Thursday, August 29, 2013

Have you taken the Family Dinner Challenge?



I have been promoting family dinner in this space for several years. I've thought about the hows and the whys, the benefits and the excuses, and the ups, downs, sideways and backwards of family dinner. I've wondered about the best ways to encourage people to give regular family dinners a try: I've quoted statistics and presented independent research. I've linked to recipes and other resources so that people would feel like there was support and help at their fingertips.

After all these posts, I can honestly say that I think it comes down to commitment. Simply making a commitment to family dinner, whether it is 3 times a week or every single night. Family dinner is really about setting goals for your family life and following through. Once you can do that, the proof is in the pudding. I find that families who start with the family dinner routine very quickly feel that it is worth the effort. Most families that "do family dinner" just wouldn't have it another way--it's that good.

That's why I love Aviva Goldfarb of The Scramble's new Family Dinner Challenge. In September she is encouraging families to sign up and make the commitment to family dinner 3 times a week for 4 weeks. She is hoping to get 10,000 families strong to join in committing to family dinner. It is easy, fast, free and with no commitment, other than the promise you make to yourself!

If you already have family dinner 3x a week or more, sign up and join the family dinner community. If you want help and resources to make the commitment for the first time, all the more reason to sign up! There are even some amazing prizes that you could win, but the real winner will be you and your family.

In addition to The Scramble, there is an amazing online community that has tips and recipes to help make family dinner a reality. Many of them have signed up as partners to the Family Dinner Challenge: The Family Dinner Book, Bri of Red, Round and Green, Time at the Table, Kia of Today I Ate a Rainbow, Gina of Feeding Our Families, Bettina of The Lunch Tray, Sally of Real Mom Nutrition, and the Kids Cook Monday. Some other favorite resources of mine are listed here.

Give family dinner a try; take the Family Dinner Challenge and join thousands of families making the commitment to family dinner this September!



You can also show your support for Family Dinner in a ThunderClap online event. Sign up with Twitter or Facebook, or Tumblr and you'll send out a message of support at the same time as thousands of others. It's a great way to call attention to the important of family dinner and the legions of families that are in support of family dinner and each other.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Family Dinner: A Stable Force in Times of Change

School's ending, summer's coming: this time of year is a season of change and is often full of transitions. Honestly, this year for me is so full of transitions that my head is spinning. My son turns 18 in a couple of weeks and will graduate from high school. He will attend college over 1,000 miles away, making his journey away from home very real. My middle daughter is graduating middle school, preparing to enter high school. The distance she will travel is also significant. Instead of a short walk to school on a relatively quiet Brooklyn street, her commute to high school will be via subway to that "big city" in Manhattan. And my mother, who is recently widowed, is planning a reverse-retiree move from Florida to Brooklyn this summer, so as to be closer to her only family, me.

All these journeys to and from home, all these big changes, are exciting, but nonetheless a bit scary and unsettling. Change can be hard, especially when the family structure you've been used to for... I don't know, for-EVER, is changing. Add these emotions to the usual end-of-the-year chaos of school picnics, special ceremonies and extra performances, and you've got A LOT GOING ON.

Family dinner is the one thing that gets us through these upside-down times. We still try to have dinner together 4 or more nights a week, no matter how busy we get. It really grounds us all and gives us a center. Weeknights are the best times for us to eat together as a family, though mealtimes get shortened because the older kids need to do homework and the youngest must fit in bath and bedtime by a decent hour. We rarely get our 17 year old to the table on Friday or Saturday night anymore because he has usually has plans with friends.

This holiday weekend, though, many of his friends were away and it was all five of us at the table with no time pressures or places to run off to. We laughed together, shared a huge bunch of fresh lychee nuts,* and had longer after-dinner conversations than we've enjoyed in a while. Though he would never admit it, I can sense my son is already a bit nostalgic for these family times together. I certainly am.

Really delicious fresh lychee nuts

Knowing how much family dinner has meant to me and my children as I approach my 18th year (!) as a parent, I fully support Aviva of The Six O'Clock Scramble in the Family Dinner Challenge. Many of my readers already have regular family dinners, so it's a great way to show the numbers of people who live this lifestyle. For anyone who is interested in making the commitment to family dinner, but need help getting started (or help keeping your efforts going), The Six O'Clock Scramble is offering great resources including a checklist and recipes.

Sign up here to join in! 
Have dinner together at least 3 times a week for 4 weeks by September 2013!


* The funny story behind the overwhelming amount of lychee nuts in our house: This holiday weekend we went to Chinatown to have dim sum as a family; it had been ages since our schedules aligned so we could go together. We got separated from my husband at one point because he left something at the restaurant and had to go back. As the kids and I maneuvered through the crowded streets, every vendor seemed to have fresh lychee nuts. The kids begged to get them, and I hesitated because they are quite expensive, but eventually I said, "Sure." Soon after we caught up with my husband; of course he had bought a big bunch of lychee nuts too! We all laughed about it as my middle daughter observed, "I feel like this would only happen in my family!" Anyone have any recipes?



Monday, May 6, 2013

Family Dinner & Food Revolution Day 2013: Cook It, Share It, Live It


Celebrate real food on May 17, 2013 and every day! Join the movement!


I have been a big fan of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution cause since he started the movement in 2010. This year's theme Cook it, Share it, Live it aptly sums up the enthusiasm for real food and it's a prefect metaphor for how family dinners can reinforce all the sentiments of the Read Food Revolution philosophy.

COOK IT: Real food begins at home with simple delicious and healthy home cooked meals. Did you know that convenience foods don't actually save that much time in the kitchen? According to a recent study, the time saved with convenience foods is minimal, but that "convenience" can actually undermine family dinner. Convenience food supports the notion that everyone can eat their own food whenever they feel like it, rather than having a family meal together. In short, it teaches kids and ourselves that processed food that's "our way" is better than a shared, cooked meal. Read more about it here: The Atlantic: Serving Convenience Foods for Dinner Doesn't Save Time, March 11, 2013

When you cook food for yourself and your family, you end up with healthier, fresher food, where you control the ingredients. If you are shopping and planning well, the overall price of better food is usually far less than a prepared food options.

SHARE IT: Family meals are not strictly about the food served. It is a time to talk, laugh and bond together as a family. Some research suggests that the conversations that happen around the family table are the key ingredient to a child's success at school and in life. By sharing meals, we remember to slow down and enjoy our loved ones. Food Revolution Day is a good reminder that the dinner table can create a shared community, be it with family or with friends and neighbors.

LIVE IT: The Food Revolution is not about a boring, strict regimen of food, with the idea of pushing food that's just "good for you" medicine you have to take. It is about the GOOD LIFE! Real food-- luscious, delicious, fresh and naturally nutritious-- it is the most wonderful stuff in the world and worth celebrating. Join the Food Revolution because you want to embrace the good life!

Celebrate Food Revolution Day on May 17th, 2013 with a great real food family dinner. Try some of these great recipes

Check out the Food Revolution website and Facebook page to find special events near you.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Family Dinner Conference, April 18, 2013: Join the Conversation!

Family dinner can be a surprisingly hot topic of conversation. NPR is currently doing a series about family dinner that is generating a lot of buzz. Many of the profiled families fit a mold that suggests that family dinner nowadays is an impossible dream. Yet listeners and commenters have chimed in and overwhelming gave witness to how family dinner was indeed alive and well at their house. Despite juggling work schedules, kid's commitments and the just "too few hours in a day" issues we all face, many families are finding a way to make family dinner a priority.

So, clearly there's a lot to talk about. This spring, on April 18, 2013 the first ever Family Dinner Conference will be held at New York University's Kimmel Center, organized by my friend Billy Mawhiney from Time at the Table. It will be an excellent place to get the conversation about family dinner going. For parents and educators, this conference is a chance to learn about practical solutions and to forward new ideas. It will be a place to find kindred spirits in our belief in family dinner, while sharing evidence and telling stories about how it's done by busy, modern families across the country.

Starting with the keynote by Jenny Rosenstrach best-selling author of Dinner A Love Story, there will be an all-star line up of authors, bloggers, and nutrition experts, including Aviva Goldfarb of the The Six O'Clock Scramble and Pam Koch of Kids Cook Monday. (See the full schedule here.) The Blog for Family Dinner Team, including Kathleen Cuneo of Dinner Together, Billy, and me, will host a luncheon panel discussion. We will all be presenting and discussing real strategies to make family dinner work. It promises to be a great and inspirational day!

Participants will hear from the entire panel of speakers and will enjoy close-up conversations during the Q&As, lunch and afternoon networking sessions. In the admission price is included a light breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon smoothie bar. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.

Join us at the first Family Dinner Conference in NYC!


Thursday April 18,
9:30am-4:30pm
New York University, Kimmel Center
60 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012

www.familydinnerconference.com
info@timeatthetable.org
347-450-TATT (8288)


    Wednesday, January 30, 2013

    The Teen Solution to Family Dinner

    In preparing a presentation for high school educators recently, I had a "light bulb" moment. Teens are an untapped resource in the family dinner equation. When we think of family dinner, teenagers hardly even enter into the picture. This may be because they have busy schedules, just like their parents, or perhaps parents of teens have already given up on a family table! But the teenager years are a crucial time where family dinner can really help parents and older kids stay connected. Moreover, teens can help make dinner happen -- the Teen Solution to Family Dinner!


    Real Benefits for Teens

    Kids, teens and adults who have family dinner regularly report feeling more connected, happier and less stressed. This has a special resonance for teens. I was recently shocked and saddened to learn that 1 in 25 teens has attempted suicide and 1 in 8 has had some thoughts of suicide. Teen mood swings are typical, yet teen depression and other mental health problems are a very real threat that parents and educators need to be attuned to. Just the act of having a few meals together, at any time of day, can bring this crucial connection. Family dinner has been shown to be a positive behavioral therapy for teens with eating disorders, substance abuse problems, and other mental health issues.

    Furthermore, teens actually like having dinner with their families, despite the stereotypes. They appreciate having a regular time with parents and they report eating more healthful foods with the family. As Tara Parker-Pope, reported in The New York Times Well Blog, a few years ago, even people working in the field can forget.
    Despite her research, Dr. Neumark-Sztainer was surprised when her own son was interviewed by a local television station about the family’s regular Friday night meal. A senior in high school at the time, he told the reporter, “I like that my parents expect me to be home, because it makes me feel important.’’

    Real Help from Teens

    The number one complaint from parents about family dinner is the time it takes to put dinner on the table. The light bulb moment came when I read that one of teens' biggest frustrations was that parents did not let them help more in the kitchen! Clearly, this is a potential win-win for parents and teens. Depending on where you live, teens can help shop, prep for, and/or cook dinner for their families, in addition to the more traditional role of cleaning up. Even if it is just once or twice a week, letting your teen take charge of dinner could mean the difference between having dinner together or not. Actually taking responsibility for making the family meal can be a great way to bolster self-confidence and self-esteem. Teens hate doing "busy-work" and may actually be more willing to cook for the family (an important job) rather than taking out the garbage (easier, but a more menial task).

    The teenage years are an excellent time to learn cooking as a real-life survival skill. Unlike grade school children, where cooking is solely "fun," teenagers will actually be cooking for themselves in just a few years. I cooked dinner for my family while my mom worked nights, and I think that's where my confidence in the kitchen came from. I cooked meals throughout college to save money and was often surprised that other people didn't know how to cook. Though I'm able to make much more sophisticated meals now, I started with serving my mom's pre-made crock-pot dinners and re-heating frozen vegetables.

    As the mom of two teens, I know having your teen cook dinner might be a hard sell; it definitely depends on the personalities involved. You may even have to scale back your own expectations about what constitutes dinner. (In an article from last year, My Sons, the Sous-Chefs, a NYT writer humblebrags about her sons cooking full meals and manage to critique their technique at the same time!)

    What do you think? Is it possible to have teens or tweens actually make family dinner? Would this help your family eat together more often?

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    New Year: Looking Forward on Family Dinner and more


    Goodbye 2012, you son of a bitch.
    -- My good friend Julian Fleisher's Facebook reflection on New Year's Eve. Yes, it got a lot of "Likes."
    With the Hurricane Sandy disaster and the tragic killings in Sandy Hook, the end of 2012 has surely been one of the more difficult times in recent memory. I remember when 9/11 happened; it stopped me in my tracks. As the parent of young children, as a New Yorker, as a professional and political person (I was teaching Public Policy at NYU that year), 9/11 turned my world-view upside down, even though I wasn't "personally" affected. This fall felt a bit like a flashback of that terrible fall 11 years ago. Though I feel deeply lucky and grateful that my family and loved ones are safe and sound, I was still struck by a need to reflect, take stock, and brood over what next steps I should or could take in light of these events.

    I haven't been posting very much, in part because I have felt torn. So many of my emotions and thoughts were tied up in issues that were only tangentially related to family dinner, if at all. As a country, we need sane gun control. As world citizens, we must confront and act on climate change. As members of our community, we must look for ways to keep making a difference and help each other, neighbor by neighbor. On a personal level, I knew what to do: give time, give money, give blood, share a political petition or two, give some more money. But, other than a prompt to discuss these matters at the dinner table, how would those topics fit into this blog on family dinner?

    Promoting family dinner and spreading the word about healthy eating at home and at school is still at the core of my work and advocacy. But there's a wider universe of solutions that can improve public health and the well-being and resiliency of children and adults in my community. In addition to nutrition and access to good food, we can and should talk about ideas like livable streets, urban gardening, green infrastructure, and ways to support children and adults with better education, safe streets and more economic opportunity.

    I am pushing back against my old habits of dividing my alliances, which started back in middle school. I didn't think my "nerdy" school friends could possibly relate my "cooler" neighborhood friends, so I always tried to keep them separate. I've been inadvertently doing that by keeping my community activism separate from my work in promoting healthy food and family dinner. Foolishness really; it is all more connected that we realize. As this world of expanded social networks shows us, more is more. More friends, more connections, more topics clashing is not something to be afraid of. Synergies and big ideas are only possible when you mash-up unexpected skills, talents, and interests. I hope to do more of that this year, both online and off; I'll just have to try to figure out how.

    Here's my idea for new beginnings in 2013: I'll keep the Eatdinner.org blog and the Eatdinner Facebook page focused specifically on healthy eating and the benefits of family dinner. I'll not shy away from my opinions on more diverse topics on Twitter (@eatdinner) or in person. I hope you'll continue to follow me in all these venues and that we can continue our conversations and debates together and learn from each other.

    Despite the heartbreaks of 2012, in this new year, I am looking forward. I am re-thinking how to best channel my passions and advocacy into making the world, especially my local community, a better place. I am actively seeking opportunities to improve my community in Brooklyn and New York City--if you live or work nearby, I'd love to connect with you to discuss specific projects, or maybe just have coffee. If we already know each other in the blogosphere or from the neighborhood, feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn. Of course I'd love to have you follow me here, on Facebook, or Twitter.

    Here is to a bright, happy and healthy 2013!

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Grateful for Our Urban Harvest

    I've been amazed and grateful for over the last few weeks to witness the huge outpouring of support for neighbors in need following Hurricane Sandy. I have always known New Yorkers to be generous and giving, despite the tough exteriors that we may show. What I've also been reminded of again and again is our flexibility, resilience and persistence. Inspired by Red, Round and Green's call for #SecondHelpings, I wanted to share this story about how small efforts can add up to make a real difference.

    On Monday, my daughter's public school held its annual Harvest Day celebration. Originally scheduled for the week Hurricane Sandy hit, it was unclear if the event, themed "Our Urban Harvest," could even be rescheduled. The band couldn't make it, nor could the worm composters from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A few of the outdoor art projects also had to be scrapped because it could only be held inside. Would it even be worth it?


    A key component of Harvest Day was a food drive which seemed especially needed in our community this year, so with the backing of the administration, we went ahead with a curtailed day. There were concerns about the hasty re-scheduling. Parents were only given a couple days notice (a backpack flyer on Friday for a Monday event (!)) and there was concern of donor fatigue (this would be week 4 of near-continuous asking for local donations). All those worries were washed away as the food and donations came pouring in that morning in the school yard. There was such a mountain of food, we weren't quite sure how to handle it.

    The kids stepped in. Preschoolers and Kindergarteners sorted cans and older children actually put together boxes of balanced meals for the pantry. They were all beaming and filled with pride because it was clear that this urban harvest had a purpose. Their donations were not just being left in a big pile at the schoolyard gate to go some mysterious place; they were being actively organized and sorted to go to a real family's Thanksgiving table.

    Parent volunteers drove over 40 meal boxes and many other bags filled with goods to the food pantry. One parent stepped in to rent a truck to bring over the haul, once it was clear that a couple of cars wasn't going to do it!
    Parent volunteers.
    Once at the pantry, they were welcomed. Another volunteer reported:

    We just dropped off the food at the [food pantry] in Sunset Park. The gentleman who received us was so choked up - he said he was so worried because the shelves were bare. They didn't know what they were going to do for Thanksgiving. 

    The shelves had only a few boxes of cereal until our delivery showed up.


    Some critical differences that made this food drive a success:

    1. The school PTA worked closely with a local pantry and asked them what was needed. The pantry was able to refrigerate items and could distribute the ingredients for meals, not just canned or non-perishable goods. 
    2. Each class was asked to put together a Thanksgiving meal for a family. Rather than just ask for "anything," specific sign-up sheets were established so parents could donate a main course, fresh or canned fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and pies and all the other makings of a real Thanksgiving feast. This avoided duplication and made the bounty much more diverse. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and pies are very rare but welcome commodities at food pantries, if they can store them. 
    3. The kids learned about healthy choices and balanced meals and then immediately put that knowledge into action. The food was arrayed into sections across the gym floor, and the children were encouraged to choose items to make balanced meal boxes.

    Over 40 main courses (turkeys, chickens and hams) were donated.

    As for the kids, I'm sure they probably missed not having a band or not having any take-home arts and crafts goodies. But they will remember being a small part of something bigger, making a difference by being part of the our urban harvest of generosity.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    #Second Helpings
    Red, Round and Green's Round -Up
    The Lunch Tray's Round-up