How my family says grace without bringing capital R Religion into it

Guest post by Helen Jane Hearn

Saying grace
By: Zechariah JudyCC BY 2.0

I’ve always struggled with whether to pray before dinner. I wanted a way to say thanks for the food and acknowledge Ms. Earth’s contribution to our meal without bringing capital R Religion into it.

Something a little more than,
“Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub.”

And something a little less than,
“And these thy gifts from thy bounty…”

As these things happen, we found our groove naturally.

Every night before dinner, we hold hands around the table, the oldest, the youngest (well, sometimes the youngest, James and I. We list the people we’re thankful for.

The oldest usually adds herself a few times.
(I’d add her a few times too.)

I’ve been on the lookout though, for non-religious-pre-dinner thank you’s that bring in the food, the animals, the vegetables and the community we’re going to share and I’m coming up short.

All the pre-meal graces seem to be very religious.
And that doesn’t quite meet my needs.

It doesn’t make it any easier that to help all our guests feel more comfortable, I replaced “grace” with “toasts.” Toasts keep folks of all faiths at ease. But they’re not exactly the sentiment I’m looking for, you dig?

So I’ve written my own non-religious pre-meal thank you graces. They’re not toasts, they’re not prayers (exactly) they’re just a way to experience gratitude for the meal, the community and the nourishment you’re about to share…

We end our grace with a hearty “AMEN.”
It feels right to our family.

But I’d also recommend a hearty, “THANK YOU” or “YO HO HO.”
Actually, kicking off the meal with a “YO HO HO,” sounds kind of awesome.


We are so grateful for this food,
it restores our strength,
it heals our bodies,
it fuels our brains.

We are so grateful for this time,
to renew our spirit,
to share our trials,
to find new strength.


All that we have is a gift.
May we be thankful.
May we celebrate.
May we share.


For our friends,
for our families,
for our meal,
we are thankful.

For life,
for healing,
for joy,
we are thankful.


Thanks to the earth for the soil.
Thanks to the sky for the rains.
Thanks to the farmers for the harvest.
Thanks to our friends for the love.


May this meal we’re about to share help our spirits shine brighter.
May this brightness send darkness away and
warm the hearts of strangers.


Comments on How my family says grace without bringing capital R Religion into it

  1. English is a bit limited in that it doesn’t have a traditional non-religious meal time “thank you” or “enjoy your meal” phrase like “bon apetit!” But I guess that leaves space for everyone to make their own traditions.

  2. Love this! I’m UU, and raising my daughter (who’s only 4 months atm, so what does she care?) in the UU community. I struggle with finding sentiments for many occasions that are spiritual without being religious. Thanks for the great ideas!

  3. Love this post and I think your graces are awesome. My little family (the 3 of us) do follow a spiritual practice but the blessing we use before meals is so simple and non-denominational-ish my non-religious family has adopted it. It is in the call and response style, and translated is this:
    We sit and eat together (we sit and eat together)
    We sit and eat together (we sit and eat together)
    We sit and eat in peace (we sit and eat in peace)
    In the original Yoruba:
    Onje ajepe
    onje ajepe
    Onje alafia
    My spelling may be wrong 🙂
    Phonetically it is:
    Ahn-jay Aw-jep-way
    Ahn-jay Awl-awf-ee-uh

    • oops. I messed up. It is like this:
      We sit and eat together (we sit and eat with nature)
      We sit and eat together (we sit and eat with nature)
      We sit and eat in together(we sit and eat in peace)
      In the original Yoruba:
      Onje ajepe (onje orisa)
      onje ajepe (onje orisa)
      Onje ajepe (onje alafia)

      ‘orisa’ is pronounced oh-ree-sha

  4. I love these! I’m the chaplain of our local Grange, and I’m always looking for ways to express thanks before a meal that don’t feel exclusionary to any of our diverse members. Currently, we use this one:

    For the bounty here before us,
    The hands that brought it to our table,
    And the company in which we share it,
    We give thanks.
    (All: We give thanks.)

  5. I really love these! I’m agnostic, so I always feel a bit awkward when it’s time to say grace at the dinner table. But I think I might try a couple of these out during the holidays this year.

  6. I love this post! I am always looking for resources to incorporate a non-religious spiritual teaching into my son’s life. This is a mealtime prayer that I found somewhere:

    We receive this food in gratitude to all beings who have helped bring it to our table, and vow to respond in turn to those in need with wisdom and compassion.

  7. The one I have to suggest is religious, but it is great when we are really hungry:

    Good Veggies, Good Meat, Good God, Let’s Eat!

    Plus it doesn’t work for vegetarians lol! However, whenever this one gets chosen it gets a giggle around the table.

  8. For the Food Before Us
    For the Friends Around Us
    For the Love Between Us
    We give thanks.

    It embarrasses the snot out of my teenage daughter when she friends eating with us. But I like the ritual, better than just diving into the grub.

  9. This is really interesting to me as I was raised in a very open, honest, and accepting family. But as Evangelical Christians We always pray at ever meal… but they are not “religious” prayers. I guess I’m kinda wondering what makes something big R Religious?

  10. What a great discussion!
    (And Emily, love your thanks too.)

    And other Emily, Amy says it better than I could, keeping it out of specific deities was my goal — but acknowledging the efforts that resulted in the meal.

  11. I guess this one is a bit religious as well, but my Grandmother has gotten all of her grandchildren over the years to sing this song before big family meals. I’m not capital R Religious but it still resonates with me.

    “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me,
    and so I thank the Lord
    For giving me the things I need
    The sun and the rain and the apple seed
    The Lord’s been good to me”

  12. i work for a preschool and we say a very long winded prayer but i like the end the best and could work (i’m replacing the word God with earth)

    Thank you for the world so sweet
    Thank you for the food we eat
    Thank you for the birds that sing
    Thank you, Earth, for everything

    • We sing a version of this at our preschool in a UU church:
      We’re thankful for the food we eat,
      Thankful for the world so sweet,
      Thankful for the birds that sing,
      We’re glad we’re part of everything.

      Followed by a hearty “Bon appetite!” which is the part my 3-year-old likes best. 🙂

  13. My friend’s family has a tradition that we’ve adopted. As we’re all deaf, bowing our heads/holding hands is out of the question. We knock twice on the table before eating. Simple, quick, but conveys everything.

  14. We were raised saying grace in Dutch, we weren’t religious, but it was my mom’s only connection to her country. It ends in “om jesus will..” (sounds like Ohm Yayzusville). When I was 4, my mom caught me telling my brother it meant “Uncle Jesus town” !!
    ps: I really love this gatha:
    “We receive this food in gratitude to all
    Who have helped to bring it to our table,
    And vow to respond in turn to those in need
    With wisdom and compassion.

  15. My parents taught this one to my son when he was visiting and now he enjoys leading grace at home. We usually hold hands and he says:

    Earth, air, sun, rain
    the work of many
    bring this food to our table
    so we are blessed, nourished, strengthened
    to do good work in this world
    for the good of all creation


    I like it

  16. Thank you for this post. I don’t have children yet, but I have put thought behind this before. My husband and I were brought up catholic/christian but we are currently… well… nothing. We believe in science, with a light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

  17. Caitlin, this is what we use too. In our multifaith family, singing the Johnny Appleseed song has become our inclusive way of honoring the divine with music, recognizing the earth, and still be ‘churchy’ enough for those who see the world that way too. It’s a win-win for us all 😉

  18. Dallas Clayton just released a new children’s book called An Awesome Book of Thanks. There are tons of verses that could be used (together or individually) for a ‘thanks’ without religion. You can read the whole book online here (as well as his equally awesome first book, An Awesome Book):

  19. I am an atheist and have always detested being forced to say religious graces at events with my extended family. However, my mother had us say this short and sweet grace when it was just us:
    “We’re thankful for our food and family, I love you, amen.”
    I’m still not keen on the amen, but have yet to find something better to replace it with.

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