Shortcuts for Sabbath Dinner

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,  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.  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 plates  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!

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20 thoughts on “Shortcuts for Sabbath Dinner

  1. I would love to see a picture of a Sabbath table setting of yours with the spread, included with this post. It would be great to visualize some of your suggestions and especially see how you create a specialized setting that stands out from your everday meals at the table.

  2. A few tips:

    1. Use your children as much as possible, including those 3-5 year olds. They love to put out the napkins or learn to set the table from one of their older siblings. If all you have is children under 6 then find creative ways to make them a part of things. Sometimes my kids take plain printer paper cut it up any way they want and write the persons name on it with a drawing. Well, my soon to be 5 year old doesn’t write but she’ll put something down and tell me what it is.

    Another thing you can do with little ones is give them a safe peeler and let them peel carrots or potatoes. They make take a long time but it keeps them busy and happy. My mother-in-law gave me that tip.

    Also, rotate the kids as “kitchen helper” and “dining table set-up.” That way the kids will all have the chance to help in the kitchen AND to learn to set the table.

    2. Wake up very early in the morning and get as much done as you can before the kids wake up. You can get a lot of work done when the house is quiet and peaceful. Before you gasp and boo me off the stage for this suggestion, remember: “She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants.” Proverbs 31:15

    3. If it’s a tough time in life and you have had some hard providences, please don’t give up on this. Don’t give up on a joy and a blessing. It doesn’t matter if all you’re having is take out from a fast food place. Bring it home, put it on plates for everyone, pour some wine and sit down and give a thousand thanks to God. Your children WILL remember it. And they will remember that you can still celebrate before the Lord and give thanks in ALL things.

    4. During fall and winter a spruced up soup is wonderful with bread and salad and a good wine. There are many wonderful soup recipes that are like a full meal in a pot. Also try some simple ethnic dishes. Soup is one of my weaknesses in cooking, I don’t make good soup. However, I have forewarned the family that I will be trying my hand at a number of soups this winter. We’ll see how that turns out.

    5. A meat and potatoes dish is really the easiest type of food to make. If you can’t afford meat, roast a chicken. A roasted chicken can look very beautiful on a table. And properly done, it is delicious and comforting.

    6. If you are on a tight budget and cannot afford flowers, or in your busyness you forgot to buy some, or don’t have the time to put together a centerpiece then use the kids’ imaginations. It encourages them to be given such an important task as to create a centerpiece. Sometimes it’s laughable what they will come up with but it’s all good.

    7. If you’re starving and you’re cranky. EAT SOMETHING before you make your family miserable. Have some nuts or a glass of juice or a piece of fruit and then start your preparations. You will be in a much better mood.

    8. Put on some classical music and pour yourself a glass of wine while you’re preparing dinner. You will find to your amazement that you will enjoy the preparation and that you will not be snappy with the kids. You will lift up the aroma of the home with your joyful attitude and your relaxed (instead of frazzled) demeanor.

    Hope that helps and blesses some of you.

  3. I love tip #8. When we have families over, often they have just as many children as I do (seven) and it takes the moms and older girls a while to get through the line with all the little ones.

    I also like Luma’s suggestion about the wine (her #8).

    You have a note about inviting unmarried people. I sometimes feel I have not much to offer to our unmarried friends on the Sabbath. I understand I offer them a meal and fellowship, but feel the fellowship I bring may not be what they are looking for. Any suggestions or encouragements?

  4. Sam’s club carries cases of frozen french bread, hoagie or dinner roll dough. You simply let them rise then bake. Good quality, good price. You have to ask the bakery workers for it, it’s not out in the open. You will need a freezer or a buddy to split it with.
    Be sure to cut slits in the bread once it has raised and prior to baking.

  5. One more thing I forgot to mention. We love grilled salmon or some other fish along with potatoes or rice, some vegetables and sourdough bread and butter. This is a VERY simple meal and yet it is very elegant and celebratory.

  6. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going. One mother I know ALWAYS has a jello-with-fruit salad on Sunday only. It is easy to prepare on Saturday, pretty to look at, and the kids who are now adults still look forward to that Jello.

  7. Thanks for this post! I was wondering if you might share the recipe for the wonderful homemade salad dressing that you mentioned.

  8. I just wanted to add that I am so grateful for the reminders to not feel guilty about making this celebration easier for ourselves with a few shortcuts! As a student/wife I often need to lower my expectations for myself in this area in order to make it a feasible goal (nothing like an exhausted, crying wife to ruin a nice evening – a purely hypothetical situation, of course! 😉 ).

    Thanks for making me content with our little Sabbath meal, and helping me look forward to a time when I can pull out all the stops!

  9. Sheila,

    Perhaps I can offer a bit of encouragement from the side of the unmarried.

    While there are times it may be uncomfortable at least at first to end up in a group where one seems an obvious misfit in someway (like when I showed up to a women’s event at my college church at 20 and found the person I thought closest to me in age was a secretary 40 years ago!), or to receive such a misfit, what binds together here is more than what distinguishes. We’re still one body, bound by the same blood. We have the same essential interests. And any initial awkwardness or differences can fade because of this. We’re more alike than a married forty year-old Christian couple and a married forty year-old non-Christian couple are.

    At my church there are many large families. And there’s something of a gap where my age group should be, between the new college students and the married folks (though recently it’s been filling in a bit!). I would’ve spent two years in my church largely alone if older married folks and old women hadn’t ever invited me anywhere or done something similar (like an old lady giving me her phone number right after meeting her), unless I invited them somewhere to meet. (I live with my parents, plus I’m far from church, so I can’t just invite people over for dinner.) I suppose you fear people my age would feel too awkward or not fit in. And surely sometimes that’s the case. And I’ve seen people who don’t appreciate hanging out with the older set to talk (“all we do anyhow is go to __’s house. . . woohoo” ). But there are those of us who will love being there more than I can say, even if we don’t say much. I love learning from the older people, how some of them talk of more substantial things for longer periods than the younger crowd… And coming amongst them feels indeed like coming home to a family–and here a family of believers, which is something some of us otherwise don’t have. Here there is a grandfather to give wise instruction, here there is a grandmother who loves from a renewed heart. . . It’s an opportunity to soak in the wisdom and fellowship. And that is sweeter than I can say. Many of the dearest times I’ve had at my church are amongst the old married couples and the older women. I loved joining a family for lunch and couldn’t quit thinking of how markedly loving people at the church (which I’d just then attended for only my second time) seemed. A two-hour dinner in a diner with a married couple was like a balm after living a year in a small town with no Christian friends outside of church. And I would give my back teeth to be invited back to conversations like one with my pastor’s wife, an old married missionary, and some other married people. There was much joy and learning. And of course the young aren’t the only one to benefit from these set-ups. My dear elderly friend at church once commented on how, in a way, I was able to be a daughter–something God never gave her biologically. The whole Titus 2 kind of set-up helps get over the odd parts since we are, by God’s design, used to functioning as families. And the family set-up allows for some great gifts while avoiding some of the dangers, like the unmarried women can receive some indirect instruction from men, like can learn more how to discern what the Bible says while listening to things the men say, without having to interact in a way unwise for them to do so.

    This is quite messy, it’s not as direct as ideally it would be in response to you, and it’s not practical instruction. But hopefully there is something in here to help you see that inviting unmarried people over may be doing more than you think in bringing the church together, feeding souls, and building up the body. I need to stop writing and go study.

    As for practical ideas. . . Inviting a group over can help an unmarried person fit in since it more easily takes the focus off of the individual and puts less pressure on each individual to say a lot. Also, having something to do, like letting the person help as Nancy talks of letting people, can help ease any initial strains because it gives an obvious common ground to talk of, plus makes it so it’s ok to have gaps in conversation.

  10. Sheila,

    Being an unmarried amongst the married also helps, I might add, by helping the unmarried see how to function in a family and run a household, what to look for in a spouse, and by helping curve the tendency to have an individualistic and self-centered mindset, which groups of the same age and lifestyle seem more apt to contribute to. “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world,” as Chesterton writes. “He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.”

  11. Thank you, Lindsay, for the encouragement. I remember being 20 and away from home. That was terribly lonely. Maybe I selfishly think I have not much to offer, but your words help me to see I should open our home and that in itself could be a blessing.

  12. Sorry but i don’t like the tip of buying “throwaway” pans. We don’t need anymore trash going into our landfills! If you just take a second to soak a pan with water and a little dish soap, they should not take more than a couple of minutes to clean. My thinking is that if i have time to prepare a meal, then i have time to take that extra step of cleaning something instead of just tossing it out. We all need to work on caring for our environment more!

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