Thanksgiving Dinner: Tips & Recipes

Dinner on Thanksgiving Day

Dinner on Thanksgiving Day is a meal when extended family and friends come together to celebrate and share the harvest.  It’s a holiday when we talk a lot about food, sharing cooking tips and family recipes.

In year’s past we ask our readers to share what they serve for their Thanksgiving Dinner and to offer cooking tips, starting with kitchen tips on how to cook a turkey, followed by a request for favorite vegetarian dishes to cook up too… Read the rest of this entry »

Family Day: Celebrating Parent Engagement & Healthy Happy Kids

Monday, September 28th is Family Day

Monday, September 28th, 2015, is Family Day, and the Communities That Care Coalition is encouraging families to celebrate by spending quality time together as a family.  Family Day is a national movement, launched by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) to celebrate parental engagement as an effective tool to help keep kids substance-free, healthy and happy.  Read the rest of this entry »

6 Remedies to the Pre-Dinner Snack Dilemma

6 Ways Community Can Support Family Dinners

It Takes a Village to Have Family Dinner

It’s true.  Committing to family dinner as a community makes sticking to family dinner easier in so many ways.  First, you know you are part of something meaningful for all of you.  Being part of a movement helps in those moments when you are teetering on the edge of throwing in the towel and deciding to leave a pot of spaghetti and sauce on the stove and letting people fend for themselves.  I also think it helps our kids stick to the routine when they know that your expectation is the same in their friends’ homes; no kid wants to be called to dinner from a game knowing that she is the only one. Also, as a community you can share ideas, food, and time together.

So here are six ideas for how families can help each other… Read the rest of this entry »

The Dinner Table: Family Dinner Resolution


For the New Year I made a resolution – a family dinner resolution – to actually get home for family dinner. It is a bit difficult on the conscience to be the Director of the Family Dinner Project and not get home for dinner very often. So I resolved, and I have spent the last four weeks doing my best to stick to it. This post is a report on what is working, and what is not… Read the rest of this entry »

The Dinner Table: Giving is Inspiring

Giving Tuesday

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013,  is Giving Tuesday.  After years of hearing about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, some folks created a day for giving back rather than consuming – and thus Giving Tuesday – the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  The Family Dinner Project got inspired by this opportunity and thought – what better place to talk together about giving back than at the dinner table? What better way to raise the next generation of philanthropists great and small?  So we went and built a whole new part of our website dedicated to helping families talk about and inspire giving together.  My favorite is this Decision Tree that Grace Taylor created. But the tips for inspiring giving in children is great, as are the conversation starters.
Here is how our giving conversations have started, but we need your help to see them through. Read on and share your thoughts…

The Dinner Table: Return of the Toast!

Prost! A Sente! Salute! Cheers! To your Health!

The toast is that moment of transition.

Ceremony is too often neglected in what has become a pretty unceremonious society we live in and our dinner tables reflect that.  Some families of course still light a candle, say a thanks, a grace or a prayer before a meal, but as fewer people have these traditions, we have not done enough to cultivate a replacement.

Ritual is an important part of family bonding.  Beginnings are an important part of ritual. Bill Doherty, the renowned family therapist, in his book The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties talks about the three phases of family rituals – the transitional phase, the enactment phase and the exit phase. He argues that our family dinners should have all three phases. “The transitional phase is used to move from everyday matters into ‘ritual space,’ where the sense of ceremony and connection are enhanced.” There are three things served here – marking the moment when we separate from the everyday, bringing some sense celebration, care and specialness to the table, and connecting with one another in a meaningful way.

It is for these three reasons that I am advocating the return of the toast.  The toast is a non-religious but ceremonial way of leaving the day behind and marking the beginning our meal together, of celebrating, and of connecting…

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The Dinner Table: Don’t Yuck on My Yum!

Don’t Yuck on My Yum

We don’t have a lot of rules at our dinner table – we try to make it as nag-free as we can. But one rule I insist on I learned from a fourth grader in Lynn, MA, as part of the Family Dinner Project’s lunch mentors program with the Lynn Public Schools.  Don’t yuck on my yum.  I had never heard it before this student used it to defend her choice of sandwich.

It means you shouldn’t criticize the food that someone else is eating and likes. Don’t yuck on my yum.  What I think is yummy, don’t say yuck about.  So often, one child embraces something interesting, healthy, uncommon, or ethnic and gets criticized for it.  What is unknown scares kids. What smells strong or looks different seems strange and weird.  Kids name that to make themselves feel less anxious about being different.  This happens over and over to children from certain traditions or with varied tastes or personalities. Eventually a child’s tastes get worn away to the lowest common denominator until everybody’s eating chicken nuggets and noodles…

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The Dinner Table: Supportive Pantry & Easy Meals

What’s in Your Pantry?

If it is 5:45pm and I just got home from work and we have no plan for dinner, what I have on hand will make or break my evening plans… Having a pantry full of staples to help make a simple and healthy meal at home at any moment is crucial. Here is my go-to list for a supportive pantry and a handful of meal ideas too…[/caption]

Creating a healthy home is often about a series of small choices we make every day. In the moment when our kids ask for snack food before dinner, do we say yes or no?  In the moment when deciding what to make for dinner, do we run out and grab some burgers or stay home and cook?  Small decisions made under pressure occur countless times a day.

The question, then, is how do we set ourselves up for making more healthy choices and fewer unhealthy ones in those moments?

Healthy decisions are either supported or thwarted by some pattern in our lives. Whether I decide to have family dinner or not is often dependent on how much mail I have piled on my kitchen table, or if I have any clean dishes, or very often on whether I have anything in my pantry to make a quick and healthy meal…

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The Dinner Table: Extending Dinner Time with Walking Desserts

A Sweet Idea for Summer (or any time): The Walking Dessert

With the pressures on family time mounting, my wife and I are always looking for ways to stretch out our time together around family dinner. During the summer that means a walking dessert – usually ice cream cones or popsicles, but anything that fits into a cup will work. The walking dessert was started by my wife because I couldn’t get home in time for dinner and as means of stretching the meal until I arrived, she started to take our restless kids on a walk.

Walking dessert accomplishes many things: It gives us some exercise; it redirects the urge my kids have to get up from the table; it provides new things to look at and talk about; and after sitting all day in an office, then in my car for the hour-long commute, it offers an alternative to sitting again for a long time at the dinner table. Walking dessert is also a physical way of talking together, side by side, which for me (and perhaps for you?) is actually more comfortable than sitting across from someone.

If you like the sound of the walking dessert, here are a few things I suggest…

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The Dinner Table: Letting Go of Perfect!

Here’s to the “Good Enough” Dinner

Is your desire to create the perfect family dinner creating challenges and tension? Don’t aim for the perfect dinner, but rather the “Good Enough” dinner. The goal is to connect, enjoy one another’s company and to make memories.

I’m very excited that Sienna asked me to contribute a monthly column to Hilltown Families. As director of The Family Dinner Project (FDP), I’m always happy to find new groups of parents who recognize the importance of family dinners and aspire to make them more meaningful (or more frequent, or more nutritious, or more peaceful, etc.). Together we can work on how to go about it.

That’s truly all we think about at FDP; how can we help families tackle the specific challenges they face regarding family dinner? We provide the resources, targeted advice and support you need to make it happen in your home. And it’s not just a one-way street – because we want you to tell us how to do it too, and we’ll help share the wisdom of your home with people all over the country.

I write a lot about parents as innovators.  Every day you are in your home and are faced with challenges and you come up with ways to make things work. Chances are that other parents that are part of the Hilltown Families network face the same dilemmas and struggles you do– and your wisdom can help. As much as anything, we see FDP as a place where families share wisdom.

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Seasons at Our Table: Harvest Season

Harvest Season

Dinner on Thanksgiving Day is a meal when extended family and friends come together to celebrate and share the harvest.  It’s a holiday when we talk a lot about food, sharing cooking tips and family recipes.. and it’s the final season we’ll be featuring in our 3-part series, Seasons at Our Table.

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Taking a look back this year, at the beginning of Maple Sugar Season in late February, we invited our readers to share with us how Maple Sugar Season gets their family outdoors and participating in the harvest with their community. We also invited them to share their favorite recipe that they like to make for/with their family breakfast/brunch hour.  Read what they had to share in our first installment of Seasons at Our Table, “Maple Sugar Season.”

Then at the beginning of the summer we invited our readers to share a family recipe using fresh local produce.  We highlighted submissions our readers shared, featuring local produce often bought fresh from our farmers’ markets and road side stands.  Read their submissions in our second of three installments of Seasons at Our Table,Farmers’ Market Season.”

It’s now we conclude with the “Harvest Season.”  We’ve ask our readers to share what they serve for their Thanksgiving Dinner and to offer cooking tips.  We started by asking for kitchen tips on how to cook a turkey, followed by a request for favorite vegetarian dishes to cook up too:

COOKING A TURKEY

One of our readers asks, “This is the first year our family is to host Thanksgiving Dinner at our house (ack!). I’ve never cooked a whole turkey and don’t even know where to begin. I could surf the net, but many of your readers seem very savvy and I’m hoping these more experienced family cooks could offer their advice- from how to pick out a turkey to how to cook it?”

Kara Kitchen writes, “There are a great selection of local fresh turkeys here in Western MA. We like to do ours on the gas grill; keeps the heat outside, more room in the oven for sides, takes less time, and is so juicy! Just keep it covered w/tin foil and keep adding water to keep a constant 3/4″ in the bottom of pan (we use the one-use tin ones w/handles)-this will keep the meat moist but let the skin get crispy-no need to baste w/the steam caught under the foil!… cuts time in half (>4hrs).”

Michele Yargeau Sexton writes, “You need 2lbs of turkey per person when selecting the size. Remove all the stuff out of the turkey, rinse and dry. salt and pepper cavity, and stuff with celery, carrots, and a little onion. No need to peel the carrots, or trim the celery, it’s only for flavor. Soften butter in your hands, and massage the turkey all over. Make a thick paste of all purpose flour, orange juice, salt and pepper. Brush all over the buttered turkey with a pastry brush. Put in a roasting pan, add about an inch of chicken broth, and cover tightly with foil. Put Turkey in oven @ 250-degrees about 11 hours before you want to eat it (yes, that usually means about 2am.). DON’T TOUCH IT FOR 9 HOURS, DON’T OPEN THE FOIL, NOTHING. The 10th hours, remove the foil, turn heat up to 350-degrees for browning. Remove from oven, let sit about an hour. Carve and Serve.”

Katie Stetson writes, “I usually just truss and oil it put it in the oven at 350-degrees then pull it out just before it is fully cooked – tent it with foil and let it rest for 45 minutes during which time it will finish cooking but not get dry. In that 45 minutes you can finish up the sides in the now empty oven.”

Deborah Hackett writes, “Ok, I know I am old school but…I still put stuffing inside my turkey, the heat kills the bacteria. Cover with foil and cook at 350-degrees for 25 minutes per pound.  The last 1/2 hour uncover to crisp skin. Make sure oven rack is low or top will burn. Let rest while getting other side together and serve. Or if you choose ham, I put mine in the crock pot on low for 12 hours.”

LOCAL TURKEYS

Aimee Costa Lalime asks, “Where do you get the fresh, local turkeys?”

Kara Kitchen replies, “This year we got ours (most have to pre-order) from Berkshire Organics in Dalton (they had 3 local choices!), but in years past we’ve ordered through the Cummington Creamery or Lightning Bug Farmstand (on the Plainfield/Cummington town line), which I believe are from Diemand Farms. I think the River Valley Market Co-Op (Northampton) should carry them as well, or at least direct you to one… or find a hunter, they are in abundance out here in the Hilltowns! ;)”

VEGETARIAN THANKSGIVING

For Thanksgiving, some families skip the turkey and serve up a delicious vegetarian feast using local roots, squashes, greens, apples, pumpkins, cranberries and mushrooms instead! What’s your favorite vegetarian dish to cook up for your family Thanksgiving dinner?

Kara Kitchen writes, “Roasted root vegetables! Tossed in EVOO, salt+pepper…even the kids can’t resist the caramelized goodness.”

Bevan Brunelle writes, “Homemade cranberry sauce served warm with orange zest.”

Sienna Wildfield writes, “Tonya Lemos turned me on to fresh from the garden Brussel sprouts sauteed in butter and tons of chopped garlic…. Now it’s a staple for Thanksgiving dinner! Grew 12 plants this year in our garden… just can’t get enough of this deliciousness!”

Tonya Lemos writes, “One of my favs is a Greek dish that seems to have made its way to our Thanksgiving tables over the years… it is Peas cooked in Olive Oil with Garlic and Pearl Onion with A LOT of fresh dill.”

Marya Kozik LaRoche writes, “Lentils and caramelized onions.”

Jennifer Fox writes, “There is a terrific loaf recipe in the Greens cookbook that I make every year. It isn’t vegan (plenty of cheese), but is a huge hit with even the vegetarians who are extremely picky eaters and jealous meat-eaters. The recipe also suggests a mushroom gravy, which is great. – My family veggie “recipes” are also naturally vegetarian. My favorites are candied parsnips and mashed rutabaga (Florida mountain turnip around here!)”

Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “Almond gravy! Delicious and full of vegetarian protein.”

Ana Araujo writes, “Homemade pumpkin ravioli. We’ve been doing this for years.”

Mary-Jane Sackett writes, “Mac and cheese seems to be a favorite around here.”

Anne Schlereth writes, Lentil Balls recipe from the Meatball Shop in NYC. The recipe can be searched on the NYTimes website. They are perfect with all the root veggies at the Thanksgiving table!”

Deanna Dariusz Raczkowski writes, “We are trying Field Roast Cranberry Hazelnut roast this year!”

Robin MacRostie writes, “Pickled pumpkin; cornbread chestnut stuffing.”

Laurie McCullough writes, “I appreciate all these wonderful ideas, thanks!”


Funding for Seasons at Our Table was made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Woman’s Home Missionary Union, administered by the Parent Education Workgroup of the Communities That Care Coalition.

Seasons at Our Table: Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ Market Season

At the beginning of the summer we invited our readers to share a family recipe using fresh local produce.  Below we’re highlighting 13 submissions our readers posted, featuring local produce often bought fresh from our farmers’ markets and road side stands!  Get inspired and thinking about how you can use locally grown fresh produce for your family dinner!

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Kat Allen of Northampton writes: I’m not a great cook, and my husband and I don’t have much time, but we do try hard get our family eating well and to have family dinner each night and we’ve landed on something that works well for us… On a day when we do have some time, we’ll cook up a big load of veggies in a little bit olive oil – usually in a big pan on the stove, sometimes on the grill outside. When possible we’ll get our kids involved in picking out the veggies (at our CSA, at the farmers’ market, or at the grocery store), and chopping up the veggies (a two-handled rocking knife and some clear instructions makes it safe even for our 6-year old).

Then we use these veggies in a bunch of easy, quick ways throughout the week:

  • Throw it on top of whole wheat pasta – with red sauce, pesto, or just plain
  • Put it on the table with beans, cheese, and whole wheat burrito or taco shells for make-your-own burritos or tacos
  • Use it as a side dish with rice and beans (when in a real rush I buy prepared rice and beans at the Greenfield Coop) or chicken and rice (sometimes I buy a cooked rotisserie chicken)
  • Throw it on top of a pizza crust (prepared or homemade crust)
  • Mix it in a pan with eggs and milk and call it an eggs bake
  • Throw it in a pie crust (I use the prepared, roll-out kind) with eggs and milk and call it a quiche

Finally, we just throw some fresh fruit, raw veggies and milk in lunch boxes with these dinner left-overs when we pack lunches each day – viola – meals for a week!

Sandra Dias of Holyoke writes: This is a simple dish, but it’s tasty. I like to slice zucchini and yellow summer squash quite thin, mix it with some extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle it with grated asiago cheese, then bake it for a half an hour at 375F. We make this simple veggie side dish every summer on our annual trip to Cape Cod and everyone seems to love it.

Becky Castro of Northampton writes: We love fresh salads with baby spring greens topped in a warm garlic dressing… First, gather up your greens: my little ones used to love picking baby spinach, mescalin leaves, and dandelion leaves out of our garden (what ever you have growing works perfectly). Nowadays, I go to the farmers market and use whatever is in season. I still use the dandelion leaves from my yard as they are plentiful!! Then make a bowl full of greens.

Top it off with this dressing:

  • 1 head of garlic roasted or finely chopped
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2T balsamic vinegar
  • 1T lime juice
  • 1/8 salt
  • 1 med. shallot, finely chopped
  • Pepper

Squeeze the roasted garlic into a pan. Add oil, vinegar, lime juice, shallot, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the shallot is softened, like 3-5 minutes. Pour the dressing on top of the greens until coated. You can also add pine nuts and goat cheese. (Once summer and fall come, add kale and beet greens. I have not tried mustard greens or swiss chard but bet they would taste yummy.). Thankfully, both of my kids love garlic and always have.

Miranda Marks of Northampton writes: When I was young, I remember standing knee-deep in rich soil, watching my mom and dad dig, plant and pull up weeds. By the end of the summer, my mom would send us out to pick tomatoes straight off the vine, and basil so fresh I could smell it as soon as I stepped out of the door.- Before my dad died after one of those sun-soaked summers, I was always focused on picking, planting and eating fresh foods. – Last year was the first time I made my own garden, and those hazy memories came back to life. One of my favorite recipes is the classic Italian Caprese, tomatoes, basil, olive oil and mozzarella. – This summer, I can’t wait to eat tomatoes that smell so good your mouth waters.

Ellen Moriarty of Hampden writes: Our family loves veggie pizza on the grill all summer! It has been so much fun for my daughters Hannah and Gracie to work together to create awesome tasting & healthy pizzas. Hannah is our self taught, in-house dough expert. Gracie kicks it into high gear pretending she is an Italian pizza chef. She has the apron, the hat & the accent!

  • Begin with your favorite pizza dough and roll it out.
  • Brush one side with olive oil & sprinkle with salt and pepper, grill for a couple of minutes. Brush the top side with olive oil and flip.
  • You can pre-grill some of the veggies, we like our crunchy so we start piling them on.
  • Tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, spinach, summer squash, carrots, cucumbers, garlic and your favorite cheese. Cook for a few minutes & enjoy.

Gracie says, “We’re eating a rainbow!” We really enjoyed our fresh, colorful, local veggies from C&C farm last year. Ciao Bella!
Beryl Hoffman of Florence writes: We often make a crustless quiche, and it tastes great with local fresh vegetables in the summer. You can add any vegetables to this recipe — we usually put in spinach and zucchini. And sometimes even my son will try it!

Crustless Quiche:

  • some veggies: 1 zucchini shredded, a couple handfuls of spinach, etc.
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • some grated cheese (cheddar works well) blended in and some on top

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden on top. Enjoy!

Jackie MacNeish of Ashfield writes: One summer, my grandmother planted a garden full of nothing but basil, garlic and tomotoes. I remember being confused in the beginning of this garden why it only had three ingredients. Later, when we harvested our first batch of each, my grandmother lined the grandkids up in the kitchen and gave us each a task: wash, peel, chop, slice, puree. I was the washer usually! The kitchen would start to smell of mouth-watering pesto. We’d have pesto pasta that night for dinner, but we’d also have frozen pesto to last for the rest of the year! Yum!

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