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 »

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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