Cooking for Others (HINT: It’s not about the food)
How do you feel about cooking for others? Some people love to entertain and seem to be able to do it effortlessly, but others find it a real challenge.
If that’s you, what is it that worries you most? Is it time? is it money? Is it expertise? Perhaps you feel you don’t have the repertoire, or that you don’t have the time and patience to put something together?
The good news is that none of these things should hold you back, and in this video and blog I explain why!
One of my best experiences of people cooking for me was when I joined a homegroup, some 20 years ago now. When I turned up on the first night, the host, a mum to three young children, warmly welcomed me then handed me a wooden spoon, pointed me towards the kitchen and asked me to stir the beans while she went upstairs to put her kids to bed.
At that homegroup we always ate together. We had really simple meals like beans on toast, soup and bread, or jacket potato and beans, but it was one of the best experiences I’ve had of eating at other people’s houses. Sharing a meal really pulled us together as a group; we all felt so loved and welcome and accepted. And that’s how we should want people to feel when they come to our houses. It’s easy to think that we haven’t got enough time, money, ideas, or patience, but we really shouldn’t let these things be barriers.
Last night, I hosted a playdate at my house, for five kids all under 5! I wasn’t expecting to have anyone stay for dinner; it was just going to be me and my little boy, so I’d pulled something out the freezer for us to have when everyone had gone. The others had gone and as my friend was about to leave she mentioned that she hadn’t got anything planned for dinner, so was going to go to chip shop on the way home. On the spur of the moment, I suggested she and her son stay and eat with us instead.
The defrosting dahl was only 1 ½ portions and I hadn’t got much food in the house as my shopping delivery wasn’t due until the next day, but we made it work. The kids had a bit of the dahl, and in the cupboard I found some microwave rice and a tin of chili left over from a recent camping trip. I added some peas and sweetcorn from the freezer and together it all made a meal we could eat together.
Was it a gourmet meal? No! Was it multiple courses? No!
But it was still amazing, and it was all about love, and fellowship, and communion together.
So, what are the real key ingredients when we cook for others? I hope you’ll agree that it’s all about love, acceptance, and inspiring growth in other people, whether that’s drawing them closer to God or encouraging them in something they going through.
And of course, it should be fun, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it!
So, how can we make sure that people feel loved, accepted, inspired, and have fun through the food we serve and the experience we offer when we’re cooking for them? We might have a clear idea of what entertaining means for us: perhaps we feel the need to produce a feast, or set the mood with candlelight, or bring out the posh napkins, but we mustn’t forget that actually, people just want to come and feel comfortable. The focus should be on your guests and not on the food. Even if you feel rushed or stressed, try not to let that show as you want to make your guests feel welcome!
And it’s important that people feel accepted. So, consider how they may be comfortable eating and try to offer them that. Keep in mind the kinds of foods they will be used to and try to include some of those in what you offer them. If you know that your guests don’t normally eat particularly healthily, perhaps try to include some familiar foods with what you are serving, without going to the other extreme. And at the other hand, you don’t want to alienate someone who is trying to eat healthily, by presenting a cream-laden supper, as that might make them feel a little uncomfortable.
Try to give your guests freedom and choice and offer alternatives. Think about how you can inspire them and encourage them through the conversation as you eat. And think about how you can offer mainly food that God created, to encourage both you and your guests to eat more of it! It’s a good idea to mix up what you are serving, perhaps include some things that might be viewed as treats or less healthy options, as well as some more nutritious elements too.
Allow people to serve themselves. If you serve up a plate of food in front of somebody then they might feel that they need to eat most, if not all of it, even if they are not all that hungry, or if the food isn’t something they really like. For example, you could offer some meat, some salad, and some chips, even a richer sauce on the side, offering a choice so your guests can eat healthily or not. The choices could be a jacket potato, beans and green salad, or fish and chips and salad, so people can choose a few chips and a large salad or the other way around, as they like.
So remember to focus on how you want people to feel when they come into your home. Remember that it’s not about the food at all, so you don’t need to worry if you are not that comfortable in the kitchen. And if this blog has inspired you to think a bit differently about entertaining, perhaps you will be more comfortable extending an invitation the next time you have the opportunity.
Let us know what you think in the comments – we’d love to hear!