Monday, November 29, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving family dinner blues

A new study, released just in time for Thanksgiving, shows that 89% of American families have dinner together on Thanksgiving. The catch is that just half of the families surveyed eat dinner together regularly. One in six families (14%) never ate family dinner together! This is not shocking news, but it does show that we are willing to take great lengths for a once-a-year tradition, but not commit to a daily routine of eating dinner together. is all about promoting family dinner on a regular basis, not just special occasions.

So how can you transform warm feelings of Thanksgiving through this week, and the next, and the next?

The first step is making a commitment to family dinner. The next steps include identifying your personal roadblocks to family dinner and figuring out how to fix them.

Are you a single or divorced parent, or one partner can't be home consistently at dinner time? 
Make family dinner with the kids anyway. Family dinner can happen if all the people who are at home are sitting together and eating, ideally the same meal with the TV off. Acting like a short-order chef for the kids doesn't count. You have to sit down and eat too.

Are you unsure of your cooking skills? 
Cooking skills will last a lifetime and are worth an investment in time. Start with a basic cookbook and a good attitude. (Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is super easy and supplies all the basics. He even has an phone app and a weekly newsletter with recipes). Don't expect yourself to be an overnight gourmet chef, just keep working and practicing. You would be surprised how kids like and remember the simplest meals.

There's just no room in the schedule!
Schedule in dinner like it's an appointment, at least a few nights a week. Dinner with your family is just as important as soccer practice and PTA meetings. Eat dinner late if you have to. Talk to your boss, the coach or your child's teacher if you have to make special arrangements. Develop meals that can be made in minutes, quickly defrosted or served from a crockpot.

One final thought: think of family dinner as your own food revolution.
What's the best way to start a food revolution in your own home? Learn to cook.
Jamie Oliver via Family Bites blog
 Just a few ideas to help make family dinner a reality. Any other ideas to add? Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts to Last Through the Year

The day before Thanksgiving and everyone is deep in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the big traditional meal or hitting the roads to travel far and wide to get to the family table. Special event dinners like Thanksgiving are a wonderful way to be connected to family and friends, but you can have that sense of connectedness throughout the year with regular family dinners. The act of sitting around the table itself may foster more gratitude among family members. According to new research by psychologists, being thankful can have positive influences on the lives of children and adults, mirroring many of the benefits of family dinner.

Just think of banking a fraction of the energy you spend on Thanksgiving to share toward regular family meals. I hope that warm thoughts of Thanksgiving can spur new resolutions to make family dinner a routine part of your life.

On that note, I am honored and grateful that was mentioned in Jennifer's Grant recent column in The Chicago Tribune. Happy Thanksgiving from!

The importance of dinner together -- not just at Thanksgiving, but everyday Chicago Tribune, Jennifer Grant, 11.23.10

Thank you. No thank you. Grateful People are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers are Gobbled Up by Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal Online, 11.23.10

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thoughts on Thanksgiving with Recipe Round-up

Everyone in the food blogger community, and in America probably, is gearing up for Thanksgiving feasts on Thursday. (I listed a recipe round-up from some favorite bloggers below). We are all collectively making elaborate menus, trading secrets to good pastry making techniques and doing extra food shopping, whether we have an eye on the budget or are thinking of splurging. If you are not cooking at home, you might bracing yourself for extensive travel and all those hassles. All the effort and expense usually seems worth it as you reconnect with family and friends and enjoy a meal together on the big day.

Thanksgiving dinner seems to be the "Hallmark" holiday for family dinner and I love the Thanksgiving holiday. Yet, Thanksgiving dinner extravaganzas are not really the "family dinners" I promote on this blog. Family dinner is a normal, day-to-day routine that can be extraordinary, but often is not. Sometimes dinners, especially those on the weekend, can be great fun with special games or favorite foods all around. More often, weeknight dinner is a "get-er-done" type situation where dinner is cooked in 20 minutes and eaten in less becuase there is homework or bedtime to be done. This kind of family dinner is still worth doing, and celebrating, becuase it provides a rock solid foundation for your family. This ordinary kind of family dinner provides a way to check-in with your kids and partner, a time to talk about problems that may arise, and a time to hear the good stuff about everyone's day. It also sends a message that family time is important enough to schedule in everyday, and that you, as my child, are important enough to check in with everyday. Powerful stuff made possible over an everyday dinner table.

Thanksgiving is important not just because of the great food and the family reunions, but because it is a holiday that allows us to step back and be grateful for whatever we have. Continue that feeling throughout the year with regular family dinners.

Best Thanksgiving Recipes and Tips from the Blogs:
Vino Lucci's Thanksgiving Favorites
Dinner: A Love Story's Thanksgiving Roll-out look for several great recipes by clicking related stories
6 Holiday Pumpkin Recipes from Babble's Family Kitchen
Epicurious Complete Thanksgiving Guide with Videos, Recipes, Menus
Centerpieces Without the Turkey and more vegetarian dishes from the NYT Well Blog
The Food Lab's Guide to Thanksgiving Day Planning via Serious Eats
Thanksgiving Sides from Food 52

Got a favorite not listed? Feel free to add in comments. (You can add your own blog too!)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Family Dinner Fan Club: Happy Anniversary,!

I just realized that my blog's anniversary is coming up, so I'm giving myself "Friday Fan Club"! I have been writing about and promoting family dinner on for three years this Thanksgiving (my first blog post here). Just like when your babies get older, it's hard to imagine where the time has gone. Looking back, there have been some bumps in the road, but I'm proud to say that my goals have pretty much stayed the same: to promote family dinner by posting practical ideas, research, and resources for parents.

In May 2010, I rededicated myself to the cause of family dinner and, in recent months, have happily found a community of like-minded bloggers and tweeple on twitter (@eatdinner). The family dinner meme finally seems to be catching a buzz, thanks most recently to Laurie David's new book The Family Dinner Cookbook. This year has also shown that some companies in the corporate food world can responsibly support family dinner. Some examples include Stouffer's Let's Fix Dinner campaign partnership with CASA (my post here) and the Smuckers' The Power of Family Meals website that features Miriam Weinstein, who wrote  the "bible" of family dinner, The Surprising Power of Family Meals (my Friday Fan post here). Barilla also has lots of family dinner resources under its Share the Table website. Offline, I recently meet with Time at the Table, a new organization that is promoting family dinner, and we hope to collaborate as our organizations move forward.

Part of my mission is to promote great ideas that can help families commit to family dinner. So if you write a blog or books, do research, or publicize in the media on the wide-range of issues that can relate to family health and family dinner, please contact me in the comments or grace [at] eatdinner [dot] org.

Let's think about how we can all work together to promote family dinner as good for each family and as a broad social good, too.

PS For my anniversary, please "like" this page or share the link with a friend! Many thanks!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Family Dinner Tips and Tricks: Crowdsourced from The Motherhood

Laurie David's new book: The Family Dinner Cookbook is winning raves and garnering a lot of media buzz; all this is terrific attention to the issue of family dinner. She and many mommy bloggers chatted on The Motherhood today and the love for family dinner was fast and furious! I'm posting a round-up of some collective wisdom, adding a few tips of my own.
"If you can muster the energy for only one tool to raising a healthy family, make it having family dinner."   Tom Hanks, actor/producer, promoting Laurie David's The Family Dinner Cookbook.
As a proponent of family dinner, I couldn't agree more. But so many parents ask, "How can I do it?!" I think the key ingredients to family dinner success are desire and commitment. First and foremost, you have to want to do this for yourself and your family and be committed to making it happen. All the rest is planning, organization, and not a small amount of grunt work. Cooking, serving, enjoying the meals with your family can be great fun, but the proof of family dinner is in the day-to-day routine even on not so special days. Blogs, cookbooks, cooking shows all offer inspiration and a little fun as you travel the sometimes bumpy road of family dinner. As today's online chat on The Motherhood demonstrates, it helps to feel the love and support of a community that believes in family dinner.

Some Family Dinner Tips (more from past posts here)

1. Everyone chips in. Family dinner does not have to be a "mom-led" thing. Adults can share cooking duties, even if one is a "better" cook, and kids can help too. Let go of expectations and just get everyone involved. Older kids can cook meals (it's a great life skill!),  and younger ones can "help" or at least set the table or clear plates.

2. Menu planning: saves time, money and stress: Since being "too busy" is the number one reason families struggle with making dinner routine, menu planning can really help make family dinner happen. When you know what you are making each night, the prep and cooking can go on auto-pilot. Plus, you can balance out meals (meat one night, meatless the next), effectively use left-overs or grocery specials, and be sure to include kid and parent favorites in the rotation.

3. Have go-to recipes and staples on hand to create them. Jennie at Dinner: A Love Story refers to these as "back-pocket" recipes: something you know so well you can whip it up with little thought or preparation. In our house, I can throw together a left-over pasta dish and my husband makes a mean fried rice out of fridge forage. Both are faster than take-out. It's an essential skill when something got to get on the table.

4. Be flexible with timing, but not about dinner. Everyone eats the same dinner and eats around the table with no phones and no TV. If my kids come home from sports practice hungry (and of course they do), I left them snack. But they still eat dinner at the table when dinner comes, even if it's just few bites. If one of us works late or has an evening meeting, there is still dinner time at the table. Dinner might be late or early that night, but whoever is home sits down and eats.

5. It's supposed to be fun and a time to talk, but not to nag or air grievances.  Family dinner is a block of time is to connect, to enjoy the food, and to hear stories of the day. Not the time to nag about HW or go over old arguments. The Family Dinner Cookbook has many fun suggestions to spark dinner conversations if you need inspiration.

6. Family dinner is about more than the food. Conversations, connections, family folklore, politics, table manners, values, appreciation of family life: all this is what family dinner is really all about.

My dear hope is for more families to realize that family dinner is an essential and important part of life. Family dinner helps you get the most out of your family life (right now!) as well as give a solid foundation to your children's futures.

The Motherhood Chat Thread on Family Dinner, 11/15/2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Cook: YouBChef, Getting Your Cooking Groove On

In promoting family dinner, I often think about what stands in the way of families coming together for meals. One thing is cooking skill; many people lament that they just can't cook. But I think it's not just cooking skill, it's cooking confidence. In our society, we have both quickie, fast-food-style convenience foods on one hand and a "foodie" cultural of exotic ingredients and elaborate presentations a'la the Food Network on the other. Both extremes can undermine a person's mojo in the kitchen. Basic home-cooking falls somewhere in between and is rewarding and delicious in its own right.  Don't let high expectations of camera-ready masterpieces from lush cookbooks or food blogs  get you down; learn from them and be inspired. Coming up with delicious, quick-and-easy meals is an important skill and takes practice.

A friend, and supporter of family dinner, came up with an idea to videotape real people, cooking real meals to promote a concept: YouBChef. You don't have to be a TV star chef to cook for yourself and you family. You are the chef, you can do it. (More videos are under the YouTube channel YouBChef). Here are some folks that are muddling along just like you. Be inspired and just cook. As they say, a few eggs may get broken along the way, but it's all part of learning in the kitchen and at the table.

Jill on YouBChef, Broccoli Rabe Crostini

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spread Vegetable Love: Eat Veggies Plain or with "the Flavor"

How to get kids, and their parents, to eat vegetables: that's been a topic of much debate in the blogosphere lately. Jane Brody of the NYTimes recently wrote a lament that basically argued that people should know what's good for them and take their vegetable medicine. Many in the foodie blog community (Daniel Koontz of Causal KitchenJolly Tomato), as well as over 600 NYT readers, called her on it, stating "Can we please stop calling vegetables bad and rejoice in them?" In another thread, One Hungry Mama called for straight up vegetable love rather than teaching parents that veggies must be "sneaked' into cooking in order to be consumed by kids. I agree; we need more vegetable love.

Vegetables are delicious. Period. True, vegetables may require a bit more cooking skill and adults may have to open their minds a bit to get over old habits. If your working memory of vegetables runs something like spinach=canned or stringy frozen=punishment, go get yourself some fresh spinach, wash it well, and lightly steam. It is a totally different experience. True, organic and fresh food can be expensive, but getting sick is expensive too. Healthy food helps you and your family stay healthy. True, many kids balk at vegetables. But just remember that kids may have to be exposed to lots of veggies, lots of times (like 10+) in order to love them. There are easy ways to make kid-friendly, great-tasting vegetables and serve them from infancy onward.

My older kids love vegetables. Maybe they are "weird" or maybe it's because they have eaten them from baby-hood. (I used a blender to make babyfood or the Happy Baby Food Mill to crunch up everything right at the table.) My youngest, though I hate to admit it, is the picky one. She takes a lot of coaxing on vegetables, just like everything else. We call the bok choy "baby boy choy" even if it's not. We just give her the more tender leaves of a Chinese vegetable, not the stems. We let her open up the green beans and just eat the tiny little "pea" inside, tossing the rest away. After all the coaxing, there's a lot of ignoring. She often loudly declares that she doesn't like it, or worse, throws the offending thing off her plate. We firmly say "That's not allowed," and go into the "ignoring" portion of the dinner. We basically say you can eat it or not, but you can't be rude. And every night, we keep offerring her whatever vegetable we have on the table and steel ourselves for her discontent.

She is now 5 years old and this vegetable battle has been going on for maybe 2 or 3 years now. It can be wearing. But we do have some triumphs to report. She will now ask for salad (likes the carrot shreds and the tomatoes, sometimes the lettuce), she loves edamame, and she regularly eats broccoli, spinach, and the baby leaves from many Chinese vegetables. Her favorite dish is "Broccoli with the Flavor." Not just her favorite vegetable dish, her favorite thing to eat, period. My husband devised this stir-fry method, which my dear daughter dubbed "Broccoli with the Flavor." When I asked him to walk me through the steps of the recipe, he warned,"This is a seriously complicated way to make broccoli." But she loves it and your kids might too.

Broccoli with the Flavor
1 Head of Broccoli, sliced into florets, retaining some stem
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly or minced
1 teaspoon of soy sauce

Parboil broccoli: Cook in boiling water for 3 minutes. Promptly remove and run under cold water, spin dry in a lettuce spinner, if you have one. Otherwise, pat with paper towels to remove excess water.

Stir-Fry: Heat wok or saute pan until hot. Add canola oil and quickly saute garlic for 10 seconds, careful not to burn it. Toss in dried broccoli, scraping up the bottom to mix garlic, oil and vegetable. Cook this way for maybe 1 minute. Lower heat and add soy sauce. Toss for another 30 to 1 minute and serve.
PS: If I'm cooking, I just steam up the broccoli (try not to overcook!) and toss with a little butter, salt and pepper. She'll ate that too.

Spread Veggie Love!

Links to Veggie Debate and Resources for Cooking Veggies for Kids: