When I was growing up, we were required to say thank you at the table twice, though we were not limited to just twice, if we were so moved. When we sat down, we said, "Thanks, Mom. This looks great!" Before excusing ourselves and taking our plates to the dishwasher, we reiterated, "Thanks, Mom. That was delicious!" Did we always do it without prompting? I'm sure we did not, but our father would remind us. And it really wasn't about whether or not we liked peas. The thanks was for the effort and the love that went into preparing the meal.
My husband's way of saying thank you is to focus on the food.
"Hmmm...what is this?"
That may not sound very nice, but his tone is pleasant, indicating he assumes it will be delicious. His French mother is a wonderful cook, and probably appreciates the opportunity for her food and skill to shine. My husband was taught to be thankful for the food itself, and the skill required to create delectable meals.
I still bristle at the question, though. If I've had a tough day, I've been known to give a less than gracious response, something along the lines of, "OH, JUST EAT IT. OR GO OUT AND GET YOURSELF A BURGER." I'm working on that. Marriage is a journey, y'all.
My own mother, whom I loved with all of my heart, was nonetheless not much of a cook, and didn't enjoy herself in the kitchen. Much like my mother-in-law, she did love sitting around the table with her family (maybe not so much during the stormy years of adolescence, but we had good times then, too). Family meal times were a lot of fun, but manners were always on the menu.
My dad wanted us to thank my mom regardless of our feelings about the food, because he loved her and appreciated her efforts. Preparing a sit-down meal for a family of six, at least five nights a week, was no small feat. And did I mention she also made us breakfast every morning? Dad often manned the stove and grill on weekends, more often than not producing French toast for breakfast and, on our favorite nights, steaks from the grill. Even with two cooks, that many hot, nutritious meals is a lot of work, and they deserved all of our love and appreciation.
I hope our children learn both ways of saying thank you. I do take pride in the food I prepare, and love when they ask questions, as long as they taste it first, so the question takes the form of, "This is delicious. Is that oregano? How did you make it?" I also need to be thanked for my efforts to provide nutritious meals within a budget and with limited time in my schedule.
I read this recent piece on Slate, "Let's Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner," with interest. The difficulty of preparing family meals on a dismally low budget cannot be ignored, and I hope we all wish everyone had access to healthful food. There is little time to spare for cooking in single parent homes or homes where both partners work. But we can work on manners at the table, teaching our children to appreciate what's been done for them and how lucky they are to have someone to prepare meals. I'll say it: I'm against pickiness in children (and adults), and we should all learn to give thanks for the effort as well as the meal.
How do you thank the cook? And how do you prefer to be thanked?