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The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012

info@blogforfamilydinner.org

B4FD Reflections: Our Year in Blog for Family Dinner

by Grace R. Freedman

Last year, Billy, Kathleen and I launched the Blog for Family Dinner project with the idea that we would create a platform to celebrate the benefits of family dinner, while being honest about its challenges. We invited a wide array of bloggers, educators, parents, public health researchers and good food advocates to share stories and insights about family dinner. By presenting personal stories, empathetic advice and easy, but delicious recipes that could be accomplished on a weeknight (!), we hoped to inspire more families to make family dinner a priority in their busy lives.

The support and enthusiasm we received was, and continues to be, amazing. We first expected to publish only a few posts a week in the fall of 2011, as a way to celebrate and bookend the Family Day and Food Day events. As the entries to Blog for Family Dinner came flooding in, we had the wonderful problem of so much great material to work with! We selected posts for everyday of the week through our Month of Family Dinners 2011, even posting on Saturday and Sunday! We kept publishing new stories and perspectives around themes, like Kids in the Kitchen and All Kinds of Families, through the rest of the year and into the early summer of 2012. Overall, we had close to 100 posts from almost as many bloggers. You can see our hit-parade of great participants here. It has been a lot of fun to hear so many different voices in the choir for family dinner. Most importantly, we have learned from each other ways to make family dinner “work” without the unnecessary demand of trying to be “perfect.”

This month Kathleen, Billy and I have reflected on some of the most resonant lessons from our B4FD posts. We want to continue to support this great community as well as move forward with our own projects, be they centered around the dinner table or families and their well-being more broadly. Going forward, we will be communicating mostly through our Blog for Family Dinner Facebook page.  We will continue this blog for special events and notices that require more in-depth writing or discussion. Thank you so much for your support this past year. We hope you will join us on Facebook and help us keep the family dinner conversation going!

From the Blog for Family Dinner Founders:

Grace R. Freedman, Eatdinner.orgFacebook,  Twitter @eatdinner

Billy Mawhiney, Time at the TableFacebook, Twitter @timeatthetable

Kathleen Cuneo, Dinner TogetherFacebook, Twitter @dinnertogether

The Blog for Family Dinner Facebook community can be found here or follow us on Twitter @blog4famdinner

 

Please be sure to like the Blog for Family Dinner Facebook page and to also follow each of our individual organizations as we will keep you posted about family dinner news and other relevant information about kids, healthy eating and related issues.

B4FD Reflections: Today is a Gift

by Billy Mawhiney

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year.

We live in a different world than the one we grew up in. Time seems less and responsibilities seem more. Parents can sometimes feel like cab drivers more often then not, and conversations sometimes occur frequently on the train or in the car as opposed to the dinner table. This simply is not the case for anyone but certainly is for some.

As I sat down at my computer in reflection, reading over blog posts from the past year, I kept going back to “My Little Kitchen Helpers,” from Rebecca Horsmann. Rebecca hits the target that having kids in the kitchen can certainly slow you down. Rebecca writes:

My kids (aged 4 and almost 2) love to “help” me cook, and it definitely slows me down! However, I want to encourage them to learn. To be truly independent, everyone should learn at least basic food preparation skills. I have seen some adults so intimidated in the kitchen that they don’t want to try, and must depend on someone else, on convenience foods or on restaurants. I want my kids to grow up feeling comfortable in the kitchen.

I try to let my kids help when I am not feeling rushed or stressed out. Then I can stay patient so that we all have fun while they slow me down, make a mess and learn their way around a kitchen.

The families in our Kitchen Kids Family Cooking Class experience this first hand. The best part of the day is when they put their casserole in the oven and I send the families out to go sit around the tables and talk about what happened in the kitchen. What did they learn? How did everyone help? What ingredients went inside the dish? Their time just became more valuable in that moment.

This is not an everyday option. We may not have the time to allow our children in the kitchen to help, but it is definitely an investment for returns later. When we teach our children the value of food and necessity of it for our health, we deposit a “virtual coin” into the piggy bank. One day we hope they break that bank open and cash in those “virtual coins” with their children. Remember the next stir that ends up half out of the bowl, or the uneven lasagna layer, it is all worth it in the end.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, that is why it is called the present”

~Author Unknown

Food Day—It’s Time to Eat Real!

by Lilia Smelkova

I have probably always wanted to work in food without knowing it. Growing up in Belarus, Eastern Europe, I spent summers in the country where we foraged in the fields, gathered mushrooms and stomped on the hay in the neighbor’s barn to pack it for winter. I got my first job in Italy with Slow Food, an international food nonprofit, where I worked for 10 years, developing the Slow Food network in Europe and Canada, working with family farmers, and directing the launch of an international education program that birthed the first European network of sustainable school cafeterias.

When I learned that the Center for Science in the Public Interest was looking for a campaign manager for the first national Food Day on October 24, 2011, the challenge of advancing the campaign looked very attractive. The way America eats has an impact on the world food production and consumption.

It was not until I started to travel around the country to meet organizers and partners in Dallas, Minneapolis, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver and other cities, that we knew that Food Day would be a success, used by real food advocates as a platform to accelerate thousands of ongoing initiatives around the country. Food Day organizers in Arizona, Georgia, New York, Oregon, and elsewhere are looking forward to connect to a nationwide network of change-makers through the first national day of action around food issues.

Food Day is on October 24 every year. It’s a nationwide celebration and a movement towards more healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food. In its second year, Food Day will be observed with more than 2,000 events all around the country, including festivals in Baltimore, New York City, and Savannah, and a conference on The Future of Food: 2050 in the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. Thousands of schools in Boston, Detroit, Chicago, and other cities will celebrate Food Day with a special meal; the city of Madison, WI, will launch its new food policy council; and chefs and restaurants country-wide will promote farmers, local menus, and taste education classes.

Food Day brings together organizations and individuals working on diverse issues such as hunger, nutrition, agriculture policy, animal welfare, and farmworker justice. Think of it as an Earth Day for food issues.

For Food Day, we’ve identified five key priorities, selected through a national survey of the most pressing food issues:

- Promote safer, healthier diets

- Support sustainable and organic farms

- Reduce hunger

- Reform factory farms to protect the environment

- Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers

 

Food Day is backed by over 80 Advisory Board members and co-chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and includes Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Alice Waters, Dan Barber, Ellie Krieger and Oran Hesterman, among others. We also partner with groups like American Public Health Association, Farmers Market Coalition, Chefs Collaborative and hundreds of other nonprofit organizations, student leaders, public offices, school districts, and local organizers.

For this year’s Food Day, the Rodale Institute will hold a Harvest Festival in Pennsylvania featuring organic food, with proceeds going to the Institute’s Heritage Breed Livestock program. In Denver, the Denver Botanical Gardens along with other community partners will hold a free day-long festival with hands-on cooking demonstrations for adults and kids, film screenings, and an address by Mayor Michael B. Hancock. Perhaps the biggest Food Day event will be a massive festival in Savannah, where some 10,000 are expected to enjoy food, music, and exhibitors at the city’s Daffin Park.

Food Day will be also celebrated on more than 200 campuses and in thousands of schools. In Massachusetts, more than 200 school nutrition directors in 45 school districts are committed to participate in Food Day and will challenge students to “Eat Real” on October 24.

Over the past months, it’s been exciting to count the number of events on the map at FoodDay.org and see it grow daily. For those who won’t be able to make it to a Food Day event in person, the Eat Real Quiz provides an easy way for people to learn about the impact of their diets and to spread the word about Food Day. It scores the diets’ impact on health, environment, and farm animals. The results can be shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Check FoodDay.org for events that are scheduled near you. I hope you will join the tens of thousands of Americans who are planning or attending Food Day events. Or you could simply celebrate at home with a special meal for friends and family.

 

B4FD Reflections: Cooking with Kids

by Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year.

 

I’m a big believer in the value of involving kids in the kitchen.  I’ve written and read lots of advice about ways for including kids in the kitchen.  We made sure we included some posts on the Blog for Family Dinner this year that offered different perspectives on involving kids in the kitchen.

Two that I found to be particularly valuable were Jennifer Cordova’s “In a Busy Kitchen with a Budding Chef” and Julie Negrin’s “The Value of Cooking and Eating as a Family.”  Jennifer provided some advice not typically included in ways to involve kids in the kitchen.  She focused on some of the sensory aspects of foods that may be overlooked when thinking of kids and cooking.  Jennifer writes,

  • Look at the recipe you’re using to see if there are small tasks your child can take part in. Measuring ingredients, adding a sprinkle of salt and pepper, pulling parsley leaves for you to chop later – these are all small yet important tasks that allow children to contribute.
  • Encourage your child to experience the food as it’s being made by smelling herbs, spices and other aromatic foods and tasting little tidbits here and there. Talk about these ingredients – how they look, smell, and taste; where they come from and how they grow; other dishes they can be found in, etc.
  • Explain what you’re doing as you’re doing it – take a tip from television cooking shows and give a little performance as you cook! This doesn’t mean you have to get flamboyant, just talk through the steps you’re taking, make connections between the dish you’re cooking now and others you’ve made, describe other dishes common to this particular cuisine. Remember to encourage interaction by asking questions of your own!

In addition, to Julie’s advice for cooking with kids, I especially enjoy her approach to recipes, where she includes specific instructions by age for kids’ contributions.  Julie advises,

Pick a good time. It’s important that your first cooking experience with children is a positive one, so pick a time when everyone is well-rested and not starving.

Start with something familiar. When introducing the concept of cooking to kids, it’s important to start with one of their favorite dishes so that they equate cooking with something they already enjoy.

Find assistants. Invite Grandma over or keep your sitter for an extra hour. It’ll be more fun for everyone if there is someone else to help oversee the project and clean up.

Accept that it will get messy. Plan on some mess and you’ll feel less stressed. Kids are great cleaner-uppers so ask them to pitch in. Many kids, as young as 2 years old, love using a sponge and do a surprisingly good job of wiping up.

Roll with the punches. If something goes wrong, just laugh. It’s a good opportunity to teach children how to shrug off mistakes and learn from their blunders.

Praise their efforts. They adore making food for family members so give them lots of compliments when they complete a task well – genuine, well deserved praise builds self-worth and confidence.

You can read Jennifer’s full post here and Julie’s full post here.

 

America Makes Dinner Day

by Kati Chevaux

At Cozi, we are constantly thinking about how to make it easier for families get a meal on the table every night. That’s why earlier this year, we teamed up with The Partnership for a Healthier America to find out what it would be like if we all made the same thing for dinner one night.

You know how you chit chat with friends and coworkers about TV shows and current events because you all watched or heard about the same thing the night before? Well, we wondered what it would like if a bunch of us made the same meal for dinner one night. Would we talk about it the next day? Compare reviews? Share funny stories about what the kids said about it? Probably! And if we all talked about what we had for dinner more often, would it be easier to make dinner because of all the great ideas? Maybe!

So coming up on Wednesday, October 17th is America Makes Dinner Day - the day we’re asking all families to sit down to dinner together.

Now, what to make? Of course any dinner will do, but we have a list of delicious and healthy dinner recipes that we’ve been collecting from chefs, celebrities and people who write about food for a living. You can find the top three vote-getters (as well as all the other recipes) on this page: www.AmericaMakesDinner.com.

Here was the very most favorite of all – Mexican Chicken and Brown Rice Casserole:

We hope you’ll join us and make dinner on the October 17th. And there are others ways to participate and maybe even win prizes (like an iPad!) - learn more about that here.

Kati Chevaux helps families get dinner on the table at Cozi.com, the #1 family calendar and organizing app. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons and when she visits her hometown of York, Pennsylvania, her “to-do list” always includes eating hard shell crabs, fresh produce (and donuts) from the Central Market, Smittie’s soft pretzels, and at least one of those meals from childhood that her mom still makes on request. 

B4FD Reflections: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

by Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year.

We made a conscious effort at B4FD to include posts from a variety of perspectives on family dinner to convey the message that there is no single “correct” way to include family dinner in your life.  Two of my favorite posts from the past year both touch on the theme that family meals do not have to be perfect to have a positive impact on family life.

Natalia Stasenko writes beautifully in her post, “My Family’s Non-Family Meals,” about her hardworking mother who provided nutritious meals for her children although the family did not eat together.  Natalia writes,

One of the reasons for not eating together as a family was practical – our tiny table in the kitchen simply could not sit comfortably more than 3 people at the same time and we were 4.  Another reason was that family meals were not seen as important, and, in fact, talking while eating was discouraged.

Yet Natalia was able to glean much informal education about how to cook for a family from her mom.

So what do I do in order to raise my kids as healthy eaters? Interestingly, the same principles my mother followed, willingly or not, seem to work beautifully in my Spanish/Russian/American family.

As a psychologist, Polly Dunn knows the value and importance of eating together as a family.  But as a mom, she also knows the real life obstacles that make doing so difficult to do on a frequent basis.  In her piece, “The Truth About Family Dinners,” she offers some concrete, practical advice about making the best of the times when your family can gather together for meals.  Polly writes,

  • Don’t worry so much about the food.  I know that might seem like an unusual recommendation, but sometimes as parents we get so overwhelmed by coming up with the perfect meal that we end up giving up and serving the kids cereal while they watch television in the den!  Of course you should aim to provide healthy and yummy meals as often as you can. But if menu planning is what’s keeping you from gathering your family around the dinner table, accept that you can share quality time as a family at dinner whether you’re eating hot dogs or filet mignon.
  • Develop a few family dinner rituals.  Sit at the table.  Say the blessing.  Use your manners.  Take turns setting the table.  Help clean up after dinner.  Whatever routines you can establish during the family dinner hour will model for your children what’s expected of them around the table.  Even if you only eat together twice a week, try to follow the same routine at each meal.
  • Keep technology away from the table. As best you can, try to keep the dinner table a sacred spot free of the distractions technology offers.  Turn off your television, cell phone, iPod, computer, and other gadgets or leave them in another room while you eat.
  • Make conversation a priority.  Some of the best family conversations happen around the dinner table.  But sometimes it’s hard to get everyone talking, especially if this hasn’t been a part of your normal dinner routine.  To get the conversation started at our dinner table we go around to each member of the family and say “Tell us about your day today.”  We like to hear about the activities of the day, the best part, and the worst.  Each family member (including mom and dad) takes center stage and the kids love it.  Don’t get me wrong, we still have normal conversations, but this activity never fails to get each child involved and get us all talking.
  • Repeat as often as you can.  We may not all be able to sit around the dinner table six out of seven nights.  No matter how hard we try, we may only get there two or three nights a week.  Just try to have a family dinner as many nights a week as you can.

As a proud advocate of practical advice myself, I really appreciated Polly’s post.

You can read Polly’s full post here and Natalia’s full post here.

 

What I’ve Learned from Family Dinner

by Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D.

Recently my oldest daughter started her senior year of high school.  While we prepare and look forward to launching her into an exciting future next year, we also find ourselves feeling a bit sad and nostalgic as we experience a lot of “lasts” with her this year (e.g., her last first day of school, her last Homecoming, etc.).   For the past 17 years of her life, I have also been learning how to feed my family.  I know that more learning awaits me as my family develops and grows and we move through different phases of life.  I look forward to discovering new experiences of family dinner as life unfolds.  But now is a time to reflect back – on this past year of Blog for Family Dinner as well as some of the highlights of what I’ve learned personally over the years about feeding my family.

1.  Family dinner doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful.

The pressure to be perfect can come in a number of ways:  perfect attendance with all family members present; perfect food as in organic, home-cooked, delicious, filled with nutrient-rich super foods, etc.; and perfect frequency with the family eating together as close to 7 nights per week as possible.  There are definitely meals in my house where everyone is present, and everyone enjoys the deliciously healthy meal I’ve prepared.  However, there are definitely meals where that doesn’t happen in my house.  We don’t always have 100% attendance.  Sometimes we get take-out, and I don’t always buy organic.  I’ve learned that “good enough” really can be good enough.

2.  You can correct past feeding mistakes.

When my oldest was a young child, I made my fair share of the typical feeding mistakes.  I catered to her preferences.  I gave up offering new foods too soon after she had rejected them.  I sometimes fed her at a separate time from my husband and me.   Needless to say, she was a “picky eater.”  Over time, however, she has grown into a mature teenager with relatively little fear of trying new foods.  I attribute her change in part due to physical maturity, but largely due to the division of responsibility.  I’ve learned that taking the battle out of mealtimes is a key to growing healthy eaters.

My daughter and I eating escargot!

3.  Change is inevitable, but consistency is key.

The challenges of feeding a healthy family have changed markedly over time.  During the toddler and preschool years, much of the focus was on “getting them to eat,” and my anxiety was centered on making decisions about what to offer my kids to eat that had a chance of actually being eaten and maybe even enjoyed.  During the school age years, I have worried much less about what my kids will eat, but more about arranging schedules and dinner times so that we can all eat together.  I have learned that consistently making the effort to plan meals with regard to both menu and timing has made a difference.

4.  Family dinner is not the only way to connect, but it provides a vital touchpoint for my family.

Sometimes we have great discussions at the dinner table, but sometimes we don’t and the experience can be more of eating quickly and rushing on to the next thing.  Some of my best discussions with my children have taken place at the dinner table, but some of them have taken place in the car during our many drives to and from various activities or in the house on one of their study breaks.  Yet family dinner has been well established in our home.  My kids look forward to it and know that it is there for them.  It makes me smile when I receive a text asking, “What’s for dinner?”  And I feel happy knowing that I can always give them an answer.

Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D. is a psychologist, parent coach, and mom. Her mission is to help parents raise happy and healthy kids – without making themselves or their kids crazy! She provides education and support to parents through her websites www.dinnertogether.comwww.drcuneo.com, and www.kitchentableparents.com.

B4FD Reflections: The Tradition of a Nontraditional Family Dinner

by Billy Mawhiney

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year.

It could simply be my generation, but finding the alternative or nontraditional way of doing things seems to be the new tradition. I grew up in a traditional family dinner home where we enjoyed many a meal around the dinner table. It was an excerpt out of a “fill in the _____” family TV show. I knew nothing else and would be surprised if my friends did.
As I traveled around and performed workshops on the family dinner, I have learned everyone does NOT have the same traditions as I imagined as a child. That is why I love this post from Bettina Siegel of The Lunch Tray and The Spork Report. 
It all started when two sets of parents met through their children’s public school in Washington, D.C.. Another parent at the school, a Mediterranean chef, offered a “meal of the week” each Thursday as part of her catering business. The two sets of parents — who happened to live across the street from each other — started buying and sharing the meal together. Over time, three other families on the same street also bought the meal and joined in the Thursday communal dinner.
The story continues on about how the chef moves on, they hire another and that chef moves on as well. Despite the ongoing struggle, the families try to keep the tradition going and they fill in with pizza, Chinese take-out, and pizza again. Who hasn’t been too tired or had a failed meal plan and ordered pizza as an alternative? We all face struggles every day, whatever our tradition may be. In the end, after the second chef had moved on, the families were still determined to keep their communal family dinner tradition.
Read Bettina’s full post “12 Adults, 16 Kids, 8 Years pf Family Dinner” to learn the unique solution they came up with.

A Table Tradition

On the outside, the idea of Time at the Table began as I was cleaning up from a dinner party.

Kitchen Kids - Time at the Table

Reflecting on the evening as a whole: the great conversations, the great food, and simply, the fact that we didn’t need TV’s and computers to

entertain us. The idea that we can learn and converse with one another using food as the bind is an awesome adventure. The fact is that this idea for Time at the Table was sparked much earlier.

I was fortunate to grow up in a home where family dinner was a more than a priority, it was “the way of life.” I have fond memories of a pot roasts and mashed potatoes walking into my grandparents home after church on a Sunday afternoon, or watching morning cartoons while my mother had coffee every morning with her parents before she headed off to work for the day. The idea of centering my home around the dinner table and not the television is something I hold tight to. I went as extreme as installing  a fold-away table when my apartment didn’t have the room for anything else. The first big purchase after buying our current home was an old farm table that holds life’s conversations of our friends and family. As much as the dinner table has evolved in my life, so has Time at the Table.

My dinner table today

As we enter our third year this coming Spring, we have a stronger focus and specific mission in mind. This summer we spent hours working with groups of children testing out recipes, and breaking down the process of a teaching kitchen program. Our goal is simple, to connect the Kitchen Kids participants so that they begin to build lifetime skills they can pass along for generations to come. Our benchmark is not one that we will accomplish next week, or month or even year, but continually spark and build the connection that children will have with their food. We want them to leave our programs with the understanding that food is more important than the dollar menu, that food is how they survive and that they deserve the best.

B4FD Reflections: Fitting Family Dinner into Crazy Family Life

by Grace R. Freedman

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year.

“Really? You have family dinner every night?!” It’s a question I get asked quite a bit. I sense people feel I am lying when I say yes. That’s one reason I love  Jennifer Grant’s Blame it On post for B4FD. Her post speaks to balancing the modern reality of crazy-busy family lives with the ideal of nightly family dinners. Let’s just say, reality can be messy.

Blame it on my husband’s travel schedule.

Blame it on my four children’s soccer, lacrosse, and softball games.

Blame it on my daughter’s passion for viola or my son’s commitment to cello.

Blame it on whatever you’d like, but my family isn’t able to sit down and eat dinner together every night of the week. But, most nights, we manage to make it happen. The kids are given heaping bowls of Cheerios or Life cereal before they run off to sports or music lessons, but when we all return home, sweaty, tired, sometimes jangly and out of sorts after too long a day, we sit down to dinner together.

Read Jennifer Grant’s full post, Blame it On… 

Jennifer writes elegantly about what could be the story of my day…juggling the activity and homework schedules of three kids, husband travelling or working late, my own work commitments, random school meetings, illnesses or other minor emergencies that can throw even a well-planned schedule into chaos. Yet, we still manage to find time for family dinner most nights, because it is a touchstone and a center of gravity for all of us. I find when there’s been too many nights without family dinner, because of work or other evening commitments, everyone is cranky and out of sorts. It’s important to schedule in that little bit of family time to keep us all grounded. So, while I laugh when someone mistakenly thinks our family dinner routine is “picture-perfect,” I am also grateful that we have found a way to make family dinner consistent in our lives when our schedules are anything but.

As Jennifer counsels, when life is crazy-busy, the answer is not to give up family dinner all together. Instead find the happy medium that works for your family. Find that happy place and forgive yourself for not reaching some “made-up” ideal.  Just remember the “real goals” of family dinner, finding a daily connection among you and your loved ones. Relax and enjoy it, even in the chaos!

Read Jen Grant’s Blame it On and her other great B4FD post, Ordinary Pleasures.