The Family Table

Educating Families About the Benefits of Family Meals

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Three Secrets to Healthy Eating

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Recipe of the Week: 

What’s the secret to making healthy nutritional choices? A new report analyzing 112 studies found that most healthy eaters did so because 1. A restaurant, grocery store, spouse or parent made foods like fruits and vegetables visible and easy to reach; 2 Healthy choices were enticingly displayed,and looked good; 3. Healthy choices were the easy, obvious choice.  This makes sense – we probably aren’t going to go looking in the fridge for an apple when there is a plate of delicious looking cookies sitting on the counter.

To help ourselves, and our family, make healthy choices, we can remember these concepts and put the healthy foods front and center in our line of vision, and put the less healthy foods out of sight.  We also need to make the healthy foods look good and be easy to prepare – we may have peppers and hummus in the fridge to snack on, but if the peppers aren’t sliced, we will most likely just grab a bag of tortilla chips to dip in the hummus rather than taking the time to slice the peppers.  Having fruits and veggies pre-sliced will make them the easy choice.

I had to laugh a little when I read this study because we practice these concepts in our house, but it’s mainly to hide food from the teenager.  If I buy ice cream, I can guarantee it will be gone in a day unless I hide it in the back of the freezer behind the bags of veggies!

Here is a link to the study.

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Holli Seabury

CEO and Mother of Seven

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Salad Bar at Home

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Recipe of the Week

Typically, if we’re having salad with dinner, I make up my kids’ plates with some lettuce and a few toppings and then set it in front of them. They will usually eat it, but they don’t get excited about it…and they definitely don’t ask for seconds! Recently, I asked my daughter if she would like me to set up a ‘salad bar’ at home and let each person choose their own toppings. This idea absolutely appealed to her and she could not wait until dinner that night! I set out all the toppings in separate bowls on the kitchen table and let each kid walk down the line making their own salad (even if that meant little fingers went into each and every ingredient…). They were fairly predictable with what they chose, but they did choose a few toppings that I wouldn’t have given them if I had been the one to make their salad. And I was shocked by the amounts of each veggie they added. I never would have put quite as many diced green peppers into one of my boys’ bowl…but he added quite a few…and then gobbled down each and every bite!

They LOVED doing this and each kid ate two full bowls of the salad they made for themselves. I offered once to help them with their refill, but…not a chance! They were all just as excited to get out of their chairs and make up their own bowl for round two. This is definitely something we’ll keep doing!

And, of course, the ideas for salad toppings are limitless! Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Base: green leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, baby spinach
  • Protein: thinly sliced deli meat, cubed pieces of ham or turkey, bacon, walnuts, pecans, almonds, sliced hardboiled eggs, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, diced apples
  • Veggies: bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes
  • Freshly shredded cheese or grated Parmesan

And for the salad dressing? I usually keep it pretty simple with this basic homemade combination:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 T honey
  • Dash of salt

I hope this make-your-own-salad bar concept is an idea your family will enjoy just as much as ours has! For more family friendly recipes and tips, check out my blog: www.realfitrealfoodmom.com

LeAnn Nome

LeAnn Nome, blogger & mom of three little ones

Breakfast for Dinner

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Recipe of the Week

We are frequently a family-on-the-go.  Planning a family meal has gotten more challenging this semester.  I can certainly come up with a number of excuses as to why, but that misses the point.  As we have refocused our efforts to sit down at the table, sans phones and tablets, with a healthy plate of food in front of us, things have shifted a bit.

The girls are now in middle school, and as such, both are fairly competent chefs (well, sandwiches and mac-n-cheese). We have been fortunate to have a diverse palette and often they will eat most things put in front of them.  As they are getting older, we have been trying to teach them some additional tricks in the kitchen.  One essential – a fast meal comes from eggs.  And, they work for breakfast, lunch or dinner (brinner in our house!)

Are you looking for ways to cook with your little ones, but aren’t real sure?  Try this idea from Weelicious!

Just last week, we used up the dozen we try to keep on hand. Luckily, one of our friends, who is raising her own chickens gave us a fresh dozen! While I am not brave enough to take on a mean chicken (oh the stories I’ve been told!) I certainly did enjoy breakfast with those bright-colored yolks!

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Frances Brooks

Director of Operations & Business Development and Mother of Two

A Complaint Free Dinner Hour

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This Week’s Recipe

How many of us parents have prepared meals only to be confronted by a child (or spouse) who doesn’t like, doesn’t want or isn’t in the mood for what we just fixed. What happens next is one of two unpleasant scenarios–1) fixing an alternate meal for the unhappy person, 2) standing your ground and facing a fit.

Having faced this situation time after time, I was determined to find a mutually agreeable solution for our family of four that didn’t include me working as a short order cook! It occurred to me that I usually planned dinner four nights a week. On Sundays, we had a tradition of making homemade pizza, which everyone enjoyed. One night every week or two, we ate out or ordered in. The meals I fixed on the other nights usually generated a night or two of leftovers, which, fortunately no one objected to on principle. Of course, if someone didn’t want it or like it on night one, they sure didn’t want it on night two!

Since there are four people in our family, I told my husband and children that I was going to ask them on Thursday when I make the grocery list, what meal they want the next week. The caveat was each one of us would have a choice, and each one of us would eat without complaints everyone else’s choice. There were two other conditions. I could round out the meal with side dishes if the meal was not well balanced. And although I would not make an alternate meal, I would keep yogurt on hand if someone truly didn’t like the protein we were having.

This had some immediate benefits that I had not anticipated. It made grocery shopping much easier and ultimately cheaper. It eliminated those nights when I was at a loss as to what to fix. If the kids had picked something like chicken nuggets or burgers, I was sure to add a healthy side dish. Then I would pick a meal like roast or tilapia. If someone picked a meal that was labor intensive, I’d be sure to pick a meal that week that I could make in 30 minutes or less. On leftover night, there was usually something available from each of our meals.

This resulted in a very manageable routine with very little whining. Everyone had a say in what we ate, and we saved time and money. If you’ve become a short order cook, or face a barrage of whining at mealtime, why not think about how you could give everyone a choice in exchange for a complaint free dinner hour?

Sally Edington
Friend of McMillen Center and Mother of Two

What Grade Does Fast Food Get You?

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This Week’s Recipe

When I was growing up in south central Pennsylvania, the closest fast food restaurants were about 15 miles away. Fast food was something I ate infrequently, maybe a few times a year. Today, nearly every tiny town has some form of fast food and most families eat fast food on a fairly frequent basis. Nearly half of Americans eat fast food anywhere from once a week to several times a week.

However, a new study shows we may want to rethink how often we feed fast food to our children. In looking at the school performance of over 11,000 children, it was found that the amount of fast food children eat may be linked to how well they do in school. The more fast food children ate in fifth grade, the lower their growth in reading, math, and science test scores by the time they reached eighth grade.

It wasn’t just a small difference either – students who ate the most fast food had test score gains that were up to about 20 percent lower than those who didn’t eat any fast food. The lead author of the study said, “There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there. Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”

Children who ate fast food four to six times per week or every day had significantly lower gains in reading, math and science compared to children who did not eat any fast food the week before the survey. Although the study didn’t determine why children who ate more fast food didn’t do as well in school, the researchers point out that fast food lacks certain nutrients, like iron, that help children’s brains develop. Diets high in fat and sugar, like fast food, have been shown to hurt memory and learning.

As a mom who does rely on fast food sometimes to get a meal on the table, what do I do with this information? Well, it will certainly cause me to rethink how often I go through the drive-through. If you do need to go through a drive through to get dinner on the table, here are some hints to make the meals not quite as unhealthy:

  • Skip the soda pop. Choose the milk or water option.
  • Drop the fries and either choose a fruit option with a kid’s meal, or if you are serving the fast food at home put some fresh fruit on the table or quickly heat up frozen veggies.
  • Try to choose grilled meat, rather than deep fried.

Holli-Seabury-2012

Holli Seabury
CEO and Mother of Seven

Dining for Two: Six Easy Steps

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Recipe of the Week

Do you love to cook? Are there two of you at home that enjoy trying new recipes and new flavors together? When you have a busy schedule and you don’t feel like cooking a large meal for just the two of you, don’t just settle for leftovers, frozen dinners, or cereal. It is the perfect opportunity to take a little bit of planning time and enjoy experimenting with new recipes, like this delicious apple pork chop recipe.

Try these six easy steps to make cooking for two easy, fun and healthy.

  1. Make a Plan: Each week write down a weekly menu.
  2. Stock the Pantry: Always have the essentials on hand, like canned goods and dried foods.
  3. Fill Your Freezer: Buy in bulk during sales and freeze in single portions.
  4. Cook and Freeze: Cook a larger meal and freeze leftovers in single portions for those busy nights.
  5. Prepare One-dish Meals: Cook a dish that has several food groups, like a chicken stir fry with veggies served over rice.
  6. Extras: Use food from previous night’s meals, such as cooking a whole chicken on Sunday and using the meat during the week to make burritos or a chicken salad.

Need additional ideas on cooking for two? Visit us on Pinterest for more recipes.

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Bethany Clapper, Director of Development & Marketing and Mother of Two

What’s in that lunch box? 5 Tips to Make Packed Lunches Healthier

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Recipe of the Week

School is starting and parents all over are gearing up to pack school lunches. I have always had the perception that a lunch packed at home is healthier than what’s being served in the school cafeteria. Turns out that’s wrong – very wrong. A recent study from Tufts University  shows that on the average school day 41% of children are bringing a packed lunch from home, and most of those lunches are far less healthy than the cafeteria food being served. In fact, only 27% of the lunches reviewed met the same nutrition standards the cafeterias have to meet. Instead, most lunches packed at home were an assortment of snack foods and desserts.

I have to make a confession: I never pack my kids a school lunch. They actually love the school cafeteria lunches, which may not say too much about my cooking. My 8 year-old daughter sometimes packs her own lunch, but before it goes in her bookbag it has to pass my inspection to ensure it isn’t a lunch made up totally of junk. So from the research article and my own, albeit limited, experience packing school lunches, here are a few tips to make packed lunches healthier:

  1. The study found a big problem was sugary drinks in packed lunches. Pack water or have your child buy milk at school.
  2. Fruits and veggies are also lacking in most homemade lunches. Make a fruit or veggie requirement for each lunch – and work with your child to find fruit and veggies that they will enjoy eating and that won’t end up in the trash at school.
  3. Many homemade lunches lacked a protein-rich entrée item and were mainly carbs and sugar. Even something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread is a healthy kid-friendly choice. My kids also love yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and cheese.
  4. Encourage your kids to pack their own lunches. Have a “Healthy Lunch Checklist” they can follow that includes fruits and veggies, a protein, water, etc. I allow one snack or dessert item in the lunch and am clear with my daughter about what I consider a dessert serving – one cookie, not five cookies! Letting kids pack their own lunch makes it more likely that they will eat it and teaches them the valuable skill of how to create a healthy meal for themselves.
  5. Make it a rule that a parent checks the lunch before it goes in the bookbag.

Need ideas for healthy packed lunches? Pinterest comes to the rescue with 100s of healthy school lunch ideas!

Holli-Seabury-2012

Holli Seabury
CEO and Mother of Seven

Tip of the Week: Pantry List

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This Week’s Featured Recipe

Often, there is a point during our week when we hit the, “oops, we forgot to plan something for dinner, but man, we really don’t want to get back in the car and eat out.” For our family, this usually means we are having a family favorite – or a ‘go-to meal,’ as some people call it. For our household, that means: brinner! Breakfast, for dinner. Crazy as it sounds, having an omelet, or pancakes and sausage, with a side of fresh fruit and OJ for dinner brings my kids running to the table like little else. (Why can’t they respond that way in the morning?)

Not only is it quick, but it is also an inexpensive way to get a meal on the table using a number of items you probably already have on hand! If you find your pantry to be empty on a regular basis, may we suggest using a standardized grocery list, like the one from Family Table to check each time before you leave for the store? Holli Seabury, McMillen Center CEO, says “The meals you can make with these items are pretty much endless – everything from a veggie/cheese omelet served with pan fried potatoes and toast, to pasta with a meat sauce, or chicken and stir fry veggies, served over rice.”

Other quick suggestions for dinner when the cupboard seems bare: local fruits and veggies that are in season are very plentiful at garden markets and roadside stands this time of year. Green beans, tomatoes and peaches are especially plentiful right now!

Frances Brooks Casual 2012

Frances Brooks, Director of Operations & Business Development, and mother of two

Tip of the Week: Picnic Family Fun!

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Recipe of the Week

Wow, Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching! Finally, after the long winter months and a budding spring, the “official start of summer” is just around the corner.

This time of year always makes me think of my years growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania. Mom was always eager for summer weather and the start of summer break from school. Memorial Day weekends, as well as several other days over the summer, were lazy days full of family, friends and picnics. My mom loved a good picnic! At times she went all out with planning food for the picnic. From different salads and vegetable dishes to pulling out the charcoal grill, the food was good and plentiful.  At those times, the backyard was full of adults and children talking and having a good time.

My other memory is of other smaller picnics. Sometimes just Mom and we kids, or on weekends, Dad would join us. They would wake us up in the morning and say, “Girls, get out of bed. We are going on a picnic today!” Those were the best picnics! Usually the food on these days was a little simpler. Mom packed what we had in the refrigerator. Egg salad or peanut butter sandwiches, carrots and celery sticks and some kind of summer fruit like fresh peaches or a melon she had cut that morning. The food was always different, but always tasted great when enjoyed on a blanket outside! As kids, we had the job of packing our toys or things to do for the day. At times we would need our swim suits, but we usually always took a Frisbee, whiffle bat and ball, and even a deck of cards.

Now as an adult, I look back and remember these days as some of the best times with my family. Just being together, talking and laughing while enjoying our meal and getting to spend time with Mom and Dad, playing games and running around! Those simple, sometimes spontaneous times were the best!

I have kept up the picnic tradition with my own family. I take a simple picnic lunch to sporting events my children are in or, on a long vacation drive we pack a sack lunch to eat at a rest stop. My teenagers already laugh and share stories of some of their favorite family picnic memories! It doesn’t take much to make or plan the picnic but the fun memories are plentiful!


Twila Smith
Administrative Assistant, Mom of 2

Tip of the Week: Healthy Easter Basket Ideas

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 Recipe of the week

For this week’s tip we’ve put together some healthy Easter basket ideas from our families to yours!  If you are like me and don’t want to give your children candy every year, then you will find these alternatives helpful. We pinned 50 things to put in Easter eggs besides candy on our Pinterest Holiday board.  Please share the creative ways you celebrate Easter with your family on our Facebook page.

Holli – We do baskets with small toys and very little candy.  The big excitement on Easter morning is an egg hunt – I take the plastic eggs and put one or two jelly beans in each one.  The younger children love hunting for the eggs all over the house!

Bethany – I am giving my one-year old daughter a baby bath book about the Easter bunny and my five-year old son is getting a coloring book and sidewalk chalk. Other things we have given in Easter baskets are: tattoos, bubbles, books, money, paints, cars, and other little toys from the dollar bin, etc. For younger children we’ve bought a stuffed bunny, organic baby cookies/food, and a little chirping chick.

Frances – With the weather on the sunny side, my kids love new sidewalk chalk and jump ropes in their Easter basket. Silly putty (which already comes in an egg!) is super exciting – even my husband likes a new egg of silly putty! My kids are at the age where jewelry – especially earrings and rings – are very popular. And this year, those rubber band bracelets continue to be popular – a package of new rubber bands will fit into a large egg.

Linda – We look for baskets before Sunrise Service celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning. In the baskets are usually a pair of socks for each person, bubbles and kites to share, as well as chocolates and jelly beans.

Camy – I have a volleyball for my daughter’s basket this year and a soccer ball for my son and I give them very little candy. One idea could be to write down good things that they have done, or examples of good behaviors, and place them in the plastic eggs instead of candy. They could read them thinking that the Easter Bunny wrote them! We also have done play dough, fingerprint books and sketch books in their baskets.

Scott – My wife and I give our children books, chocolate and a toy. Every Easter we go to an egg hunt at my Dad’s house.

Jodie – I always give a toy or activity book and one chocolate item to my son. Growing up, my Mom always gave my sister and I a basket with candy and a toothbrush with toothpaste.

Twila – We gave cartoon/special underwear during the potty training years, a watch, jewelry or DVDs. We always hid the Easter baskets so the kids had to hunt for their prize.

Kathryn – I am giving my children Mixels Legos to add to their collection. I also like to give books and other items my children may need, such as school supplies.

Debbie – Our Easter festivities include an Easter egg hunt. We fill about half the eggs with candy and the other half with pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills. We let each child know how many eggs they can collect. There is an outside race to find the Easter eggs. They burn off a few calories during the hunt, and eat a few calories when the hunt is finished! I am not sure what is more fun- but I think it is the hunt!

Hollissa – Here are some ideas: puzzles, Easter themed dollar store items, coloring books, or play dough.

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