Monday, December 19, 2011

A Year in Family Dinner

I'm thrilled to look back on this year and realize that it's been a busy year for family dinner. The topic of family dinner has been in the news more than ever. It has been profiled as a way to promote healthy and enjoyable eating at the table, which may in turn help prevent childhood obesity and eating disorders. Family dinner has been touted as one solution to social disconnection among teens and tweens and a way to reduce bullying, alcohol and drug use in this group. Perhaps most importantly, the ongoing topic of family dinner has been a reminder that it is a great way to re-connect with the people in our lives on a regular and meaningful basis. I'm grateful to have been a small part of this family dinner movement!

Here are a few family dinner highlights from the past year:

  • The Family Dinner Book by Laurie David was published late last year. It really inspired a nation-wide conversation about the benefits of family meals. The weekly Family Dinner Table Talk on The Huffington Post has helped provide great conversations for family dinners through the year.
  • (my organization) launched a Family Dinner Survey in the Spring of 2011 and has had over 500 respondents. The more we learn about what really works for busy families, the better we can promote and encourage the commitment to family dinner. Some preliminary results are here.
  • Blog for Family Dinner was created as a collaboration of Billy Mawhiney, Time at the Table, Kathleen Cuneo, Dinner Together and myself. In the month of September 26 to October 24, 2011, we had over 30 writers contribute stories and advice about family dinner. It has been great to connect with a community of bloggers from all different backgrounds who all agree on the importance of family dinner.
  • CASA's Annual Family Day received wide attention, and was profiled on ABC news. CASA updated their annual study about the effect of family dinner to prevent substance abuse among teens. The new study added detailed questions on frequency of family dinner, the quality of family relationships and likelihood of teens using alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Food Day, founded by CSPI, was a nationwide event October 24, 2011 that encouraged us to "Eat Real America!" Blog for Family Dinner was proud to be part of its NYC Times Square event.

Other great organizations that highlighted family dinner this year:
Prevent Obesity

The Family Dinner Project at Harvard University

The Kids Cook Monday

Other Food Policy News:
Andy Bellatti of Small Bites put together an exhaustive (and a bit depressing) Year-end Round-up of Food Policy News. Worth a look.

Not a Year-end Review, but some recent links from one of my Favorite bloggers
The Lunch Tray by Bettina Elias Siegel

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grateful on Thanksgiving

Ahh, Thanksgiving--the most marvelous food and family holiday of the year. Of course, I am excited about the big get-together of friends and family (we usually have 25 or more at the table) and about the wonderful foods, both traditional dishes and new things to try. If you need inspiration, check out one of the many great Thanksgiving round-ups (to name a few, The Food Network, FN Blogger's #PullUpaChair, Food 52, The New York Times and One Hungry Mama). But I also find myself wistful as we approach the holiday season. Rather than wait until New Year's, Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to step back and reflect on what really matters, and how best to hold and cherish those priorities beyond the holiday season.

As I have previously argued, family dinner should not be just a once-a-year Thanksgiving event, but an everyday joy and blessing. If a fraction of the energy for the big T-Day could be somehow banked and re-invested into everyday dinners though the year, that would be a more healthy balance for everyone. Nonetheless, we might as well use the big day to inspire us and help us resolve to carry the spirit throughout the year. You might call it the "plan-ahead" method to new resolutions!

Looking past on this year, I have a lot be grateful for. First and foremost, the good health of my family and close friends, which can never be taken for granted. I am also grateful that I have met so many fantastic and like-minded people who care about good food and family dinner through and Blog for Family Dinner. I am grateful to be a part of Blog for Family Dinner with my colleagues Billy and Kathleen and for all the bloggers who contributed to the effort and made it "easy" with their contributions of wonderful stories, tips and advice. I am grateful that the message of family dinner is one that keeps resonating and growing with more attention the important of good food and more impatience with the politics get in the way of important efforts to provide healthy school lunch and to establish fair and reasonable farm and food policies. Mark Bittman recently provided a great list of folks fighting the good fight.

So here's my small, grateful round-up in honor of Thanksgiving 2011: Thank you for your involvement and support of EatDinner and Blog for Family Dinner. Thank you for your friendship, enthusiasm and good work on good food and family dinner.

Grateful for:
All the #B4FD Bloggers: List of Featured Bloggers

Co-Founders of the #B4FD Project
Billy Mawhiney, Time at the Table
Kathleen Cuneo, Dinner Together

Supporters and Friends:
Bettin Siegel, The Lunch Tray
Aviva Goldfarb, The Scramble
Stacie Billis, One Hungry Mama
Kia Robertson, Today I Ate A Rainbow
Jennifer Grant, Love You More

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Food Day Dinner Party! A Virtual Progressive Dinner

Welcome to Brooklyn as we continue our Food Day Dinner Party!

I was thrilled to be invited to host a side dish in this virtual, progressive dinner party to celebrate Food Day with my real friends (though we all met virtually): Bettina (The Lunch Tray), Bri (Red, Round or Green), Jeanne (The Jolly Tomato), and my Blog for Family Dinner colleague Kathleen Cuneo (Dinner Together).

Today, Kathleen and I are hosting side dishes and together we are offering a Blog For Family Dinner T-shirt and the "Eat Real" Recipe booklet from Food Day as a prize.

I've been pretty excited about Food Day, which was Monday, October 24. Our Blog for Family Dinner project marked it as the culmination day for our Month of Family Dinners and a couple of us were able to represent B4FD in Times Square. More importantly, I think that family dinner is a gateway to the broader benefits of eating good food, namely, eating better for yourself, your family, and the planet, as I have noted here. Laurie David's post Family Dinner and the Food Movement, which was on her site and Blog for Family Dinner on Monday also hits many important points about the interconnections.

But enough about politics. This post is about the delicious benefits of real food and of sharing the table with friends and family. So far, this progressive dinner, first suggested by Brianne DeRosa of Red, Round, or Green, has featured a spinach salad appetizer from Bettina, lovely lamb chops and braised kale from Bri, and Kathleen is offering a side dish of sweet potatoes today on her blog. Please check out the amazing dishes and recipes. I love that we have all contributed dishes that have feature fresh vegetables: spinach salad, braised kale and sweet potatoes. The dishes, all unwittingly reinforce the statistic that families that cook and eat dinner together at home tend to eat more fruits and veggies!

I have one more veggie dish to add to this menu, and it's a family favorite: Broccoli with the Flavor. This side dish is both dinner party-worthy and easy enough for a weeknight meal, once you get the technique down. I find that many people have never had properly stir-fried vegetables and are amazed by the freshness and the "wok hay" (or breath of the wok), if you get it right. You need a good, well-seasoned wok (not an expensive one) and don't be afraid of the high heat! (Grace Young is a favorite cookbook writer to try.)

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.

Step by Step:

1. Wash the Broccoli well. Boil Water.

2. Finely Chop 2 cloves of Garlic.

3. Parboil Broccoli for 3 minutes. Spin Dry before stir-frying!

4. Heat Wok to HOT on High Heat. Add Canola Oil, quickly saute garlic for 10 seconds, being careful not to burn it. Stir-fry dried Broccoli, scrapping pan and tossing with garlic for 1 or 2 mins. Lower heat and add soy sauce. Toss and cook for approximately one more minute.

5. The Beautiful Broccoli with the Flavor!

I hope you enjoy it. It is my youngest daughter's absolutely favorite thing to eat (it took a while to get there) but it's true.

Add your own favorite real food recipe below or share any thoughts about Food Day, family dinner, or creative ways you get more vegetables onto your dinner table! You could win!

The winner will randomly drawn from commenters on either this site or the Dinner Together site.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Join us for a Food Day Dinner Party!

Food Day is this Monday, October 24 and it's being touted as an Earth Day for food. There are over 2,000 events planned nationwide to celebrate real food and all the interconnections of real food, the food system, family, community, personal health and a healthier environment. It's a pretty exciting concept for anyone who, like me, cares about food, family, public health or public policy. How can you get involved?

Three Easy Ways to Get Involved in Food Day
3. Join us for a virtual #FoodDay #DinnerParty! (Or make your own!)*

I happen to be doing all three and I hope you'll join me in a virtual Food Day Dinner Party. Bri of Red, Round, Green has invited Bettina of The Lunch Tray, Jeanne of The Jolly Tomato and myself to join her in a virtual progressive dinner of real food recipes to celebrate Food Day over the week from 10.24 to 10.27. Monday will be our kick off with appetizers, followed by an entree on Tuesday, sides on Wednesday and dessert on Thursday. The whole idea is to keep thinking about and celebrating real food throughout the week, and maybe even the whole year!

Come join us for our Dinner Party, starting at The Lunch Tray on Monday, 10.24. You can add your own recipe ideas or thoughts on family dinner or real food and be entered to win some fun give-aways.

You can also host your own at-home dinner party and use the Food Day Dinner Kit (pdf) to spark discussion around the family dinner table.

*If you are a food blogger and want to share a recipe or story about Food Day on your own site, please let me know. Add your name and link to the comment section below and I'll do a round-up on all the bloggers who are doing real food menus in honor of Food Day. Use the hashtags #FoodDay #DinnerParty to spread the word.

See you at the party!

Free downloads and Information on the Food Day Resources Page
Blog for Family Dinner Food Day Press Release

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Celebrate Family Dinner with #B4FD Teleseminar

Yesterday my B4FD colleague Kathleen Cuneo hosted a great teleseminar on "all things family dinner" to celebrate and promote the launch of Family Dinner Month (9.26-10.24.11) on the Blog for Family Dinner. It was great to be joined by Billy Mawhiney of Time at the Table, Aviva Goldfarb of The Scramble, Jennifer Schiff from The Family Dinner Book, and John Sarrouf from The Family Dinner Project.

Celebrate Family Dinner with #B4FD Teleseminar, 9.20.11 (audio recording)

We talked about current research in the field, including many studies that show that family dinner and communal eating is not just for kids. Indeed, everyone benefits, including parents, couples without children, seniors, and even college-aged students. We talked about tips and time-savers, like meal planning and getting everyone to chip in, and overall, about how best to make the commitment to family dinner.

A big theme was re-defining family dinner so that it works for you. Don't be intimidated by the rosy, nostalgic idea that family dinner has to be a 3 course meal with homemade apple pie at the end (though that's always nice!) A realistic weeknight meal is more like soup and salad, easy one-pot meals, or quick pasta dishes. What is important, really, is finding time together and making the family table a safe, consistent gathering place. Setting a routine and sticking to it helps, be it 3 days a week or every single day.

The teleseminar will be available for listening (free) on the Blog for Family Dinner website through the month promotion (now until October 24, 2011) and also available to subscribers of Kitchen Table Parents.

If you believe in family dinner, please be sure to add your name to our subscriber list and to follow our blog posts next month. You can also check in with Facebook or Twitter (@blog4famdinner). More ideas to spread the word about #B4FD here. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back to School, Back to the Family Table (#B4FD)

September is "Family Dinner" month which is perfect timing in one sense: as kids get back to school, we naturally begin to re-think routines and priorities. Yet, it is terrible timing in another sense: the fall is often crammed with new schedules, new transitions and new commitments. This may be the busiest time of year, and without a clear plan, family dinner may be the first thing to go or the last thing you want to add to a crammed schedule. Nonetheless, when the crazy-iness dies down, family dinner can be there to provide structure and sanity, and to give you and your kids a good foundation all year.

Remember, family dinner is not bad-tasting medicine. It can combine family connectedness, laughter, and even healthy, delicious food--what's bad about that? Family dinner is also one of the only public health solutions that has ever been shown to have consistent positive effect on multiple health and social issues, such as obesity, underage alcohol and drug abuse, social disconnectedness, low school performance, and unhealthy relationships to food.

That's why Joseph Califano set up Family Day with CASA over ten years ago, and celebrated this year on Monday, September 26, 2011. After a lifetime of studying health problems, including the debilitating affects of drug and alcohol abuse, he wanted to trumpet family dinner as a positive step that every family could take. In 2011, my colleagues and I are spreading the word and connecting with families in a new way: Blog For Family Dinner, a month-long promotion from September 26 to October 24, 2011. We know that drug abuse prevention is not the only "good thing" that comes from family dinner. There are a whole host of "here and now" reasons as well as other long-term benefits to family meals and family connectedness.

I hope you will join us in the Family Dinner movement by supporting and following the B4FD project. Talk about family dinner with your friends and colleagues, talk about what it means to you, how you make it work, what challenges you face, and offer support and lend advice to one another. Sharing ideas and excitement can help you make the commitment to family dinner.

Read more about the importance of fitting family dinner into the back-to-school routine in this profile:

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? by Kim Seidel, Fall 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cherish Family and Family Dinner (#afundforjennie)

Not too long ago, I wrote a post called "Why Family Dinner" which outlined many of the "big reasons" why family dinner is important, such as reducing childhood obesity, preventing alcohol and drug abuse among teens and helping people see value in real food and sustainable food systems. The post title leaves off the question mark because I was making a statement, rather than posing a question: family dinner matters and here's why.

Recently, I've been reminded of the small miracle of family dinner and what it means simply to the people sitting around the table. It means everything.

Many of us have been shocked and saddened by Jennifer Perillo's story of the sudden death of her beloved husband Mikey. Even in her grief, she has managed to find the courage to write beautifully about him and the life they had together, a life that was clearly full of love, good food, family and many dear friends. She has somehow found the grace to inspire us and remind us to take the time to hug close our loved ones, to cherish every moment.

The blogger community has responded overwhelmingly to show Jennie love and support. (A short summary is on Storify.) Thousands of well-wishes have been sent via Twitter, hundreds of comments have been made on many beautiful memorial blog posts, and countless homemade peanut butter pies (#apieformikey) were baked and shared with loved ones.

Now, Bloggers Without Borders, a new non-profit collaboration by Maggie of Three Many Cooks, Erika of The Ivory Hut, and Aimee of Simple Bites is harnessing that virtual love into something more tangible. Their "A Fund for Jennie" project (#afundforjennie) is collecting donations (through auctions and direct contributions) to help Jennifer and her young children with needed financial assistance. I am honoring Jennie and the memory of Mikey with a donation. I encourage you to do so as well. Just click the button below or go to the BwoB website for more details. Every little bit will help.

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blog For Family Dinner

It's been a busy month behind the scenes of, as is often the case when days stretch out between blog posts. I have been working to launch a new project: Blog for Family Dinner, which is a collaboration of Billy Mawhiney of Time at the Table, Kathleen Cuneo of Dinner Together and myself. I am thrilled to announce that the project website is up and running. Woo-hoo! I hope you’ll check it out and lend your support.

Blog For Family Dinner (B4FD) is about creating a community of people who believe in the power of family dinner—bloggers, writers, parents, researchers, health organizations, and just about anyone who can see the far-reaching benefits of family meals. We are starting with a month-long promotion, from September 26 to October 24, 2011, that will feature daily blog posts from popular and emerging bloggers. We hope to highlight compelling stories, tips, advice and recipes, and most of all, inspiration for readers to make a commitment to family meals in their life.

We are collecting submissions now, please to add your voice to the community. It can be a brand new post or one you’ve posted before. It can be a personal story about what family dinner means to you or a diatribe about how hard it is to pull off. You can let us know how the work of your organization helps support families value healthy meals or how the latest findings of your research center help us to better understand the problems parents face. Your post, personal story, or organizational report will be reviewed and considered as a Featured Blogger for Family Dinner. We even have a nice badge for you to include on your website.

Join us! Add your name as a supporter, share your URL to become part of our Blog Roll, spread the word of Blog for Family Dinner via Twitter, Facebook, or your own platform.

Thank you for supporting Blog for Family Dinner!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Family Dinner

Why family dinner? With all the problems in the world, really, why focus on family dinner? Even if you were to restrict your view to all the food-related problems in the world, there are so many to choose from: hunger, obesity, pesticides in food, E.coli contamination, unsafe and environmentally unsound food production practices, to name just a few. So why, of all things, would you focus on family dinner?

I focus on family dinner because it is a solution. It is actually one of the only solutions that has ever been shown to have a consistent and positive effect on multiple health and social issues such as  obesity, underage alcohol and drug abuse, social disconnectedness, low school performance and unhealthy relationships to food.

The research shows that families that eat dinner together do, in fact, eat better. They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, and all members of the family are less likely to be obese. The direction of causality is unclear, but I think that once you make the commitment to eating dinner together as a family, you naturally start cooking more and making better health choices. There seems to be something about the ritual and routine of family dinner that supports healthier choices.

Plus, family dinner is not  a bad-tasting medicine. Once you get into the groove, it's actually fun and rewarding for adults and children alike to have regular meals together. A public health intervention that involves family connectedness, laughter and the potential of healthy delicious food? Where do I sign up?

Another reason to promote family dinner is because buying, cooking and serving food to your family directly connects to many broader economic, social and health issues. The promotion of family meals, then, can indirectly increase awareness about important related food and health issues. As I argued recently, once people are sitting down around the table and give a damn about what they are eating, you have a far greater pool of folks for which "good food" matters. Step by step, people become more aware of issues with the food system and the environment. Then, perhaps, they will be ready to advocate for better safeguards and subsidies and to vote with their wallets for better food for their families. Family dinner can be an important first step.

So can family dinner be a movement? Can more people see family dinner as a cause? There are so many wonderful food bloggers out there, many of them tacitly promoting family dinner with home-cooked food everyday. Working the other side of the issue, there are public health and environmental policy advocates tirelessly trying to bring attention to the threatened food system from government regulators, Big Food, Agri-business, and the press. Then there are nutritionists, school food reformers and community gardeners who have there own take on a common theme:  good food can solve problems. Family dinner can be both a tool for change and an umbrella under which like-minded reformers can find common ground.

The call for family dinner can seem simplistic to some, but sometimes simple solutions work. Join us in supporting family dinner: leave a comment, follow by email (box on side bar), or follow us on Twitter @eatdinner. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Family Dinner Survey, Take 2

Family Dinner Survey

So far, hundreds of respondents have told us what they think about family dinner. Already, some very interesting trends have emerged (see post here).  I would like to get many hundreds more responses as well as a wide range of opinions about family dinner.  Results would be boring if we all agreed, right? Really, if you hate the concept of family dinner, tell me what you think. (But please answer truthfully!)

I have added a link to the Survey as a permanent feature on the top navigation bar. Please share the survey with your online friends and contacts. Send me an email me if you work directly with families on promoting healthy eating and lifestyles. For qualifying organizations, I'm happy to provide a FREE paper copy of the survey for you to use in your work.

Thank you!

Link to Family Dinner Survey 

About Us
At, we believe in the health and social benefits of family dinner and provide research, education and resources for families, policymakers and educators. The Family Dinner Survey is designed to provide information about real families and their dinner habits, so that we can learn more about the challenges as well as personal benefits of family dinner.

All the survey information is confidential and aggregated so that no one person's responses can be identified. Please take the survey only once. Paper surveys are available to qualifying organizations upon request.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Favorite: Pumpkin Apple Muffins for the Share Our Strength Bake Sale

Maybe I'm trying to boost the food cred of this blog, but I baked 48 pumpkin apple muffins today. Quadrupled my favorite recipe, mixed and beat and baked mounds of ingredients, then wrapped the muffins up and tied them pretty with orange ribbon. It took a surprisingly long time. But they do look all nice and bountiful in the box, ready to go to the Share Our Strength Blogger Bake Sale. All props to the ladies and guys who do this all the time.

The pumpkin apple muffins, modified from a Joy of Cooking recipe, are headed for the Share Our Strength Food Blogger Bake Sale tomorrow, Saturday May 14, 2011. Organized by What's Gaby Cooking? nationwide, the NYC version is hosted by Maggy of Three Many Cooks  and will be at Kiehl’s 109 3rd ave New York, NY 10003, starting at 10am. Seriously, the reason I did this was that I am proud to contribute to this great cause.

True, true my pumpkin apple muffins are not a seasonal selection, but I used organic ingredients and they are certified yummy. I hope they raise a lot of cash for Share Our Strength and their fight to be sure "No Kid Hungry."Go out and support! (Find a local sale here.)

Orange Tag and Orange Ribbon are signature Share Our Strength colors.

SOS Bake Sale

Pumpkin Apple Muffins


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Parents as Real Food Advocates? More Thoughts on Family Dinner and the Food System

One of the hot topics among slow food/real food/sustainable food (take your pick of labels) advocates is how to expand their message broadly and fight the "elitist" label that only the super-rich could care about sustainable food practices. As I wrote in a post last week, I think taking the message to families is one way to do it. With, I am most interested in helping support families so they will start eating meals together, without too many rules or caveats. But I am often asked, "What's more important: the food or the family?" The truth is, they are wed pretty tightly. Family dinner is often the first step in a progression: from family dinner comes an interest in healthy eating and home cooking, from this comes an appreciation of better nutrition and real food, which ties into reductions in obesity. The next steps could easily be better understanding and support of a sustainable and safe food system. 

More people eating "family dinner" means:
more people that come to the table,
more people that care about food,
more people that know about food,
more people that eat better,*
more parents teaching kids about healthy choices,
more people that vote with their wallet and their forks to affect change in the food system.
So, family dinner is both a first step and a platform. The slow food movement will mean something to parents who are already invested in serving their families nutritious foods at shared meals. Reaching out to parents and families will not only expand the slow food audience, but it will combat charges of elitism. 

Researching these issues, I stumbled across a couple of great slow food projects: The Perennial Plate, by Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, a online video documentary of weekly sustainable food adventures in Minnesota that is now launching a nationwide a road trip, and 100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake who challenged herself to feed her family "real food" for over 100 days.  While the documentary filmmakers are indeed inspiring, very few of us in the trenches with kids could or would launch such a drastic life change. But Leake's model is more do-able for a family, and in some ways, more instructive. How can you make changes today to  embrace a commitment to real food, and in the end, make more healthy choices for your family?  I was particularly inspired by her stint of serving real food on a budget of only $125 a week for a family of four. I am also excited by Food Day, which seems to be reaching out to a broad audience, as an Earth Day for food. I hope these efforts will bring families into the "slow food" fold, so that they can eat better for themselves and they can advocate for a better food system for all.

More resources for Slow Food and a Sustainable Food System
SlowFood USA, an organization to promote slow food
Food, an organization to promote "real food" advocacy
100 Days of Real Food on Civil Eats, May 5, 2011
Fair Food, a new book by Oran B. Hesterman on positive ways to change to food system. 

*Recent coverage of new meta-analysis on the health benefits of family dinner
CNN Health
Pediatrics Article May 2, 2011

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How to Change the Food System? One Table at a Time

Yesterday, an important discussion took place on the issues of safe food, sustainability and health of our people and our planet with a conference called "The Future of Food" held in Washington, DC (archive of video highlights here). In February, there was a TEDx Manhattan conference on the food system called "Changing the Way We Eat" (archive here) that touched on related topics and the intermingling of ecology, health, politics, and economics. There are a lot of amazing people who care about food and health that are bringing up hard questions about our current food system and how we can feed the nation and the world without sacrificing individual health, public health or the health of our planet.

At the Future of Food conference, stalwarts of the food movement Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Prince Charles of Wales (who knew?) gave their perspectives on the long road we have traveled and the long road ahead. On hand were a wide range of advocates (Josh Veritel of Slow Food USA, Laurie David, who is extending her environmental activism to the dinner table and to advocacy against antibiotics in meat, Marion Nestle, leading nutritionist and founder of Food Politics) and journalists (Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, Tom Philpott, Jane Black, and Paula Crossfield and Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats) who called out, via twitter and in person, big food on their arguments about the economic necessity of big-AG techniques and policies all day.

Following along at a distance, the conference was inspiring, enlightening, and, at times, infuriating in the ways that listening to the church choir might be when you are living in the red-light district. How can good food advocates get the message out more broadly that safe, good food is not a luxury, but a necessity? Furthermore, as Eric Schlosser argued in the Washington Post this week, how can we get across that being a "foodie" is not elitist?

The soapbox I stand on is family dinner, but I do believe that the future of the food lies around the family dinner table. Michael Pollan put it simply as "More and more, I realize our food problem is a cooking problem."  Caring about what we put on the table for our families and knowing how to prepare real food are two of the first steps to changing the food system. Caring about getting to the table in the first place may indeed preempt that. We need to embrace a culture where the time spent to shop, cook, and eat together as a family is viewed as essential, not a luxury. Family dinner can consist of two roommates, a single parent and kids, a large brood of multiple generations, or any other configuration you can think of, as long as they are breaking bread together. We need to to value this simple act and get around a table together, if we are to ever change the way we eat.

Agenda and Speakers for The Future of Food Conference, May 2011

Changing the Way We Eat, TEDx Manhattan, Feb 2011, an event to celebrate the food movement and inspire families and communities to commit to real food.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Family Dinner Survey: Some Early Results

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed thus far to our Family Dinner Survey. The response has been great. (You can still take the survey if you missed it!)

One of my goals with the survey is to gain more insight into the challenges that people face in trying to accomplish family dinner on a nightly basis. I also hope to better understand why people value family dinner and what they see as its most important benefits.  I hope to get a wide range of experience from respondents: families that find family dinner impossible and those who are more successful at it. We can learn from all kinds of experiences about the best strategies to help families.

Usually research surveys unfold over months, and this effort is barely a week old, so these are preliminary results. Still, some interesting ideas are emerging from the survey responses.

1. Family dinner time is the time to connect, and eat healthy foods.
Overwhelmingly, the most often stated reason that family dinner is important is "family dinners give us a time to connect and be together." The next most popular response, thus far, is that "family dinner makes it easier to make sure my children are eating healthy food." Somewhat surprisingly, parents were less likely to report that "keeping kids off drugs" or "doing well in school" were their most important reasons for family dinner. This is interesting because much of the academic research community pushes these benefits as the most salient to parents.

The message here is that, for many people, family dinner is about creating connections with partners and children TODAY. Family dinner is about getting kids to eat healthy foods NOW. Forward projections of how it might benefit kids many years down the road may not be foremost on the minds of busy parents. Family dinner can build a great foundation for kids as they grow up, and thus can keep them focused on school and off drugs, but the results and benefits of family dinner can be seen immediately among these respondents.

2. The Best Strategy for Having Family Dinner: Make the Commitment.
The vast majority of respondents said the most helpful strategy for accomplishing family dinner was making a conscious decision to commit to it. This beat out every other reason, although knowing how to cook quick meals at home was another very popular choice. This mirrors my personal experience. There have been times when family dinner just seemed too hard, especially when the kids were little and demanding work schedules pulled at all of us. As a family, though, we decided that family dinner was too important to let slip by; we compromised and found a way to make it work. We eat late; we share the cooking and the clean up; we found a way. Merely taking the step and deciding that family dinner has value for you and your kids turns out to be critical.

3. Family Dinner is "Extremely Important" even for those who manage it 2 or less nights a week.
This is a "family dinner" survey, so most of the people who are motivated to take the survey had  high opinions of family dinner. Not a surprise, really. What surprised me, though, was that the respondents who rarely had family dinner (that is 1 or 2 nights a week, or never) still felt like it was "extremely important." Honestly I was expecting a little backlash! To me, this indicates that families want HELP making dinner, and family time, happen. This is something that parents want to do. Families could use  more support and less blame as we promote healthy eating and healthy habits for kids. This is an important message for educators, policymakers and researchers.

More to come....
I am just scratching the surface of the data here. There is a lot more in the survey to learn from and to share, and I hope to keep collecting data. So many people were interested in learning about the results, though, I wanted to give a hint at some preliminary findings. Keep checking back for more analysis.

A Note on the Survey Sample:
For the record, this survey is not scientific because the sample selection was not randomized. In fact, outreach was biased due to the nature of the data collection. Surveys were administered in person at school health fairs and workshops dedicated to healthy eating. The survey was also administrated online, with promotion through agents who are expressly interested in food, parenting or healthy behavior. The results were analyzed qualitatively to assess individual opinions about family dinner, and any cited statistics are not representative of the population at large. To date, the survey has been administered in Brooklyn, NY, in South Dakota, and online.

So why even do this survey, if it's not scientific or randomized? Well, I think that we have to get information about family dinner and its challenges from real parents who are on the "frontlines" of making healthy choices for their kids. Even in a biased sample, we can learn lessons about people's experiences that are valid and important; we just have to be careful not to generalize.

We will keep the survey open and available on the website and here. Please feel free to add your own experience and share the link with others!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Survey Says: What do you Think About Family Dinner?

One of the goals of is to understand the challenges of families coming together at the table and to provide resources to help and support them. Our Family Dinner Survey has just been launched and is designed to collect information from parents, and anyone else who takes the time to sit down at the table for dinner, about the biggest challenges they face to making dinner happen. The survey also collects information on why family dinner is important and the best strategies that people use to accomplish it night after night. We know, family dinner is an accomplishment!

The survey is available online and I'm also collecting data at several family workshops held in New York City. Thanks to friends like Time at the Table, we are able to gather information from workshops being held throughout the country. Please let me know if you'd like a copy of the Family Dinner survey to share at your own workshop or meetings. Since the survey brings up topics of healthy eating, daily family challenges and positive strategies like menu planning and cooking, it's a great starting off point to get people thinking about issues that might be relevant to your workshop.

Please feel free to share this survey widely (share this link or contact me offline to discuss using a paper survey in your work (Email me: grace [at] eatdinner [dot] org). Thank you!

The survey is completely confidential and the data will be aggregated to show trends in opinions, not any one person's opinion or experience. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

What I Learned on the Way to the Health Fair

Last week, I talked to parents at the first of a series of spring health workshops that is involved in. Parents were eager to learn more about healthy choices for their kids, despite where they fell along the spectrum of healthy eating behavior. One mom talked to me about her fight to get her child to even try a whole grain bagel, with a tone that suggested she was losing the battle. Another said she offered healthy foods every day and her kids happily ate everything, but she was always in need of fresh ideas. One grandma said that her grandkids wouldn't touch anything but mac and cheese and chicken nuggets, and that she was going to pick up all my handouts to give to her daughter anyway. All typical challenges that parents face.

Every single person I talked to was relieved to just chat about ideas and solutions, rather than having me lecture them about strict "right" and "wrongs." I began many sentences with "I'm a parent, I know how hard it can be...." or "My youngest is the pickiest, but here is what worked for us..." Happily other parents also joined in the discussion, sharing tricks and tips, including some ideas that were new to me.

Understanding the real challenges of parents and meeting them where they cannot be underrated.  If we are going to engage parents to improve their children's eating habits, it boils down to this:

What parents need to be empowered:
  • Validation of their efforts. 
  • Support, not guilt (Believe me, moms have enough guilt already!)
  • Positive activities, like family dinner, to encourage healthy eating with their kids
  • Good, unbiased information on health choices
  • New ideas for snacks and family-friendly dinner recipes

One of the messages of this blog is that parents are powerful. True, parents are harried, busy and sometimes confused over the various health choices they face for their kids. Nonetheless, parents have more influence than they think in setting good examples and making the right choices for their kids. Let's work with parents as allies, giving them what they need to make the best choices for their kids. That's one way to make in-roads in the huge problem of childhood obesity and poor nutrition among kids.

Resources and Handouts:
In addition to promoting the benefits of family dinner, I talked about healthy snacks for kids and healthy portion sizes. Here are links to some of the material I used.

25 Healthy Snacks for Kids  From, American Dietetic Association

Help Your Child Stay at a Healthy Weight From

Family Friendly Blogs with Recipes From

Rainbow Stew from Aviva Goldfarb, PBS Kitchen Explorers

Today I Ate a Rainbow Kit (15% off with discount code: eatdinner until April 15, 2011)

Fruits and Veggies More Matters website

12 Smart Ways to Right-Size Your Portions From, found on

Monday, March 7, 2011

Family Dinner as One Solution to Childhood Obesity: Vote for us on The Hive

Eat Dinner As a Family! My proposal (naturally) on Slate's The Hive: Time to Trim.

Slate is highlighting the issue of childhood obesity and is currently soliciting "brilliant ideas" to combat the problem on The Hive. The data are real and frightening, and this epidemic is not going to be solved by silly disputes over bake sales. Real change in how people eat, exercise and live their lives is needed and, no doubt, many solutions should come into play to address this complex problem.

Change can begin almost immediately, though, at the dinner table. It can change how we teach children about food and the importance we put on the communal meal. Frequent family dinners have been associated with better nutrition (more consumption of fruits and vegetables), better body weight management for kids and adults, and less "disordered" eating. By finding effective ways to promote and support family dinner, we can help parents create healthy life-long eating habits for themselves and their kids. Engaging and empowering parents will go a long way in this fight against childhood obesity.

I believe in the power of family dinner and in the power of parents to make the right choices given adequate information and support. That's what is all about.

Please read my proposal and VOTE! Spread the word about family dinner!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Five Tips for Making Dinner Happen

This week held a lot of discussion on family dinner and how to make it work, inspired in part by Pete Wells' column about the difficulties of pulling it off. I wrote an open letter to Pete, and was featured twice for my advocacy for family dinner, on The Lunch Tray and on the Love You More blogs. (Thank you!) Through the magic of the Internet (aka links), I found some other great folks that are singing the same tune.

Here's hoping that the family dinner discussion encourages parents not to wave the white flag, but to embrace the kitchen and the merits of family dinner.  Family dinner does take time and commitment, and it isn't always fun, but it's so worth it in the end. Much like parenting, no?

Here's 5 more tips to add to my list

Five MORE Tips for Making Family Dinner Happen

1. Plan ahead. If you can plan and shop a week ahead, that's great. But even just making a plan in the morning, at your lunch hour, or via email or text with your spouse, can help.  Having a ready answer a when the kids cry "What's for dinner?" will take the pressure off as you walk in the door and help you feel more in control.

2. Have back-pocket, straight-out of the pantry recipes that you can whip up without thinking. There are many simple pasta sauces that can be made with just a few at-hand ingredients. Memorize a few, and you'll have dinner even on crazy days. Your goal should be 5 to 10 recipes you can make in 20 or 30 minutes. Use the weekends to learn new recipes or to make large batches of favorite meals.

3. Fresh is great, but don't fear the freezer.  In addition to frozen meals and leftovers you make yourself, there are healthy frozen food options out there, but check the ingredients!  Frozen veggies or fruit (for dessert) can be a life-saver to round out a meal nutritionally. Don't forget you can "freeze your own." We often pre-cut a large package of meat (chicken, beef, pork) into stir-fry sized pieces that can be quickly defrosted and put into weeknight meals.

4. Resist ordering take-out or buying drive-thru, if you can. If you can whip up a meal in 30 minutes, it will be on the table way before the pizza guy arrives. Cooking a simple meal at home is way better for you and cheaper too.

5. Use the web for inspiration! There are so many great food blogs out there, many with quick easy recipes for families. Also, Google just came out with a Recipe View that looks promising. Type in a cooking idea, or even a holiday or theme, and get recipe suggestions, complete with ingredient list and cooking times. Very cool!

Check out these blogs or find others that you trust and keep checking for new ideas.  (If you like any of these, send the author some love via the comments sections! Bloggers love that, really!)

Red, Round or Green Lots of great stuff on family meals, meal planning and recipes. Her recent post on how she does it: plan, plan, plan.
Stay at Stove Dad. Great recipes and perspective as a dad who cooks for his family. New book coming out in May!
Friday Fan Club: Great Blogs for Family Dinner Recipes A recent round-up of recipe sites I like.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dear Pete Wells ("Cooking with Dexter"): Family Dinner Is Worth It.

Pete Wells has written a great column for the New York Times called "Cooking With Dexter" that I loved mainly because he seemed like a real Dad investigating the world of the kitchen with his son Dexter. He wrote warmly of the new discoveries that father and son would make in the kitchen, about food, about themselves. Wells wrote his last column this week and is off to other projects. I'm sad to see the column go, but his last missive really hit home for other reasons.

Wells talks to the real and true challenges of getting dinner on the table every night as a dual working parent family, and then, kind of shrugs it off as too damn hard. ARGH! I understand his struggles, I do. But I also want to shout: "No, no, no!" Family dinner can be admittedly damned hard, but it is worth it

One of the messages of is not to expect perfection and not to be so hard on yourself, but to make a commitment to family dinner. You have to find the right balance for your family, and that balance is going to change over time, as work demands change and as your kids grow. When your kids are little, it is honestly the hardest time to get dinner on the table in a timely fashion before they unravel. The strategy in our family is to have healthy snacks available and to have many 20-minute dinners under our belts. As the kids get older, the routine and expectation of family dinner, be it with both parents or only one, will be the touchstone of their lives, and yours. Don't give that up. Cut yourself some slack, but keep plugging away.

I was encouraged, though, by the numerous commenters on the NYT site (well over 100), many who call Wells to task. The sentiments were, basically, "Hey, Pete, family dinner is well worth it and here are some things we do in our family that can help." I love that so many people wanted to help Wells and his family with practical strategies and advice. This is the conversation that we need to be having: what can busy parents do to help make this thing work. I also think we need a national conversation about a life-work balance that allows enough flexibility for parents to make a dinner commitment with their families. But that's another story.

Thanks to The Lunch Tray who wrote a blog post (2.21.11) that paralleled many of my feelings and spurred me to write my own response here. (Through the time shifting force of the Internet, I actually read the Wells' Sunday piece on Friday, and tweeted about it, but hadn't gotten my thoughts together enough to respond. And of course the kids are off school this week!)

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Heart Fruit, Straight Up from Kindergarten

Fruit Heart from my little Kindergartner
My 5 year old daughter brought this drawing home yesterday from school. It may be a bit hard to make out, but it's a pink heart surrounding a fruit bowl. Before I could ask her what it was about, she excitedly reported that they were having a contest to name the school's salad bar and that she decided it to make this, because "I L-O-V-E all the fruits!" Wow, even if I didn't spend all day trying to promote healthy family eating, I think I would be bursting with pride.

I would like to take all the credit for my kid loving fruit, but remember she's the "picky one." So I dare not or I might jinx myself and we'll be back to mac and cheese requests every night. Really, though, I think kids naturally love fruit and simple exposure to good, fresh, in-season fruit will convince most kids to eat it with joy. We as parents (and educators at school) have to decide that fresh fruit is a worthwhile snack than can be available all the time, despite its slightly higher cost and perishable nature.

We have a rule in our house The fruit bowl is always open.  I try to have 2 or 3 big bowls of fruit out on the counter in easy access all the time. Honestly it disappears. Standards are bananas, apples, and, now, clementines; I keep washed grapes in a big bowl in the fridge. For dessert, we'll sometimes have harder to prepare fruit like mango, pineapple, or last night, we had starfruit, which tastes a bit like kiwi, but in a really cool shape. My kids also love berries and whipped cream, which is still a healthy dessert option. The fruit balances out the whipped cream by far!
Starfruit, cool shape.

The biggest complaint I hear about fruit is the cost. Fresh fruit can be expensive. But really, if you compared fruit to most cookies or pre-packaged snacks, they are very comparable in price. Most cookies are at least 3 or 4 dollars a box; if you cost out the packaged snacks, most are 50 cents or $1 a piece. Somehow it's OK for a cookie pack to cost this much, but an apple at 75 cents is too expensive? Really, we have to change our mind set. Reducing packaged foods is the real way to cut a grocery bill, and sticking with fresh fruits and vegetables often will end up being comparable in cost, or even cheaper, and much healthier to boot.

Fruit is perishable, though, and I understand that busy parents who go shopping only once a week don't want to throw good money away. Below I have some tips for buying and storing fruit, and plus ideas for getting your child to eat more of it!

Ten Tips for Buying, Storing and Eating Fruit:
1. Buy fruit in varying stages of ripeness, if you can. Ideally, some fruit will be ready the day you buy it, and some fruit will ripen over the week, so that you and your kids can eat the best fruit as it becomes ripe.
2. If freshness is waning but the fruit is still good, stick it in the fridge. This will help it keep another couple of days.
3. Don't forget about fruit in the fridge! Since the kids may not see it to grab it, you may have to remember to cut it up and serve as snacks, or with breakfast.
3. In general, fruit keeps better unwashed. Teach your kids to give it a rinse before eating.
4. Use an apple corer. For some reason, fruit slices are much more enjoyable for snacking. Once I bought an apple corer, my kids' apple consumption doubled! Also keep the skin on because it has lots of vitamins. If the apple is cored, a skin hater can still just eat the inside, though half the time, my daughter still eats the whole slice, skin and all.
5. Slightly damaged fruit can be saved to use in smoothies or in fruit sauce. I cut out the brown parts and either freeze or, if I have enough, I throw in a pot to make sauce for pancakes. One or two apples or pears with a little water and sugar can make a quick and delicious sauce to be used for a weekend pancakes.
6. Many fresh fruits can be frozen at home. If strawberries are on sale, you can buy two packages and freeze one. They don't taste quite as good defrosted, but they are still good for you and can be used frozen in smoothies or thawed over cereal or in a fruit dessert.
7. Figure out the fruits that your kids like and always get them. Fruit should be like milk and bread, something you always get. Make it a new habit. Don't get stuck thinking your kid doesn't like fruit just because they don't like the red delicious apples at the cafeteria. (In case you didn't know, red delicious apples mostly stink; they are the biggest misnomer in the fruit world!) Gala apples are kid favorites, so are golden delicious, but there are lots of other varieties to explore.
8. Add new fruits every once in a while to expand their interest. Right now, there are lots of choices in citrus, so try some varieties of oranges that you haven't before. Tangelos and blood oranges can be amazing and you may be surprised that kids actually like the sour-sweet combination. (There are some popular candies on the market that exploit this.)
9. Fruit is best when it is local and in-season. In season fruit tends to be cheaper and taste the best. But in the winter time, it may not be possible to only eat locally, and still actually eat fruit. As a mom and as someone who promotes healthy eating, I am still in favor of eating fruit year around.
10. Increase the times you give fruit to your child. Fruit can be served with breakfast, packed in lunches, and offered for dessert. It's not just an in-between snack.

More great resources for learning more and making eating fruit and veggies fun!
Today I Ate a Rainbow Kit This kit that encourages your kid to get eat the colors of the rainbow, everyday.
The Produce Geek: Sign up for weekly newsletter on what to eat now.
Fruits and Veggies More Matters website has lots of tips and ideas for increasing the number of fruits and veggies in your life.