In the parallel passages from the Synoptic Gospels we read today (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), did you notice that all three times before Jesus fed the five thousand, he blessed the food? Each time it says, “and he looked up to heaven and said a blessing.” Each Gospel writer decided that it was important to include that detail. There are millions of other details they left out; they decided to include this one.
This example set by Jesus is the basis for Christians asking a blessing over their meals before they eat. I don’t think Jesus is giving us a mandate; it doesn’t come across that way. But he sure is setting a good example of what a thankful heart acts like when it is about to eat. I mean, it takes a lot of effort by God and other people to get a piece of grain from a basket to the ground to the stalk to the farmer to the baker to my mouth. And I even skipped a lot of steps there. We have many reasons to be thankful to a lot of people for the food we eat.
I honestly don’t think it is wrong if Christians don’t pray before every meal. As far as a habit is concerned, I think we are dealing with a “1” on the 0/1/10 scale. But it is most definitely wrong not to have a thankful heart toward God for his provision. Always. And it is definitely right to learn from Jesus’s example. And it is definitely right to acknowledge that God has kept his promise to meet our daily needs in answer to our daily prayer “Give us this day our daily bread.” And it is right to let others know that we indeed are thankful for God’s provision.
All in all, it is a very good habit to thank the Lord for your food when you eat a meal. Sure, it can become ritualistic. But that’s a heart problem. It means you’re careless and distracted. The solution is not to quit thanking God for the food. A better solution is to repent for a distracted, ungrateful heart that approaches food like your dog does when you set a full bowl of Alpo in front of him.
You may need to shake it up a bit. As our children were growing up, we would always thank God for each meal before we ate - except for breakfast. At breakfast, we would first eat, then read the Bible, then pray and thank God for the food we just ate and ask that it would grant us strength for the rest of the day.
So do whatever you need to do to remind yourself about the goodness of God and others in the provision of daily bread. Jesus did. That’s a pretty good example to follow.