The Benefits of Family Mealtime

This week’s blog post was submitted by guest blogger, Juliana Meyner. We hope you enjoy her post and look forward to future posts from Juliana.

Eating together as a family has many benefits for us and for our children. It is a special time for nurturing relationship, to listen to each other, to learn and practice social skills and healthy habits. It does not really matter if you can’t have the family sit together at every meal. That is quite impossible nowadays with the demands of our busy life and schedules. Even having breakfast together once a week is a great way to spend quality time together, and to create memories.

According to The Power of Family Meals (www.powerof a website dedicated to support family well being, sharing a meal at the table has many benefits for children of all ages. It says that “more than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less like they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.” Other good reasons researchers found out that are worthy in trying to make eating together a family ritual:

  • Children learn how to be healthy from their parents.
  • Family mealtime helps to reduce stress and peer pressure.
  • More family mealtime is linked to better grades, less behavioral problems and less obesity.
  • Preparing and sharing a family meal helps to connect in a meaningful way. It is a great way to bond and to show that everyone is special.
  • Children learn important social skills, table manners and to respect others as they practice saying “please” and “thank you”.


Here are some ideas from Welch to help you to make the most of your family mealtime:

  • Pick any meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or even gathering to share a fun, healthy snack .
  • Let everyone contribute with their ideas for the cooking. Why not having pancakes and bacon for dinner?
  • Get everybody involved. Children can help wash veggies, tear lettuce, set the table. Older children can chop vegetables and help to make a salad.
  • Unplug. Make a point to not be on electronics or pick up the cell phone. Your family is the most important at this time.
  • Rituals are important for children too. Have a toast to celebrate the day, ask what was the highlight of the day, check in with your children.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments at the table. Ask what children are learning at school.
  • Make it colorful. Offer colorful fresh vegetables and fruits for dessert.
  • Cook extra portions and freeze it for the days you come home late or take it to work for lunch.

Here is an easy and fast recipe from American Heart Association for you to try and enjoy.

Juliana is a Visitation Specialist with the Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Making the Most of Mealtime

There is much more to eating with our children than meets the eye. Eating with your child is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship as well as set the foundation for lifelong good eating habits. There are basic things that parents can do to  make the most of mealtime with their child starting from birth. The tip sheet titled: Healthy From the Start, brought to you by, offers the following 7 tips to guide parents as they work to make the most of mealtime with their little ones.

  1. Remember: Meals are about more than food.
  2. Create routines around mealtime.
  3. Offer 3 or 4 healthy food choices (that your child likes) at each meal.
  4. Don’t force your baby or toddler to eat.
  5. Don’t give up on new foods.
  6. Turn off the TV (and computers etc.) at mealtimes.
  7. Healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand.

Healthy Families

Today’s blog post is submitted by our summer contributor, Kara Olsen-Becerra.

Most parents today realize that our country is facing a severe health crisis. More money is spent on healthcare in the United States than in any other country, but we are not even close to the top of the list for quality or for being a healthy nation. This generation of small children could be the first that lives a shorter life span than their parents. Time for physical education in schools has been reduced, and many parents are less than pleased with the quality of food served in school lunches.

Many parents today are very concerned about what all of this will mean for the future our children. There is so much conflicting information everywhere about what is best for our children in regards to health, that even very thoughtful parents are finding themselves lost in a sea of information. As a parent, I have many concerns about the current condition of health in our country. I believe that as a parent, it is a gift to my children to try to instill healthy lifestyle and eating habits. It is a gift to encourage and participate in physical activity with our children. Healthier individuals and families can ultimately lead to a healthier community and country. Because the idea of managing and reforming the health of the whole nation can seem overwhelming, I would like to offer some tips about how parents can start making a difference today by promoting health in their own families.

  1. Even parents with good intentions often have a difficult time getting their children to eat the micro-nutrient rich foods that will help their bodies grow and perform at their best. Picky eating is something that causes stress for a lot of families. Parents often engage in power struggles with their children over eating, and it’s hard not to do at times. Even after doing my best to provide healthy food options at my house, one of my three children still tries his best to be picky, and it is hard not to be frustrated at times. Ellen Satter is one of the leading experts in the food relationship, and she suggests that there be a division of responsibility with eating.  Parents are responsible for what, when, and where their children eat. Children are responsible for how much and whether or not they eat. Research shows that forcing children to eat certain amounts or types of foods doesn’t ultimately help them become better eaters in the long run. Parents are responsible for providing healthy options for children. It may take several tries of offering a food to a child before they are willing to give it a try. Ultimately, even most adults who are healthy eaters have a few foods that they don’t prefer, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t like every single food they try. For more information on feeding practices, check out Ellen Satter’s book “Child of Mine.”
  2. Grow a garden. Even many families who live in an apartment or duplex, can grow a few tomato plants or herbs in pots. I know from experience, that even my pickier eater is more willing to try something if we grew it ourselves, and especially if he was a part of the process. My kids will go out in the garden and nibble on string beans or whole cucumbers. Many communities have community or family gardens where people can learn together.
  3. Eat meals together as a family whenever possible. There has been a growing amount of research done on the positive effects of family meals. Not only do families who eat together tend to eat healthier, but it serves as a great time to nourish with food and love.
  4. Think about the messages you send your children by the way you speak about your own body. Do your children hear you criticize the way you look often? If we are not kind with ourselves, it is hard to imagine that our kids will be kind with themselves. When talking to your kids about why we are healthy, don’t have the focus be about body size. If your kids asks why you eat healthy as a family, you could say: “We eat healthy so that our bodies will be healthy and strong for a long time. I love you so much, and I want you to live and long and healthy life.”
  5. Limit the amount of screen time that your children have access to. The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that children under two have no screen time and that even elementary aged children have less than 2 hours of total screen time a day. Less screen time means more time to play outside and to be physically active.
  6. Make sure that your children are getting enough sleep. Children who don’t get enough sleep don’t perform as well in school. This is common sense, and I know that I personally struggle to stay alert and perform my best when I am severely sleep deprived. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “An estimated 64 percent of school-aged children (ages 6 to 12) go to bed later than 9 p.m., and 43 percent of boys ages 10 to 11 sleep less than the recommended amount each night.”
  7. Make physical activity a normal part of your family. Work in the garden together, go on bike rides, hikes, and make it mandatory that your kids play outside each day. Children pick up on family norms, and when moving your body is a norm in your family, it will be a habit that is more likely to stick. Every child may not end up being the start of a sports team, but that doesn’t mean that he/she can’t enjoy some sort of exercise.
  8. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about additional vitamins or supplements. Most pediatricians will recommend some sort of daily multivitamin. In the Pacific Northwest, there is a great need for extra Vitamin D.
  9. If you are concerned with the lack of physical activity or poor quality of school lunches, voice your opinion. Even better than voicing your opinion, be willing to be part of the solution. There are most likely other parents who feel the same way that you do who would be willing to help out.
  10. Be a model yourself of healthy living. When you have a food that you don’t prefer, make sure to let your kids know, “This is not a food that I prefer, but I am going to give it a try, because I know that it will help my body to be healthy.” You can also model that it is possible to take time to exercise even when you are a busy adult. Kids are smart. They are really smart. They know when are actions do or do not match up with our words.

No family is perfect or perfectly healthy. We all have things that we are working on to do better. We don’t need to spend time being hard on ourselves. Instead of focusing on all of the things that you aren’t doing right, try focusing on what you are doing well and setting some goals to make improvements. We all love our children so much and want them to live optimal lives. I would love if you all would take a moment to share ways that your family is trying to be healthy!

Kara Olsen-Becerra loves working with children and families. She taught the Live and Learn with Your Baby classes in Corvallis for 6 years, and she is currently working as a nutrition educator with the Linus Pauling Institute-Healthy Youth Program. She loves being a part of this great community, and she loves being silly and playing with her husband and three young children.

I Don’t Like It! (Part 3)

This summer I had the pleasure of chatting a friend who gave me a wonderful idea for my final blog entry in our I Don’t Like It! series,

As summer winds down and many parents return to the hustle and bustle of school days, homework, and after-school activities we begin to consider and reconsider ways to make the upcoming school year manageable. One of my biggest challenges is dinnertime. Not only do we need dinner solutions that are quick and easy but my family needs dinner options that can be equally enjoyed by five family members, even the picky ones. So what is a parent to do?

In today’s post, I am going to list my favorite “Go-To” weekly dinner ideas. Check out the ideas below and think about some of your fabulous family favorites. I invite all of our blog readers to submit your family’s favorite busy weeknight “Go-To” meals. Hopefully, we can get a conversation going and many of us can begin the school year with at least one new dinner idea or recipe.

My favorite “Go-To” meals are:

taco bar – see the first blog entry, I Don’t Like It!

chili bar – This dinner starts with a basic chili recipe and all the toppings (cheese, onions, sour cream, etc.) are on the side. Each family can build a bowl of chili to their liking. Additionally, this dinner can be expanded into chili over potatoes, chili over burgers, chili over hot dogs, or chili over corn chips as the week goes on.

tortilla soup bar – Again this recipe starts with a basic tortilla soup (vegetarian or chicken) as the base. All of the toppings (cheese, tortilla chips, cilantro, onions, guacamole, sour cream, etc.) are on the side for each family member to choose from. If your soup is hearty enough, this can be served with just a side salad or other vegetable option.

pizza bar – This one is simple and my kids enjoy their part in building their own mini-pizzas. Use your favorite pizza crust to prepare mini-pizza size crusts or use English muffins, french bread, flatbread, or whatever bread you like. Just be sure to prepare them in individual sizes. Again, toppings are available for family members to choose from. If you are feeling creative, you can also have a variety of sauces and cheeses for the pizzas. We like traditional red pizza sauce, pesto sauce, alfredo sauce,  plain old olive oil, and my daughter likes no sauce at all. Of course, pizza toppings can be numerous so again, be creative and offer both meat and veggie options such as: ground or shredded beef, pork, chicken, bacon, etc., and non-traditional veggies such as kale, spinach, carrots, and beets. Just for fun, we have even made dessert pizzas with any leftover crust and toppings such as: sweetened cream cheese, yogurt, chocolate drizzle, caramel sauce, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, and a touch of powdered sugar.

sandwich or panini bar – This is a fun dinner option for us because we feel like we are at a gourmet restaurant or cafe. We start with a basic panini-style flatbread cut into individual sandwich portion sizes.  Offer the sandwich options that your family likes such as: various lunch meats, bacon, tuna or egg salad, (a veggie patty would also work here), etc. We also include our favorite veggie options (think of Subway or ToGos) such as: onions, bell peppers, banana peppers, olives, mushrooms, cheeses, pickles, artichokes, spinach, lettuce, shredded carrots and beets, avocado, guacamole, tomatoes, and cabbage. Be creative with condiments too. Along with the traditional condiments try other sauces and dressings such as: ranch dressing, honey mustard dressing, and other homemade or store-bought salad dressings. To make paninis without a panini griddle, place the sandwich on a nonstick skillet and put a foil-wrapped brick (or another heavy flat object) on top of the sandwich to flatten it out as it grills.

Hopefully one of the above “Go-To” meal options will spark some ideas for you and your family. Don’t forget to be creative and have fun with your family in the kitchen. I look forward to adding your submissions to my dinnertime options for the coming school year.

I Don’t Like It! Part 2

In today’s post, I would like to share one of my family’s all-time favorite “go-to” dinner solutions with you.

We have a variety of eating needs in our family and one VERY picky eater. Additionally, like many families, we have busy schedules with work, school, homework, and various social and extracurricular activities. So our most successful meals accommodate all of these factors. This meal is not only easy to prepare, versatile, and simple, but it also provides an opportunity for all family members to participate in preparing it.

Enchiladas, one of our favorite family “go-to” dishes is simple to prepare and satisfies us all. The secret to this dish is not in the recipe but rather in the preparation of the dish which can also stretch this dish into two or three meals.

We create a DIY enchilada “bar” where every family member can select their favorite fillings and make the “perfect” enchilada for themselves. We begin by preparing  2 base fillings, a meat filling, and a veggie filling. We like ground chicken and roasted veggies. We season the ground chicken and the veggies similarly, using ground chile molido, ground cumin, and garlic salt. Next, we grate cheddar and pepper jack cheese. We also use our favorite enchilada sauce and corn tortillas. Once all of the ingredients are prepared and placed alongside a large enchilada dish each family member takes a turn rolling their own enchilada using the ingredients they desire (a tip for rolling corn tortillas is to put them in the microwave for 10 seconds or less before rolling). I like to fill my enchiladas with veggies and cheese, my daughter likes cheese only, and my husband likes everything in his. Once the enchilada dish is filled, we bake at 350 degrees until the cheese and sauce begin to bubble.

We then use the leftover fillings and corn tortillas to make tacos. My son likes his tacos with meat only, and my daughter likes hers with meat and cheese. If I have large flour tortillas, beans, and rice we can also make burritos. Add any extra enchilada sauce to a burrito and it becomes a “wet” burrito. Additionally(or for day 2 or 3), we use corn chips and leftover filling and toppings (lettuce, salsa, guacamole, avocados, tomatoes, sour cream, etc.) to make DIY taco “bowls”.

The true beauty in thIs DIY enchilada, taco, or burrito “bar” or “bowl” concept is that the preparation of each part is quick and easy and everyone gets exactly what they desire. And most importantly, our family gets to share a delicious, enjoyable family meal.

I Don’t Like It!

Before the food even touches his lips, before I have gotten the food on his plate, I have barely finished cooking and my 8 year-old son has announced to the entire family (including his impressionable 5 year-old sister) that he does not like what has been prepared for dinner.

This sets off a sequence of events that we experience regularly at dinnertime. It goes something like this: we (mom and  dad)  load up his plate with the food that we expect for him to eat, place it in front of him on the table as he grimaces at the thought of sampling his meal, he complains, protests, and negotiates (loudly at times) throughout our family dining experience, and the rest of us attempt to enjoy our meal regardless of his distaste for virtually everything that is on the table.

After a long day of work, school, and after school activities and commitments our family of 5 could really use a peaceful and enjoyable dinnertime. We would like to have this time to have a meal that has been lovingly prepared and beautifully served for all of us to enjoy together. Lately, this has been challenging given my son’s shrinking desire for the food that the rest of us like. Additionally, we already find it challenging to cook the chosen meal for the evening, and prepare something special just for him seems overwhelming and unnecessary. Of course my son believes otherwise and spends much of his energy trying to convince us to see things his way.

My husband and I have asked ourselves countless times if we would be doing him a disservice by preparing “special meals” just for him along with our daily family meals when he does not like what is being served. Many times when we have refused to do this he has gone to bed with less than an full stomach. Should we prepare only the meals that he will enjoy? This option causes the rest of the family to miss out on much of the food that we enjoy. Is there a reasonable compromise when dealing with a picky eater in the family?

Much of the literature written about picky eaters suggest that parents set routines and expectations for the dining experience. One of my favorite authors on the subject, Ellyn Satter, even gives parents a “division of responsibility in feeding” that provides a helpful guideline to remember when considering these issues:

For infants:

  • The parent is responsible for what
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else)

For toddlers through adolescents:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

Considering this, my husband and I seem to be making some solid decisions about our family’s mealtimes and eating habits in general.

My next few posts will include some of the more creative ways that we have found to solve our family’s eating dilemmas and some family menu ideas that we have tried and had success with. I like to call them my “go-to” meals. Watch for future posts under the title “I Don’t Like It!”


Let’s Eat!!! Fun Mealtime Ideas to Inspire the kid in all of Us

Are you tired of the same mealtime ideas? Are you looking for something new, healthy, and kid-friendly to serve your family for dinner? Are you interested in quick and easy dinner ideas for hectic weekday evenings?

As we progress through the year we sometimes find ourselves looking for new, interesting, and nutritious items to serve our families. Well, look no further because OSU Extension Services has a wonderful list of kid-friendly mealtime ideas on their website. Some of the items include Chicken Black Bean Salsa Burritos, Easy Skillet Chili, Oven French Toast, Sunshine Roll-Ups, and my personal favorite during these rainy months, Skillet Corn Chowder. Each recipe is in English and Spanish and includes nutrition facts, tips, and fun modifications called “Bright Ideas”.

Check out the recipes and be prepared to salivate. If you try one, please let me know what you and your family think. And don’t forget to get the kids involved in grocery shopping,  meal planning, and meal preparation. Children truly enjoy the cooking experience and more importantly, they enjoy the time spent with you in the kitchen.

Bon Appetit!!