If you are trying to establish the weekly tradition of celebrating the Sabbath, it is going to take quite a bit of work. The biggest thing I do on Saturday is get ready for Sabbath dinner. And sometimes I have set aside the whole day because putting on a nice meal for a large group is a serious undertaking, especially if you are doing it by yourself. I don’t have little kids running around my house, but I understand that for you young moms who are trying to put on a Sabbath dinner yourself each week, it is a big challenge. And even you grandmas out there who are doing what I am (fixing dinner for your kids and grandkids each week), I know you need help too.
So I have a few suggestions for you, and these are real-life suggestions that I use, not theoretical suggestions that I would use if I didn’t have a house staff to put the meal on for me.
Hot tip #1: Keep the menu simple. This is a weekly celebration for your family, so you want to make kid-friendly food that will go together easily, not a labor-intensive menu that requires all day in the kitchen. Otherwise you will give up after two weeks of Sabbath celebration. I tend to go for the large piece of meat. You put it in the oven and ignore it while you are getting everything else ready, and if you are lucky, you will have leftovers you can work into the week’s menu. My son-in-law is an expert meat carver, so I know the meat will always look gorgeous on the platter.
Hot tip #2: Use throw-away pans as much as possible. Since I am going to transfer the food from the pan to the serving dish anyway,Â it is a bonus if I can just throw away the pan instead of adding it to the pile to be washed. I used to fill two serving pieces for each of the menu items, one for each end of the eighteen-foot table. But that just doubles my clean-up, so I went back to using one.Â We simply pass it all the way around, and I can refill if necessary.
Hot tip #3: Do as much ahead of time as is feasible. We are having Miner’s Camp Pie tomorrow, so I cooked up the filling today, and it is waiting in the fridge to be assembled tomorrow. You can do this with plenty of dishes, so take advantage of the make-ahead possibilities or crock-pot recipes. (It also means that some of the mess is taken care of ahead of time as well.) Desserts can usually be made ahead. Make two and pop one in your freezer that you can pull out in a couple of weeks.
Hot tip #4: Make use of some of the short-cuts available at the grocery store. I love those Rhodes Texas rolls. I know, they are frozen! But the kids adore them still warm from the oven with honey butter. I buy the lettuce in the bag that is ready to toss into the salad bowl (but I do make the dressing from scratch because I haven’t found a grocery store version that compares to my daughter-in-law’s recipe). I often use frozen diced onions (a super time and mess saver), cheese that is already grated, and frozen shredded potatoes for a cheesy potato side dish. Of course if you want to make your rolls from scratch (I used to), then go for it. But I am hoping to last another twenty years or so at this Sabbath celebrating, and if I don’t find some clever shortcuts, I will burn out next week.
Hot tip #5: Set the table ahead of time. It sometimes takes me ages to figure out the seating arrangement if we are having guests, so getting that done early in the day helps me relax. I have little ceramic place cards that I write the names on with a dry erase marker. (Guests appreciate seeing where they are supposed to sit.) Since most weeks we have to add all eleven leaves to the table and carry up chairs from downstairs, it is a pretty big production to get the table set. (My dream is a house with a big dining room where I can keep the table set up!)
Hot tip #6: Invite people who like to help! When a guest offers to help, never say no. If they ask if they can bring a dish, let them. If they want to help with the dishes, why not?
Hot tip #7: Load the coffee pot before dinner. Buy some cute paper dessert platesÂ and save yourself the extra dishes.
Hot tip #8: Sometimes we serve all the little kids’ plates before we sit down. Their meat is already cut, the potatoes are cooling, and Mom and Dad can actually settle down and serve themselves once we are seated.
Hot tip #9: Keep it fun. Don’t require everyone to be dressed up. Come clean and comfortable, whatever that is. Don’t stress out about spills. Sometimes I even keep a bright wipe-up rag nearby for parents to grab if something goes over. (That way they won’t use my white dinner napkins!)
Hot tip #10: Save the handwash-only dishes and silver and crystal for the High Sabbath celebrations like Easter and Christmas, and use the kind that can go into the dishwasher for your regular Sabbath dinners (unless you live with someone who loves to wash dishes and polish silver).
Finally, if you are a wife and mother of a young family, and you’re trying to get this thing off the ground, consider asking another family to do this with you. You can rotate houses, share the load of cooking and cleaning, and enjoy learning how to celebrate the Sabbath together. Pick a family with children who will get along with yours. This way it will be fun for everyone. If you are unmarried, consider asking a young family or a few other unmarried folks to team up with you.
Sabbath dinner is not only a big time commitment, but it obviously costs a bit for a family to celebrate weekly. I look for what meat is on sale, I buy our favorite wines in the big bottles, but I expect for our Sabbath dinner to be the most expensive meal of the week. And all those little extras, like chocolate candies on the table, flowers and candles and wine, certainly increase the tab. But consider it an investment with big dividends, both short-term and long-term. And if you simply cannot afford a piece of meat, you can still celebrate with whatever you have. The important thing is to offer it all to the Lord and ask Him to bless it.
Do you have more time-saving Sabbath dinner tips to share? Please do!