The Family Table

Educating Families About the Benefits of Family Meals

Archive for the tag “McMillen Center”

Five Quick Ways to Play with Your Food!

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Recipe of the Week

I know, I know, I can hear my mom and yours in the background saying, “DON’T play with your food!” But, if you have picky eaters in your family it might take a bit of creative thinking to get them to eat healthy.

Seeing as the summer is quickly coming to an end, apples will soon be in season. You and I know apples make a great tasting healthy snack, but if your kids are not too keen, a little playtime might help. Below are five examples of quick ways to make a boring old apple into something fun and exciting. My kids and I also used grapes and peanut butter to make these, but you and your family can experiment with your own ingredients!

  1. Smile – two apple section lips, white grape teeth, and a little peanut butter to hold it together
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  2. Race Car – an apple section for the car, grape wheels, a grape headed driver, and again the “magic peanut butter glue” as my kids call it
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  3. Turtle – a green apple half (with the stem as a tail), grape feet, a grape head, and peanut butter if needed
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  4. Butterfly – thinly cut apple section wings on either side of a grape body
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  5. UFO (my favorite) – a cross section of an apple with a grape alien in the middle
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Scott Nitza

Scott Nitza
Graphic Designer & Marketing Associate and Father of Three

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Grilling as Easy as 1, 2, 3!

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Recipe of the Week

Labor Day is right around the corner and is the second largest grilling day in America. I will be joining that group and will be getting the grill out for what might be one of the last big grilling days before the start of fall.

In my home I like to use a charcoal grill. I find charcoal to be very easy to use and the flavor it adds to meats and vegetables is one of the advantages over propane gas grilling. To set up your grill using my method: add charcoal to the grill (stacked in the shape of a pyramid), add lighter fluid, wait approximately five minutes, add some additional lighter fluid, then light the charcoal. After most of the charcoal has turned white, spread the coals evenly across the bottom of the grill, and place your grill rack on. You are now ready to grill!

My family loves to grill vegetable like yellow potatoes, asparagus, scallions, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. One of the easiest ways I have found to cook those vegetables is to take a sheet of aluminum foil, add your vegetables and butter, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, then seal the foil closed and place on the grill. In 10 to 15 minutes your veggies will be soft and tender and ready to eat.

Our favorite meat to grill is Korean BBQ chicken – which is easy to make too! Take five pounds of chicken strips and place into a bowl. Add half a jar of Korean BBQ Sauce (my family’s favorite is CJ Korean BBQ Bulgogi marinade), place a lid on the bowl and shake the chicken around until it is evenly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate overnight. Grilling time the next day is 8-15 minutes.

Another benefit to grilling is the extra time spent with my family. My family likes to come out and help me grill or just hang out outside. On nice days we will enjoy our meal together in the backyard.

Have a great Labor Day and enjoy the long weekend with your family!

Damian Roach Technology & Facility Manager and father of one

Damian Roach
Technology & Facility Manager and Father of One

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!

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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: Mother’s Day

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Recipe of the Week

Mother’s Day evokes a memory of pretty spring dresses and baskets of flowers.  Each and every May of my childhood, I can remember going with my parents to the plant nursery to pick out a hanging basket of bright purple and pink fuchsia plants.  These would be delivered to each of my grandmothers for Mother’s Day and would hang on their porches for the remainder of the summer.  Both of them had green thumbs, much like my mother, who maintains beautiful gardens each year.  Somehow, I fell off the turnip truck and cannot seem to grow a Snake Plant, let alone baskets of rich color near my front door. Thank goodness my children are interested in developing their own abilities in the garden (although I do wish my oldest would stay out of the poison ivy!)

Investigative and imaginative, my oldest daughter’s garden is a blend of rocks, flowering plants and moss that she found somewhere – I keep hoping this is all heirloom plants from our own yard and not the neighbors’!  She is keenly interested in seeds of all kinds.

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I often find her pockets full of treasures that she intends to plant and harvest later this year.  Laundry days are never boring at our house!  I believe the cicada “shells” she gathered a couple of years ago were the “best” surprise.

And that is how mothering goes, isn’t it?  We nurture the brightest parts of their personality and surround them with the nutrients of family meals, good conversation, valuable skills, and enrich them with important truths.  Along the way, they pick up items they value.  Then, on “laundry day,” we help them to sort through these finds, determining what we hope will culture their best and brightest blooms.  In the midst of the process, it is sometimes difficult to see the success of our efforts.  But on Mother’s Day, I encourage you to take at least a few minutes this year to stop and smell the flowers.  Those blooms are the product of the hours and hours we have engaged in developing those within our area of influence.  Maybe consider visiting your local greenhouse to see what you and your family can grow together!

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Frances Brooks, mom of 2
Director of Operations & Business Development

Tip of the Week: Community Health

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Recipe of the Week

The McMillen Center for Health Education believes that everyone in our community, young and old, deserves to have a healthy life. Through our Family Table Tip of the Week, we promote healthy eating and family togetherness. We receive support to make this project possible from individuals, corporations, schools and many others. We want to take this opportunity to thank the community for their ongoing support. One of the ways we say thank you is by honoring others who work hard to make this community healthier at our Vitality Awards event. The Vitality Awards, on May 15 from 11:30 am – 1 pm at the Landmark Centre, will honor individuals working to create a vital, healthy community in the areas of health education, wellness and prevention.  We would love to see you there!  Take a look at this year’s deserving nominees.

Tickets for this event are still available at www.mcmillencenter.org/vatickets.

For this week’s healthy recipe we are featuring a Grilled Chicken Cranberry Salad. This is the salad that will be served at the Vitality Awards luncheon. The salad includes grilled chicken strips, dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, chopped celery, pecans on assorted greens served with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Enjoy!

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Bethany Clapper, mom of 2
Director of Development

Tip of the Week: Sexting & Texting

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Recipe of the Week

Technology today is a very cool means to stay in touch with people you don’t see on an everyday basis.  It can instantaneously connect family members and it has changed how we as human beings interact while apart.  However, today’s modern technology can also have negative consequences for youth.   Most parents have heard of the term “sexting”.  Sexting is the exchange of nude or sexually suggestive images from one device to another.  Sexting may be consensual, and sexts may be sent back and forth from two people, or sexts may be sent only from one person to the other.  As a mom, this sends all sorts of scary thoughts into my head as far as the long-term consequences.

In videos and in TV shows, sexting is often portrayed as being a casual interaction between two people and portrayed as if it has no consequences. The truth is that someone under eighteen who takes a sexual picture, even of themselves, and sends it to someone can be charged with producing and distributing child pornography.  If the receiver then forwards the image to someone else, the receiver can also be charged with distributing child pornography.  The person who has the image in their device (phone, PC, laptop, tablet, etc.) is considered to be the owner of that image and can be implicated.  Even if the image is deleted from the screen, the image is still in the internal memory of the device.

Apps such as snapchat or kik are promoted as a way to send an image that will disappear after a few seconds. If the receiver knows how to save a screen shot, the receiver will be able to store that image forever in the memory of the device.  The sender ends up having NO control over who does or does not see the image or where it will go.

Talk to the children in your life about rules to use technology for all members of the family.  Dock phones at bed time to promote good sleep and decrease bad middle of the night decisions.  Place phones, TV and monitors out of sight during meal times so there is less distraction.  Have a device free day one day a week or once or twice a month to encourage family members to talk to each other face to face.

Keep eating with your family three times a week to help ensure your children will know you are interested in their lives and that they can trust you to listen when they need to talk.

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Linda Hathaway
Director of Education & Curriculum

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.

Tip of the Week: How & Why to Avoid Processed Foods

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Recipe of the Week

In early 2013, my husband and I decided it was time to get healthy again. At the time, our daughter was four and our twin boys had just turned two. We had survived the blur and craziness of the previous two years and we were ready to get ‘back on track’ with our health again. We started to increase the intensity of our workouts and, in the process, we started talking about the foods we were eating. I had come across a few websites promoting ‘real food’ and I was hooked on the concept. This was a lifestyle change we could make and not feel deprived in any way. Simply stated: real food is unprocessed food. Or put another way: It’s eating the same way our parents and grandparents used to eat. Real food is grass-fed and free-range meats, pastured eggs, whole milk, whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, etc. Highly processed food, on the other hand, is filled with fake ingredients that people without a chemistry background can’t even pronounce! These ingredients are not actually food. They are fake, artificially-made ingredients that food companies use because they are cheaper than using real food. They also help extend shelf life so a food-like item can sit on a grocery store shelf for over 6 months before someone buys it.

My husband and I decided together to eliminate all processed foods from our home and we haven’t looked back since! Before we made the transition to eating real foods, we ate a very typical American diet that included sugary cereals, packets of instant oatmeal, frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, boxed macaroni and cheese, and more. Convenience foods usually won out over making something ‘from scratch’ because I thought it was easier and I didn’t really know any different. Once I started this journey, I quickly realized that almost everything that comes in a can or box or bag can be made with WAY fewer ingredients (real food ingredients) in usually about the same amount of time. There might be a few extra steps involved, but it was shocking to me what I could make with basic ingredients and a couple good recipes. I now feel so much better knowing I’m feeding my growing children healthy, wholesome foods. And not only that, but they’re also learning where our foods come from (we started a garden) and they see me preparing and serving lots of fresh vegetables and homemade goodies. They think nothing of me baking our sandwich bread, making baked donuts, or shredding a block of cheese. It’s become their new normal and they don’t feel deprived one bit!

This isn’t a “diet” for us, it’s our new lifestyle. Our pantry is filled with basic ingredients and our refrigerator is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and ‘whole’ foods like cheese, milk, eggs, butter,etc. A year ago, our freezer was filled with prepackaged convenience items…now the only items in there are homemade foods and frozen fruit and veggies. It is such a huge difference, but it’s one that I’m extremely proud of.

Highly processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. Many of the artificial ingredients in these foods have been linked to cancer, tumors, disease, and obesity. Now we choose to eat foods that are in their whole, original form OR they are made from just a small number of real ingredients. Azodicarbonamide, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, yellow #5 & #6…these aren’t food…yet, there they are, along with too much added sugar, sodium, and fat, in way too many items at the grocery store. They’re not good for anyone! My husband and I hope to stay healthy and be around long enough to watch our great grandkids grow up. What we eat is something we CAN control, so that’s what we’re doing.

When people eliminate processed foods from their diets, many report having more energy, losing weight, and an increased feeling of overall healthiness. Even though eating organic and natural foods will cost us a little more at the grocery store right now, we’re hoping that over our lifetime we’ll spend far less money on healthcare costs because we are a healthier family.

Here are my tips on how you can avoid processed foods:

• READ LABELS – If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or if you wouldn’t cook with it in your own kitchen, don’t buy it.

• Eat more whole foods like fruits and vegetables, oats, brown rice, and nuts.

• Cook at home more often.

• Choose whole grains over white.

• Choose grass-fed and free-range meats, organic dairy, and pastured eggs; they are more nutritious than their conventionally raised counterparts.

• Make simple switches to less processed options: Swap vegetable oil with coconut oil, all-purpose flour with white whole wheat, and white sugar with honey or maple syrup.

To sum this all up, if you don’t keep processed foods in your home, you’re much less likely to eat them. The next time a processed food item runs out, don’t replace it. Find a ‘real’ option and start learning how to prepare that instead. Over the course of a year, you can eliminate almost everything processed in your house, but not ever feel overwhelmed or wasteful because you had to throw stuff away. For me, the best way to avoid caving in to prepackaged, convenience foods is just a little planning ahead. If you know your basic meal plan for the week, sticking to a grocery list makes avoiding the processed foods a whole lot easier!

For more information and ‘real food’ recipes, check out my website: RealFitRealFoodMom.com.

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LeAnn Nome

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