda, juice, wine for Kiddush, and beer and spirits for the adults. Children with culinary ambitions can prepare dishes; let them receive the adulation of the family and guests when served- it’s awesome for their self-image. Even if their workplace of choice is not the kitchen, there are always things that can involve them if you strategize. The Shabbat meal becomes a source of pride for a child when he or she invests effort and thought into its arrangement.