A Family That Eats Together…Stays Together
BY Andrea J. Fonte Weaver
Recently, I was visiting with an older gentleman who was post-surgery. The nurse asked the man: “How is it possible that all of your adult children have come to visit so quickly? What’s the secret?” The patient replied confidently and quickly: It all starts at the dinner table.
Around the table
Whether at home, at school, or at work, gathering around the dinner table to share a meal is helpful for many reasons. There is a great deal of research about the benefits of eating dinner together. Sandi Richard, in her book: Anyone Can Cook Dinner, succinctly summarizes:
Eating together at home often results in:
- Better concentration at work or school [parents and youth]
- Better grades
- Better body image
And you tweens and teens are:
- Less likely to abuse drugs
- Less likely to abuse alcohol
- More likely to have better social skills
- More likely to have a higher self esteem
Grandparents, your dinner table (or the one you take them to in the restaurant) might be the only place that your grands enjoy a nutrition meal with rich conversation and a heaping dose of love.
Tips for grandparents to help make meals together happen
Some may proclaim that eating together is easier said than done. But, as with all things, begin somewhere.
- Look at the calendar with your adult children and choose one MEAL per week or month to enjoy together. Get it on everyone’s calendar. It does not have to be dinner; perhaps Sunday brunch is best.
- Ask family members for suggestions on what to serve at the meal.
- If you live long distance, consider getting a meal delivery service for your grands and their families like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron. You can pick out the meals with your grands and even facetime while they prepare the dish.
- Make extra portions to send home with the grands or for you to freeze and enjoy another day.
- Ask each person to either help cook and set-up or clean-up. Even the youngest child can put out the napkins. In doing so, she learns to be a contributing member of the community.
- Put out a basket for everyone to put in their electronic devices. No technology, including TV at the table.
- Develop some fun rituals around your meal. Perhaps begin with a prayer or everyone expressing gratitude. Share about your rose, thorn, and bud (best part of your day or week, hardest part, and something you’re looking forward to). Light candles to help bring a sense of calm. If everyone’s talking over one another, consider using a special object – like a stone heart or talking stick. In order to talk, the person has to be holding onto the special object.
- Use BT’s Grand Conversation Cards to start meaningful conversations. The deck of 40+ questions helps launch conversations that will leave everyone reflecting and eager to learn more – and there will be more than a few hearty laughs!
As children, what we consume can have a lasting impact on our health. As we age, our nutritional needs change.
Balance is Best
Having a conscious mind about what we put in our bodies has long term physical, mental and emotional benefits. By learning about the different food groups and the quantities at which they should be consumed, you and your family can take the first step toward a lifestyle of healthy and happy living.
Blood Sugar – Important for Teens and People with Diabetes
Eating well-balanced meals and snacks helps us maintain constant blood sugar – affecting our energy and mood. Have you heard of the new term “hangry”? It refers to when we get angry because we are hungry. Below, you can see how eating a balanced snack or meal helps us maintain energy.
Conversation Starters about Cooking & Food
Here are some questions to start engaging conversation with people whom you love – especially those in a different generation:
- What is your favorite food? What is one of your comfort foods – a food that you want when you are having a bad day or a food that makes your tummy smile? What’s your favorite food that you eat only at a special time of year?
- Have you ever had a “disaster” happen in the kitchen? Do share!
- What is a recipe that has been handed down in your family?
- With whom do you like to share a meal? If you could invite any five people who have ever lived to a dinner that you are hosting, who would you invite and why?
- Does/did your family do anything special at the start of your meal like say a blessing or share what you’re grateful for (a Bridges Together tradition) or perhaps discuss a highlight from the day?
- Does your family have any recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation? How about recipes that are often told with a story?
- Have you ever followed a loved one’s recipe? Did you ever try to modify it? What happened? Have you ever made up your own recipe? Do you ever remember a deceased loved one by making their favorite dish?
Teachable Moments with My Plate.Make a decision to teach about the My Plate method of nutritional eating. Help the people at your table recognize which foods from each meal correlate with which food groups and plan their plates accordingly.
- Use cooking to develop other skills such as:
- Sequencing (first we gather ingredients, then we beat the sugar and eggs…)
- Reading (the actual recipe or cookbook)
- Writing (copying recipes to making a cookbook)
- Comparing and contrasting (this recipe versus that version of it)
- Fractions (from measuring cups to dividing the dish into the appropriate number or servings)
- Research (different versions of a recipe, history behind dishes)
- Host your own Iron Chef. Inspired by the TV show, select a “secret ingredient” – perhaps a season fruit or vegetable. Or perhaps a rotisserie chicken you get at the grocery store. Divide the family into teams. Each team has to find a recipe, collect the ingredients and make it. Who will be your judges? This is super fun in families where you can invite adult friends to join the kiddos’ teams.
- Everyone’s Favorites. Along the lines of the Iron Chef, select an ingredient and then ask everyone to suggest their favorite recipe using that ingredient. Select a few to try – during an intergenerational program or over a series of family meals.
- Eggs are a great starting point if no one is allergic. Think eggs and toast, egg-in-a-hole, dunking eggs, an egg & meat sandwich, egg salad, deviled eggs and mini-quiche.
- Pasta is another versatile option with a myriad of favorite (and inexpensive) ways to prepare it – with traditional tomato sauce and meatballs, chicken and broccoli, vegetarian ziti bake, lasagna (easy to assemble with no-bake noodles and fun for a crowd) or even as a salad. It’s now possible to get gluten-free pasta (Ronzoni is our favorite) and pasta with protein added from beans (like Barilla Protein Plus).
- Quinoa: The Power Grain. Quinoa is an ancient grain that is packed with protein (good for muscles) and fiber (good for the digestive system). It is also inexpensive. Try some different recipes using quinoa – many of which begin with boiling it in plain water. Then, you can prepare it as a hot cereal instead of oatmeal or as a salad instead of rice. You can add it to soups and salads. Have fun with this versatile, power packed grain.
- Bring or make your favorite appetizers. Then, share about your favorite technology apps.
- Then & Now. The need to eat is timeless, but the way in which we eat and the “in” foods change over time (and place). Compare and contrast – popular recipes at different times in history with those of today. It’s easy to search online for favorite dishes from each decade… or century. Check out Betty Crocker Cookbooks from different decades – what’s included? Have ingredients in specific recipes changed?
- Make a cook-list or a cookbook Put together not a formal book, but a “cook-list” of quick recipes or family favorites that can be go-to’s.
- In families, collect everyone’s favorite recipes or record recipes from previous generations – especially before they get lost
- Consider throwing in some fun recipes – like how to make pretend something…. Or how to make a happy home.
- Combine them electronically or make paper copies and have fun distributing them.
- Make popcorn and watch a cooking related movie. Of course, there are all different ways to make popcorn. Perhaps even more fun, are the different toppings you can put on them. Get that popcorn going and enjoy a movie featuring cooking. Some all-time favorites are:
- The Hundred-Foot Journey
- Julie & Julia
- Like Water for Chocolate
- And the kitchen scene is pivotal in Parental Guidance
- Sharing is Caring. In EVERY community, there are people who are struggling to put food on the table, people going to bed with hungry bellies. And there are other people who are starving for companionship and someone with whom they can share a meal. Meet with local food pantries, shelters, school or community social workers, YMCAs, to create innovative solutions. Consider making sandwiches to deliver someplace. Start a community dinner program like Open Table in Maynard, MA. Anyone can come for dinner where the motto is: fresh food, healthy community.
Source: Bridges: Our Smarts manual
Salsa and Chips (traditional food of Mexico)
- 4 tomatoes totaling about 2 cups
- 1 tablespoon cilantro
- 1 tablespoon red onion
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- Salt to taste
- Tortilla chips
- Dice the tomatoes.
- With scissors, cut up the cilantro.
- Finely chop the red onion.
- Mix these ingredients in a bowl with the lime juice.
Adapted from: https://weelicious.com/2011/04/12/kiddie-salsa
- Tomatoes and onions are vegetable.
- Tortilla chips are carbohydrates.
Fruit Smoothie (originated on the United States West Coast)
- One large container of plain yogurt
- 3 cups of fruit (frozen or fresh) – options include bananas, strawberries, blueberries
- Put the fruit in a blender and mix.
- Add the yogurt.
- Pour into small cups.
- Yogurt is protein and dairy.
- Fruit is fruit!
- Flour wraps
- Turkey slices
- Cheese slices
- Lettuce leaves
- Tomatoes, sliced
- Mustard or mayonnaise
- Lay out the flour wrap.
- Spread the mustard or mayonnaise on it.
- Add the lettuce and tomato slices.
- Add the turkey slices.
- Add cheese.
- Roll the wrap.
- Cut into 1” slices on the diagonal.
- The wrap is a carbohydrate.
- The turkey and cheese is protein.
- Cheese is also dairy.
- Lettuce and tomatoes are vegetables.
- Mayonnaise is a fat.
Hummus Dip with Vegetables (traditional food of the Middle East)
- One 15-ounce can chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 large lemon
- 1/4 cup tahini
- Half of a large garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water
For dipping: Carrots, celery stalks, Middle Eastern bread
Some of the group participants can prepare the carrots, celery, and bread into portion sizes.
The other participants can make the hummus.
- In a food processor or blender, mix the tahini and lemon juice for 1 minute.
- Add all of the other ingredients except the beans and water.
- Add half the beans and beat for one minute.
- Add the other beans and beat for another minute.
- Add water as necessary to make the dip smooth.
- Beans are protein, carbohydrate, and vegetable.
- Bread is carbohydrate.
- Carrots and celery are vegetables.
- Oil is a healthful fat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – To read more from Andrea Weaver
Andrea J. Fonte Weaver is Founder & Executive Director of Bridges Together, Inc., an internationally recognized nonprofit providing intergenerational training and tools for grandparents, schools, communities, and companies. For more info, visit: www.BridgesTogether.org