9 Ways to Give Thanks or ‘Say Grace’ at Mealtimes

An earlier version of this article appeared in my column at Kiwi Families.

What are mealtimes like at your place? Do you have family ways of serving, eating or talking together? Would you like some fresh ideas to make the most of the gift of family meals? Here are some ideas for giving thanks at mealtimes. 

There are a bunch of studies that show that eating together is good for families and good for kids. Children who have family mealtimes tend to be physically healthier, with lower obesity rates.

And kids and teens who regularly eat with their families are often more resilient in other ways. Eating together helps family bonds become stronger so kids are better able to resist negative influences outside the home.

I have a super-comprehensive post on ways to help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food, including more than fifty magic phrases you might like to add into your parenting repertoire.

In this post, I’d like to focus on another element: ‘saying grace’.

Giving thanks or saying grace at mealtimes - sacraparental

Grace and Gratitude

In our family we have a handful of different ways of saying thanks for the food. We can say grace just by talking and we can sing or chant.

It provides an extra element of ritual to the meal. It says in capital letters that we are deliberately present with each other, sharing this food together.

For our family it is also an expression of gratitude to God and a way of weaving our Christian spirituality into everyday life.

For other families, it might be a spiritual act in a different way, where the family’s awareness is drawn to something bigger and outside us – like the sun, rain and earth that have provided the food, and the many hands from farm to table that have prepared it for us.

Our kids gets to choose each night what kind of grace we’ll say or sing – which is great for a small people who have limited control over what happens in their lives.

If you have more than one child, the privilege of choosing what grace to do could go to the person who helped set the table or make the dinner – or be on a roster along with those kinds of jobs.

One more thing about our house: we currently have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, with varying eating patterns. Our practice is to say grace whenever all of us are at the table together, but not to make anyone wait to start eating. So the kids can start whenever a plate is in front of them, even if we’re still bringing dishes to the table or whatever, and when we’ve all sat down, we give thanks together. I just wanted to make sure you don’t feel like it has to be super formal, or add another layer of stress onto family mealtimes!

Here are some of the different graces in our repertoire that you might like to add to yours. Ask your kids what they like best.

1. Banquet Earth Grace (or just ‘Chapati’ as we call it)

This satisfying chant by Linnea Good is done (in our house) with clicking fingers and finishes with a big clap, so anyone who is visiting can join in whether they know the words or not.

It also doesn’t mention actually God, so could be used by families with any kind of spiritual or secular background who want to build some gratitude into family mealtimes.

The words are below. Just click your fingers and chant.

Chapati! Chapati! Puri and rice!
Burrito, taquito, spaghetti and spice!
Dim sum, egg foo yung
Two all-beef patties, special sauce on a bun!

Hands across the table,
Hands across the sea,
Sharing in the banquet of the Earth!
Thanks!

2. The Superman Grace

A mainstay of Christian camps everywhere, this is my five-year-old’s current favourite.

It’s never done tunefully or well – anywhere – but here’s a version to give you the idea. Plenty of variations available on Youtube:

Thank you, Lord, for giving us food!
Thank you, Lord, for giving us food!
For daily bread
We need to be fed
Thank you, Lord, for giving us food!
Amen

3. Thank you, Lord, for giving us food

Most churchy people in New Zealand – and many elsewhere – know this simple song. It’s repetitive and easy to learn, so guests are able to join in almost immediately.

Our boy could sing most of it before he was two, so it’s definitely a good one for littlies.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us food
Thank you, Lord, for giving us food
Thank you, Lord, for giving us food
Right where we are
Amen

(Optional second verse)

Hallelujah, praise the Lord
Hallelujah, praise the Lord
Hallelujah, praise the Lord
Right where we are
Amen

4. A secular version from Angela

Angela introduced us to this version, to the same tune, at an unschooling retreat earlier this year. It was very popular.

Thank you earth for growing our food
Thank you rain for watering our food
Thank you hands that prepared our food
Right here and now

We are grateful, yes we are
We are grateful, yes we are
We are grateful, yes we are
Right here and now

5. To the tune of ‘O for a Thousand Tongues’

The classic grace words:

For life and health and daily food
We give thee thanks, O Lord
For fellowship and all things good
We praise thy name, O Lord

can be said, of course, as my Grandma always did, but also sung to the tune of the old hymn, ‘O for a Thousand Tongues.’

This was a favourite at our weekly young adult Sunday lunches when I was a youth pastor, so it’s not just for the grandies. If you have people around your table who love singing, this is a great one to learn. It even splits into two parts (traditionally sung by the men and the women) at the end, so it’s fun and dramatic.

I used to think of this as a grace for older kids, but toddlers love hearing it, too, so give it a go if you’re musically inclined.

6-8. Brian and Shirley’s Graces

My mentor when I was at theological college was Brian Smith. He and his wife had been ministers and missionaries, and Brian had translated the New Testament into an Indian language before becoming a lecturer and then Principal of my college.

It was a joy to find, when I was at their home for dinner one night, that they had written their own family graces to try and build some thoughtful words into family prayers that would be meaningful and helpful as their kids grew.

With their permission, I’m sharing three of their family graces here:

Our Father in heaven:
You make the sun to shine on all people good and bad,
You give rain to those who do right and those who do wrong.
For this food provided by sun and rain on your earth,
We thank you and pray that we may learn to be kind
as you are kind.
Amen.

Our Father in heaven,
For this food,
The earth to grow it
Electricity* to cook it
And our sense of taste to enjoy it,
We thank you.
Amen.          

*Or whatever fuel is used

Our Father in heaven,
The kowhai and the tui remind us that you
care for your children without their worrying.
As we thank you for this food
help us to set our hearts on your
kingdom and your goodness.
Amen

Brian is also the author of one of the best books I know for exploring theology with children, Who Made God? which you can order as a PDF here.

9. Thanks

When he was little, some nights our boy would just elect to say:

Tantoo God for the yummy food.
Amen

And that was fine by us.

A warm welcome to new readers! Yay!

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Some other posts that might interest you:

12 reasons to welcome kids in church (like, for the whole service) + tips for actually doing it.

My guest post for Lulastic: How to be a spiritual parent

Gentle parenting tips for mealtimes: 56 phrases to move beyond food battles

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2 comments on “9 Ways to Give Thanks or ‘Say Grace’ at Mealtimes”

  1. Janice Norton Reply

    I remember a grace that we quite possible learned from Brian Smith- it went something like this:
    For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
    for faith in a world where many walk in fear;
    for friends in a world where many walk alone;
    we give you humble thanks, O Lord.

  2. stef Reply

    At a workplace (a secular one) we used this one: http://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/new-age/meals/in-gratitude-to-mother-earth.aspx

    At home we had a Latvian one about “Bless us and these gifts which we are grateful to you for” (there is a similar one in English) and after a meal my grandma taught us to say “thanks to God and thanks to the giver” which I think is a cool concept to remember all the labour (cooking, breadwinning, farmers etc) that have gone into what we eat or turn our little noses up at!

    My kids were a touch irreverent so we’d do comedy prayers like “Oh we better say grace. Grace. Sorry God can’t help mucking around. Be with us when we eat and when we make jokes together and love each other and remind us to choose fairtrade and show us how to feed everyone in the world” (stuff like that. The kids could make it up and it didn;t have to sound “holy”. My kids were a bit political especially one of them. If my stepkids had done this with us (they didn;t want to) then we could have had a vegan rant in the prayer too. I like children to learn to be their authentic/silly and politically engaged selves with God).

    On retreat I’ve done 3.

    As an adult I try to remember to pray “Only you oh God can fill me” so I won’t overeat (I have emotional issues) and then if I am alone just have a conversation with God if I want…or not (please note I still overeat sometimes)

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