I’ve loved cooking for a long time now, and while I’ve certainly had my fair share of kitchen mishaps, I’m generally pretty good at it. In fact, before we had kids, my husband and I would spend much of our weekends cooking together and experimenting with new recipes.
But these days, my husband—who, incidentally, is a far better cook than I am—barely has enough time to sleep, let alone cook. And as a part-time working mom and stay-at-home mom to 20-month-old twins and a 4.5-year-old, my days and nights are extremely packed as well.
What this means is that in my house, cooking tends to fall by the wayside more often than I’d like to admit. And while I used to make a point of cooking special (sometimes elaborate) meals for Shabbat, these days, I probably cook a full-fledged Shabbat dinner once a month at best. The other weeks, I scramble together something quick, heat up leftovers, or—gasp—order in.
This has been going on for the past couple of years, and while it bothers me not to cook for Shabbat the way I used to, I’m also realistic and know that I genuinely don’t have the time to go all out every week. And besides, between my picky eater toddler and messy 20-month-olds, sitting down to a gourmet family dinner isn’t the same enticing prospect it was back when it was just me, my husband, and a bottle of our favorite wine.
However, at some point last winter, I started missing one thing about our Shabbat meals of years past: the company. Back in the day, we used to invite friends (mostly unmarried ones from the city) to have Shabbat meals with us, where we’d share our culinary concoctions and talk until we were too tired to sit up straight.
Because my schedule has been so jam-packed for the past couple of years, there was a period when I shied away from inviting people to my house for Shabbat meals. After all, how could I have people over and serve them a piece of challah with some salad and a one-pot casserole? But I eventually changed my attitude and lowered my food-related standards with regard to having people over, and I’ve been a lot happier for it.
See, I realized that Shabbat meals aren’t just about the food; they’re about the tradition of getting together and celebrating a 25-hour break from the norm. They’re about connecting with people in my community and spending time with family and friends.
Once I realized that no one cares what kind of food I serve, or if I even make it myself, I started giving out more invites. And as it turns out, the people I tend to have over regularly are more than OK with sitting around the Shabbat table and feasting on pizza or Chinese takeout. (Besides, the kids end up eating cereal or boxed mac and cheese half the time anyway, so they certainly aren’t impacted.)
I’m really happy I’ve learned to relax on the whole meal prep front because it takes the pressure off of me while allowing me to enjoy one of my favorite Jewish traditions. Inviting people over for meals isn’t about impressing them with my cooking skills; it’s about upholding a meaningful practice and enjoying the spirit of Shabbat. And as long as my guests are willing to forego the blown-out Shabbat feasts, I’m happy to welcome them into my home.