Eating as a Form of Penance


I’ve decided this Lent to take a different approach to fasting and abstinence.  Usually I give up certain foods—like chocolate, white flour, or even sugar.  This can work wonders for my prayer life as I am constantly craving these foods.  I’ve learned to turn this carnal desire for these sweets and starches into a prayer for a desire for more Jesus in my life.  There is, however, a slight temptation for me to instead of being pleased by how much I’m turning to Jesus in prayer, to think about how I am improving my health or losing weight.  Come on, we all do it.  I’ve heard many women talk about waiting for Lent to start so they can start losing weight.

I’ve tried to take the best of both approaches—Do good penance during Lent and lose some extra pounds.  But unfortunately for me, sometimes the vision of losing weight gets in the way of the other.

This year, I am trying a different form of penance.  Eating. Not just eating randomly whenever and whatever I want, but keeping my eating to just during mealtimes (in other words, no snacking) and to prepare and sit down to a complete dinner with my family (meats, sides, veggies, fruit—but no dessert) on most nights.  My desire to snack still keeps me on my toes to desire Christ.  But perhaps the biggest penance is planning, prepping, and serving the dinner even when I’m tired, or don’t feel like it, or in the midst of a hectic schedule.

Often times in Lent I hear priests encouraging us to “give something” for Lent instead of “giving up something.”  Taking care of my family in this way is great way to give myself to them.  I’m trying to go the extra mile by serving better, healthier foods.  I’m making more from scratch and using fresh foods.

And the results?  I may not be losing any weight, but so far the results of sitting down with my family at dinner on a regular basis have been wonderful.  I’ve even heard a few appreciative remarks for the tasty meal.  Since it’s Lent, we have a daily conversation of how our Lent is going.  (My kids still give up a favorite food and/or activity.)  We also talk about some of the Lenten observances that we did together as a family—we took part in praying at an abortion clinic one day.  And we talk about what we would like to do—we would like to go to confession this week.  We still have the seemingly superfluous conversations about superheroes and video games, but this week we also discussed the disaster in Japan and a neighborhood arrest.  We’re helping our children learn to judge these events and their own lives by means of these simple conversations.

It’s no wonder many recent surveys have come out about the benefits of eating dinner together.  Fellowship and food can only lead to great things.  They are, after all, an integral part of our worship service, the Mass.

I will try to continue with the dinners after Lent, of course.  But Lent always comes at a time when I need some kind of boost.  And the boost I needed this year was to eat!  To eat with the family and spend time with them.

For anyone in the Western Carolinas:  I am taking part in a Women’s Conference solely about dinner.  It is called, “Dinner’s On.” There will be many tips given to help get “dinner on” the table as well a reflection, Mass, a cooking demo and a catered lunch.  It is on March 26 in Greenville, SC. For more info:

Copyright 2011 Tami Kiser







About Author

Tami is the author of Smart Martha's Catholic Guide for Busy Moms and the founder of She lives in Greenville, SC with her husband and family. Tami runs the online CatholicConference4Moms, Smart Martha ministry,,, and teaches dance classes. Thinking like a Smart Martha has helped her to constantly seek to “sit at Christ’s feet” even in the midst of piles of laundry and sinks of dirty dishes.


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