Basics #2: Provide Nourishment (share what you have!)
Nourishment. (noun) the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.
I grew up reading stories about a time when humans mostly traveled on foot or by beast. Their footprints dotted the deserts and ancient trees still bear marks where they stopped for rest along some well-worn mountain passage. Days passed slowly and travelers ate and drank what they brought with them. It was usually enough to keep them going.
Fortunately in many of these places there was a cultural expectation that travelers needed nourishment and rest, and so it was offered generously to friends and strangers alike.
I like the images those old stories conjure up in my mind. They’re romantic, and to me they model a culture of hospitality that I want to create for the people around me. It’s a culture that is quick to recognize and respond to a need, even a need that literally shows up in a moment on your doorstep. In twenty-first century America we don’t need foot baths for our sandy feet or oats for our horses, but we do need other care and nourishment in our daily lives, and good hospitality still serves that need.
So now I want to talk about providing nourishment to people who don’t travel miles a day on foot and don’t bring their oxen with them. Our culture is different, but basic human needs really haven’t changed. There was a time when a host would pick out a goat or goose from his flocks to provide a meal for his guests. Today a host is more likely to order a pizza. So you see, what is served is not nearly as important as how it’s served.
- Mindset: I want to make sure my guests are comfortable in every way, so I will share what I have and make the time special.
- Space: People are more comfortable when they are not hungry or thirsty. Make a place for them to eat and drink. Add delight by serving what you have beautifully.
- Habits: Focus on meeting people’s needs. Offer food and drink, and have it accessible throughout your time together. Put it on a real plate. Pile it high. Keep it simple. Have fun with glasses.
Our objective is always to make people feel comfortable when they are with us, and since humans eat several times a day, if they are spending any amount of time in our company it makes sense to have food and drink available to them.
Eat first, talk later
You have welcomed a person warmly, now waste no time in offering them nourishment. Even if you have nothing prepared. Even if you have no idea what you have. Make the offer with a smile and no apologies. The way you offer will give them clues on what is available, and so guide them in how to answer.
“Would you like some water?” is different from “What can I get you to drink? We have…”
Both offers are perfect! In both cases you are immediately attending to their comfort, and offering to share what you have. This same principle works for food. Keep in mind what time of day it is, and even if it’s not mealtime it is gracious to ask if your guest is hungry and be very attentive to the response. Sometimes guests are starving, but don’t want to impose, so they might not be honest with you. If you pay close attention, you can read their hesitancy and follow up with a more specific offer. The exchange might go like this:
“Hi Jamie! It’s great to see you, please come in. Cup of coffee for you?”
“Sure, that’d be great!”
“Cream or sugar?”
“Just black, thanks.”
“I’ll grab you a mug. Are you hungry?”
“Oh no, I’m fine.”
“I was just about to make myself a sandwich, would you like one too? Maybe just a half?”
“Well, if you’re making it…”
A good host isn’t going force someone to eat (though I know it happens and I think it’s hilarious!), but it’s good to always have something within reach. Consider the scenario where the guest shows up right after eating, and truly isn’t hungry. So you drink coffee and they sip on water while you catch up for a bit. An hour or two passes and guess what? The chips and nuts you had on your coffee table are starting to disappear. Happens every time.
What do you have?
I’ll say it again: human needs are pretty simple. There are picky eaters out there, but chances are you’ll have something on hand that works for them. The most important thing is that you’re willing and ready to share. Even your last cookie.
I once knew a woman who was very active and worked wherever there was internet so she was rarely home. The only thing she consistently kept in her fridge was bottled water and 35mm film. But the way I look at it, even she has something to share. Offer the water! In her case I might also suggest a walk to that cute deli down the street while you catch up on life.
If you have more than bottled water and 35mm film within reach, trust me you’ll be just fine. If you can eat it, so can they. No apologies.
Not all guests are a surprise, and when you do have time to plan food and drink for them you have a great opportunity to make them feel extra special. When you offer guests something you know they love, you communicate that you know them and care for them personally. Knowing a person’s favorite drink is extra special, because drinks are often more personalized than food. Serving their favorite treat also tells them they were on your mind even before they showed up. It’s a great way to make them feel at home.
Handy in the pantry
There are a number of food and drink things I like to keep on hand because they have a long shelf life and are so quick and easy to serve when I haven’t had time to plan or prepare. I asked several friends for their secret stashes too, so I hope more things on this list will give you even more ideas! Note several snacks are gluten and dairy free. No recipes required…
- Tea selection (herbal and caffeinated)
- Coffee (decaf option is nice)
- Hot chocolate
- Spirits and mixers
- Chips and salsa
- Canned black olives
- Cookies or Muffins (boxed, bagged or frozen!)
- Cinnamon toast wedges
- Cutting board full of sliced veggies (raw or add salad dressing for dip!)
- Fruit bowl
- Cheese and crackers
- Mac ’n Cheese
- Sandwich (pb&j, tuna, deli meat and cheese, nutella…)
- All the frozen things: pizza, chicken tenders, corn dogs, pasta skillets…
- Chili (one pot, lots of cans)
- Hot dogs
- Instant Ramen noodles (with veggies!)
Serve it with flair
The way a thing is presented guides people in how to receive and appreciate it. Presentation can build anticipation or simply delight. Whatever you serve, adding a touch of thoughtfulness to the presentation has the power to make your guests feel like kings and queens. Thoughtful is the key element here! Great presentation does not require great expense or a pastry chef on staff. Just a few simple things you can know to do. Like the Proverb says:
Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established. By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
Here are a few things you can do to enhance the presentation of what you serve every time.
Put it on a real plate
A dear friend told me a great food story about the first time she met her mother-in-law. My friend was sitting with the family and watching the woman in the kitchen prepare for dinner. She was amazed. The woman pulled leftovers out of the fridge, reheated them, and put them in a lovely serving dish. That was dinner. In my friend’s words, that was brilliant.
It works! Whatever you’re serving, take it out of the box or bag or plastic storage container and serve it on its own plate or dish. The fresh service makes it look special and cared for. Like your guests! Will it require a bit of extra cleaning up? Sure. But it’s worth it.
If you’re serving kids, I’m all about plastic, but the goal is still to delight and make the presentation special, so make it extra colorful or arrange their carrot sticks and grapes in a smiley face. Why not?
If you’re serving adults, go ahead and use your best china, or your brightest hues, whatever delights you or is aimed at delighting them. I’ll tell you a secret though. Nothing beats the elegance of a simple, white, plate. There’s a reason why restaurants use them. White is a clean blank canvas to display whatever treasure it holds. Your food becomes instant art. White is also super easy to coordinate with other pieces that are made of different materials, and it brightens a table.
I have several little sets of different colored and styled dishes that I use for different things, but I usually find myself going back to white plates. Any shape or size. Give it a try!
Pile it high
If you’re serving something that can be stacked or lumped together, like chips or mashed potatoes or cookies or fruit, it looks abundant when it fills the dish to (almost) overflowing. If you use a plate or dish too large for what you’re serving, it looks like there isn’t much there. Swapping that bigger dish out for a smaller one, suddenly there’s more than the dish can hold! It’s a psychology thing. Abundance!
Serve it simple
Simple presentation is restful and elegant. A single cupcake on a plate beats a plastic container full of them any day. It takes a little extra effort to make it look simple, but the payoff is a restful layout at your table for yourself and your guests.
All you really need is a place for everything. A place for your guests. A place where your guests can set their cups. A place for the food. Simple!
Fun with glasses
Just as a simple pretty plate can make food look great, a fun, unique or lovely glass can make a simple drink splendid. True confession: sometimes I drink water out of a wine glass even when I’m alone just because it’s fun. The cups we use engage our sense of touch, and of everything at the table we handle our cups the most. The shape of the cup changes how we interact with it! A Coca-Cola bottle has its own feel. So does a beer stein or a teacup. If you’re serving drinks, just consider what you’re serving it in, and if you’re so inclined, mix it up! The same glass of water can be a very different experience in a different goblet.
The most important thing to bring to the table
Food and drink make the heart glad even when we’re not starving, so whether it’s meal time or snack time, it’s never a bad time to share a bite. By all means keep it simple, because honestly, human needs are simple. The important thing is that you are demonstrating care for your guests.
The final thing to remember is this. People are showing up at your door because they want to be with you. They can eat anywhere. They want your company. They want to connect with you. They will remember your kindness long after they have forgotten your chicken tenders and lemonade. So of all the things you bring to the table, be sure you bring them the very best. (That’s you.)
I want to hear what you think! What works for you and what are you going to try next? Leave me a comment below!
Serve it with love friends! Thanks for being here.
Love the reminders – no need to apologize, “sorry the house is mess”, when you are welcoming. Clear a space offer refreshment and share what you have. When you are comfortable, they are comfortable.