A Look Inside an Amish Family's Meal Time

Posted by Mose Shetler on


So much of the Amish lifestyle is about routine, structure and diligently following the rules of the church. In today’s world with everyone hustling off to appointments, games, after school activities a family can often feel like they have no structure and are losing each other. When I look back at my Amish heritage I have to say the structure and routine are what I really value so much. It has been a great foundation for my life and since Cameron and I have become a family it has helped us to build from that as well.

The family unit is important to the Amish. The family will sit down together at mealtime and bow to pray a blessing over their food before digging in. There is generally a routine with the whole meal, dinner is not served until all have arrived at the dinner table, the father at the head of the table, mother most often on one side of father and the children each have their designated spot to sit at. Father will usually start passing the food around after helping himself to whatever he is passing. Mother is usually the last one to be served. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Many Amish families have a bit of dessert at the end of their meals. This is where leftover pie, pudding, cake and jello come in handy. If the family belongs to a sect of Amish that allows natural gas refrigerators they will have ice cream handy for those evenings when dessert is scarce and everyone wants a little something sweet to top off their meals. 

Mother and daughter(s) spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Early in the morning mother arises and makes sure breakfast is served. Maybe her family wants eggs and some kind of breakfast meats. Possibly cereal is all the family wants with a nice slice of homemade cake to add to the cereal before being doused with cold milk fresh from the icebox or refrigerator, depending on which order of Amish you belong to.  

The evening meal is often the biggest meal for a day laborer’s family. The mother/wife will have to start preparing dinner early in the afternoon, she will be making things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, casseroles, roasts and stews, chicken and fried potatoes or noodles. The list is endless of what an Amish lady comes up with for her dinner table. In the summer she puts up rows and rows of canned goods, making sure she has plenty to work with in the winter months. A jar of homemade soup will be a dinner meal with grilled cheese sandwiches when mother has been away for the day and needs a quick dinner. (Amish women hire a taxi van to take them grocery shopping about every 6-8 weeks and a few ladies in the neighborhood will go together. They often hit places like Good Will and Aldies along with Walmart. They simply make a day of it and come home with bags and bags of groceries they then have to carry in their houses and pack away in their cabinets and pantries.)

Most Amish families use the dinner meal to talk about what went on in their day. It is a time of connecting with everyone. Sometimes there are funny stories to regale over or a serious happening to ponder about. The younger the child the more quiet they are, learning early on that they need to respect their elders when there is a conversation going on around them. Depending on the family is how much a younger child will get to talk while eating.


Guidelines are helpful for children growing up. It teaches them that the world doesn’t revolve around them but that they must be respectful of others. If you walk into a restaurant and an Amish family is in there eating you won’t hear much noise coming from the average Amish family’s children because they have been taught to be respectful while in public and especially at meal time. I’m sure there are exceptions from time to time, but for the most part Amish children are well behaved in public.

Meal prep and cleaning up the kitchen can be time consuming. I was told of a family back in the depression era who would only wash dishes once a day. They would each get a slice of bread and once they were finished eating they would take their bread and sop up anything left over on their plate and would “clean” their plates that way. A sheet was placed on top of the table so the flies couldn’t get to the plates and at the next meal the sheet was lifted and everyone sat down to eat off the same plate. This was a farm family and they were incredibly poor and had to work really hard. Saving time in this way was crucial for them while they were putting up their harvest for wintertime.

In today’s world the Amish ladies would not think that to be clean enough for them. Most Amish homes are company ready at the drop of a hat. The ladies are generally pretty meticulous about getting the dishes washed and put away after each meal and the kitchen/dining area gets swept after each meal. They like to keep things neat and tidy. This isn’t always possible when a family has a lot of small children, but as the children grow up the homes get neater and cleaner and are most often company ready at all times. They don’t mind if someone drops in on them for an impromptu visit. It is always a pleasure to get company.

Thinking about this habit of families sitting down to eat with each other seems to bring about so much good in a family dynamic: structure, security, counsel as they talk with each other as they eat, laughter, stability and so much more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more parents chose to raise their families this way, training them up so they know how to go when they become adults?

This father is taking out some time to play tag with his children in the front of their home. 


Photo's provided by Lue Shetler from Amish Country


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