The Family Table

Educating Families About the Benefits of Family Meals

Heart Healthy Dinners


Recipe of the Week: Rosemary Balsamic Roasted Vegetables

How many times have we heard, “What’s for Dinner?”  I have heard this line a countless number of times… echoing off the walls in my kitchen.  The meaning of this phrase is vastly different for my family.  For my two teenagers, this demands serving up something fast because I am starving – and I want it now!  For my husband, dinner is sitting down to a meal that is relaxing and healthy.  Ideally, dinner is a time to unwind and reconnect as a family.  I shoot for a combination of  all three – with an emphasis on fast and healthy.

When it comes to a heart healthy diet, the main element to avoid is saturated fats.  How can this be done in a simple way?  This complex task can be accomplished by focusing on the “5” healthy food groups.  Go lean with protein- through chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, limiting red meat- which is high in saturated fats.  Throw in a vegetable, fruit, whole grain bread on the side, an ice cold glass of skim milk,  and voila!  You now have a heart healthy meal!  Enjoy!

Does this sound too easy?  Is it an unrealistic expectation?  Especially when you are in a rush after getting home from a hectic day at work?  Do you feel like you are in a cooking rut?  Do you need some fresh ideas?  Let me recommend to you the book called the No-Fad Diet by the American Heart Association.  In a society that is looking for the “quick fix” for weight loss, this book brings us back to the basics.  It shuns fad diets.  It provides multiple resources including advice, assessment quizzes, portion control tips, and over 190 tasty recipes!

No time for purchasing and reading a book?  Do a 2 second plate check at the table.  Analyze and determine if your plate includes the “5” healthy food groups.  Adapt the meal as needed to meet this goal.  Eat Healthy! Reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle – see your family members grow strong and live long!

Debbie Harvey 2012

Debbie Harvey, Educator at the McMillen Center for Health Education


Snacking on the Go


Snacking on the Go

Are your family meals at odd times of the day because of busy schedules? If you answered yes, you are probably looking for healthy snacks on the go. Our family is on the go all year round. I always need to prepare healthy snacks for my kids so they are not starving by the time we get around to lunch or dinner. Coming up with ideas for healthy snacks can be a challenge.

Here are some ideas for snacks that you can feel good about giving to your family.

  • Fresh fruit is always a great snack that can be taken when on the go. Apples and bananas are easy to grab. Grapes are a wonderful fruit to freeze so that way they can be enjoyed whenever you need them. Grapes can be put in a reusable container and it makes a wonderful sweet treat that most kids and adults will enjoy. Try to avoid fruit snacks and other gummy snacks that stick to the teeth.
  • Another great snack is trail mix. Let kids help buy the ingredients and have help to prepare it. Some tasty ingredients for trail mix would include: unsweetened shaved coconut, low-sugar cereal, pretzels, air-popped popcorn, sesame sticks, pumpkin seeds, unsweetened dried fruit, unsalted nuts, and sunflower seeds. Be creative! Instead of buying granola bars and other prepackaged snacks, try making your own healthier version. There are many healthier granola bar recipes that are easy to make.
  • Pickles, cheese sticks, hard boiled eggs, and raw veggies are more healthy snacks that are easy to pack and eat on the run. Remember, taking your own healthy snacks will reduce the temptation to spend money on unhealthy vending machine snacks. It might take a little planning ahead, but your body is definitely worth it!

Healthy Homemade Granola Bars


3 cups puffed brown rice cereal (or puffed millet)

3 cups quick-cooking oats

3⁄4 cup apricot, chopped

3⁄4 cup walnuts, chopped

3⁄4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

3⁄4 cup honey

3⁄4 cup peanut butter

3⁄4 cup flax seed meal, mixed with

2 tablespoons water

3⁄4 cup carob chips


Mix cereal, oats, fruit, nuts, and coconut in a large bowl.

Heat honey over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbly. Stir in peanut butter and flax meal mixture. Heat and stir, until well-mixed and melted. Add more water if necessary. The mixture should be a liquid consistency.

Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients and quickly stir to mix with a rubber spatula. When well-incorporated and slightly cooled, add carob.

Press into a 13 x 9 inch pan. Press hard. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight. Cut into bars.

Camy Rodenbeck 2012

Cami Rodenbeck
Educator, McMillen Center for Health Education

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Family Table 12

Thanksgiving in our household can be a small gathering of 6, and recently has been a large gathering, with up to 22 family members!  I have found tips along the way to make the holiday stress free and fun.

Delegate – Don’t hesitate to ask guests to bring a dish share or serving items to use for the meal.  Assign food groups so you don’t end up with 15 desserts and no side dishes.

Special Diets and Picky Eaters– No worries, whole foods offered at the Thanksgiving table can be a quick solution. Serving raw and/or steamed vegetables or fresh fruits are a solution for restricted diets. Many times “picky” eaters are comfortable eating foods that are not a combination of different items.

Quality Time– Finally, as important as food is during the Thanksgiving holiday, time spent with friends and family is equally important. After enjoying the holiday meal, take time to be active together outside, if possible. Try a new tradition of a scavenger hunt. Families can get moving together making a map and finding clues together. If you can’t get outside, a game of charades or even a card game can be quality time well spent.

Have a wonderful holiday with friends and family!


Michelle Nagel

Director of Educational Sales, McMillen Center for Health Education

Forgiving Fall Favorite: Chili

10-26-15 Chili Family Table Post Graphic

There’s nothing like checking Martha Stewart’s monthly calendar in her “Living” magazine to make me feel like an underachiever.

“What? Martha’s been out pruning the boxwoods AND still had time to dust the taxidermy?”

Although I may never live up to Martha’s standards of home life, fall somehow brings on a big old wave of overachieving to my world. Something about the changing seasons and the cooler weather makes me want to feather my “nest” – get everything all organized inside and out, spend a few last week ends tidying the yard and biking with the kids, carve up some jack o’ lanterns, and revel in my self-proclaimed domestic goddess status.

With all that overachieving going on, I’ll admit I do sometimes need a little help getting a meal on the table.  (It seems winter is more my season for earning cooking goddess status).

Enter… my humble crockpot. I’m pretty sure Martha wouldn’t touch one, but mine goes into heavy rotation come fall. It may be stained, it may not have a fancy time delay or warmer function – but it definitely gets the job done.

One of my favorite fall crockpot meals is chili. Simple. Filling. Healthy. Delicious.

I especially love chili because I can easily tweak the recipe with ingredients I have on hand.

Leftover corn from last night? Add it to the pot with some black beans and Mexican spices.  Voila! You’ve got a southwest twist!

One sad little hamburger patty nobody ate? Crumble it right into the pot and that’s one less thing to cook.

Only have ground turkey and white beans? No problem! Still delicious!

When you find a basic chili recipe that suits your family, mixing things up is easy and offers some variety.  I usually try to make a double batch so I’ll have plenty to freeze for an easy meal when I’m in a pinch.

The night before, I cook the meat with some onion.  Or I skip the meat altogether and use a heftier mix of red kidney beans – no stovetop required.  I add the meat and/or beans along with all the other ingredients to my crockpot. Typically I like to double down on the veggies to kick up the health factor another notch. I refrigerate the crock overnight. The next morning, before I head to work, I set the crock pot to low and return home to find dinner cooked and waiting for me – almost as if I had my very own live-in Martha Stewart!

If you find your chili is too thick, simply stir in a bit of water to your desired consistency.

Finally, set the table in true Martha fashion with a stunning display of fall foliage to accompany a simple salad or fruit, and maybe some cheese and crackers.  That’s dinner!

Now, off I go. My taxidermy collection is not going to dust itself.

Recipe of the Week: Classic Chili

(This is a basic chili recipe to get you started. Experiment! Find out what ingredients your family prefers. There’s no wrong way to prepare chili and it’s very difficult to screw it up!)


Eileen Ahlersmeyer

Director of Development and Operations

Healthy Halloween

Photo Oct 11, 10 50 17 PM

Recipe of the Week: Cranberry Pumpkin Seed Trail Mix

When people think of Halloween the last thing that comes to mind is health! Currently, in the United States both childhood obesity levels and tooth decay are at historic highs.  However, a few tricks might be employed to keep the treats under control without taking the fun away.

First, when handing out treats think of healthier options to candy, such as granola bars, bags of pretzels, peanuts, or trail mix. You can also hand out non-edible treats like stickers, pencils, or bracelets from the dollar store. Also, when out trick or treating make sure that your kids walk with you from house to house rather than having them ride in a car. This will help them get some exercise while they are having fun.

Once the children get home with their loot, have them sort through their candy to get rid of any candy they don’t like. This eliminates the temptation to just eat candy just for the sake of eating candy. Make rules regarding how much candy they can have each day; don’t let it be a free for all on the candy. Here is trick that might come in handy: have them eat or drink something healthy when you give them some candy. If they are involved in any after school sports such as soccer or basketball where they are getting a lot of exercise, this would be a good time to let them have some candy when they get home. The bottom line is you are the parent, so be in control of handing out the candy.

If you have Halloween parties at your house don’t just set candy out in bowls for the kids to grab. Have food stations, like an apple station where they can dip apples into caramel, or fruit station with cut up bananas, strawberries, blueberries and other assorted fruits that can be dunked in melted chocolate or peanut butter. Serve unsweetened fruit juice and milk with chocolate or strawberry syrup as drinks. You don’t have to take all the sugar away, just make it healthier whenever possible.

Another concern is keeping teeth healthy; make sure the kids are brushing their teeth at least twice a day for two minutes.  In fact, you might want to get a third brushing time in until all the candy is gone.  Have a great Halloween, but make it a healthy one!


Dave Ward

Program Manager, McMillen Center for Health Education

Fall for Apples

Fall for Apples Graphic-01

Recipe of the Week: Apple-Berry Brown Betty

As you walk through the produce aisle, or your local farmers market, it’s obvious that fall is here. Today marks the first day of fall and as the weather starts to change our prime seasonal produce changes as well. Pumpkins, squash, and my favorite fall food; apples, start to take over.

Prime apple-picking season begins in late August and lasts all the way through November. When you’re shopping, try to choose apples that feel dense and firm when gently squeezed. As always, avoid any bruised fruit. Apples are best if used within three weeks of purchasing and survive best if stored in your refrigerator crisper.

A great activity to do as a family is going to an apple orchard. It’s something that you can enjoy at any age. You can spend time together as a family and have the added benefit of fresh-picked fruit. For a directory of apple orchards near you, visit: Orchard Guide

Jenn Storey Web Photo

Jenn Storey

Marketing and Multimedia Manager

Pack Your Lunch Like a Pro

Pack Your Lunch Like a Pro-Graphic

Recipe of the week: Sandwich on a Stick

In most circumstances, lunchtime is typically not spent as a family. Packing a lunch for a family member is a great way to show them that you care about their day. If you’re packing your own lunch, you can give yourself something to look forward to. Personally, I would prefer the variety of a well-balanced meal instead of a frozen brick of ingredients that I can’t pronounce. By packing lunch, you also bring more intention to your grocery shopping.

Adults and children alike love a creative meal. Who doesn’t love to play with their food? If you want to add a little something extra, put in an encouraging note in their lunch. Click here for Free Printable Lunchbox Notes.

 Think Outside of the (Lunch) Box:

  • First of all: Pick out a great lunch bag or box!
  • Use cookie cutters to cut fruit, cheese or bread in to fun shapes
  • Decorate your sandwich bags with drawings or notes
  • Buy reusable sandwich or snack bags to save on waste and expense
  • Use cupcake papers to separate foods and make a bento box style lunch
  • If you are bringing your lunch to work, invite co-workers on a lunchtime picnic to get in some social time

Jenn Storey Web Photo

Jenn Storey

Marketing and Multimedia Manager

10 Foods You Shouldn’t Feed Your Kids


The Recipe of the Week: Healthy Mac and Cheese

A friend recently sent me an article titled “Ten Foods You Should Never Feed Your Kids.”  I was appalled to read the list and realize it was pretty much a list of my kids favorite foods.  In fact, if I told my kids these were the only ten foods they were allowed to eat, they would be ecstatic:

  • Sugary cereals
  • Hot dogs
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Fruit snacks
  • Pop/sports drinks
  • Lunchables
  • Hard candy and lollipops
  • Pop Tarts
  • Fast food kid’s meals
  • Packaged mac and cheese

The article listed lots of good reasons why these foods were unhealthy, most centered around them being too high in sugar, fat, sodium or chemicals.  I don’t disagree, but I do have a 7 year old who may die of starvation if his diet doesn’t have some form of mac and cheese in it.  And don’t tell me to try to sneak pureed veggies in his mac and cheese – tried that, it failed.

So as a mom of 7, who has had to deal with more than one picky eater, here’s how I approach the list above.  There are a few foods on that list I never, ever buy: pop, sports drinks, and fruit snacks.  Pop is just too full of chemicals for me to ever feel okay giving it to my kids and fruit snacks are just gummy bears.  I absolutely love gummy bears, but I don’t kid myself that they are fruit.  There are some foods on the list that I will allow my children to eat on a fairly infrequent basis like Lunchables, which are reserved for school field trips, and lollipops and candy, which they talk their father into buying.

Then there are some foods like Pop Tarts, kid’s cereal, and mac and cheese, that you will usually find in my house.  Do I have even the faintest belief that they are healthy food?  No.  But I also have lots of fresh fruit and veggies and yogurt in my fridge and I hope that balances out the PopTart they may eat a few times a week, or the evenings I swing through a fast food restaurant and come home with chicken nuggets.

Personally, most days I consider myself successful if I have managed to get some servings of fresh fruits and veggies into my picky eaters and I call it a day.  I also take heart that my adult children are pretty healthy eaters, so if we can make it through these picky childhood years, everything should end up okay!

The Recipe of the Week is for a healthy mac and cheese, maybe your kids are less picky than mine!


Holli Seabury, CEO

McMillen Center for Health Education

Food and Sleep

Food and Sleep Graphic-01

Recipe of the Week: Chickpea Burgers

The better we sleep, the better we function awake.  Some of us who struggle to get the crucial hours of rest in the evenings will suffer from illness, depression, high blood pressure and just being downright cranky. School is almost back in session, which means for many, a change in sleep schedules.  Parents and children both experience excitement and sometimes anxiety when it comes to a change in schedule which can make it difficult to get the amount of rest they need to be successful in during the day.

To remedy insomnia, the answer may not be a new pillow or mattress.  A good night’s rest may require an adjustment to what you are eating.  Below is a list of some of the foods that may help you to get on track.

Foods That Help You Sleep

  • Fish
  • Jasmine Rice
  • Cherry Juice
  • Yogurt
  • Whole Grains
  • Kale
  • Bananas
  • Chick Peas
  • Fortified Cereals

Read the specifics on why these foods help you sleep.

Along with a diet full of the best nutrients for your body, exercise is one of the best ways to get yourself prepared for a good night’s sleep. After a good workout, not only is your body prepared for rest, but your mind is also at rest. In this study by the National Sleep Foundation, they explain: How Physical Activity Impacts the Overall Quality of Sleep. With the proper diet and exercise, you will be counting sheep in no time!

Jenn Storey Web Photo

Jenn Storey

Marketing and Multimedia Manager

Fresh from the Farm

Community Garden photo 1

Recipe of the Week: Farmer’s Market Risotto with Spring Onion, Fresh Peas and Mint 

Are you feeling adventurous? Visit your local farmer’s market for a change in your routine. In this environment, you will notice a sense of community and pride. The advertisements are a one-on-one conversation with the vendor, which is a rare opportunity that you can take advantage of. Purchasing your food from someone in your community provides many benefits for you and your family.

Not only do you get to support your local economy, but you also have the added social benefit. Bringing your family members along with you will allow everyone to have input on the meals for the week. When you get to interact with the person who created the food you are buying, they will often be more than willing to share ideas on how to prepare the items they are selling. Creativity runs wild at a farmer’s market, so be prepared to try food that you have never had before! Lots of vendors offer samples of their food, which is great if you are feeling a nervous about committing to something new to you.

Another great benefit to shopping at a farmer’s market is that they don’t only sell food. There are usually vendors that display anything from handmade clothing and accessories to house plants. The range of products is typically very wide, so you can not only grocery shop, but you can find that perfectly unique gift or a little something for yourself!

To find a farmer’s market near you, visit the USDA Farmers Markets Search site.

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