Thursday, December 10, 2009

Praline Pecans

This is one of my favorite holiday treats. My neighbor gave them to us several years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. My family now makes these and we give them out as gifts. Kids can definitely help out with the recipe. For more ideas about food and family, see my recent newsletter article 5 Ways to Connect Food and Family at the Holidays.

The recipe was given to me by my neighbor, and the recipe title says, "Joanie Jackson's Pecans." I'm not sure who Joanie Jackson is, but thank you very much! I love your nuts. The combination of sweet and salty is just delicious. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

1 pound pecan halves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
  • Beat the egg white and water until foamy.
  • Add the sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
  • Stir in the pecan halves and spread the mixture out onto a cookie sheet lined with foil.
  • Bake at 200 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring the pecans every 15 minutes to make sure all of the pecans are baked.

Monday, November 30, 2009

December Specials

Holiday greetings!

This can be a stressful time of year. Our regular routines are often disrupted. We may feel as though we have to pull off the "perfect" holiday for our kids. Plus we're dealing with longer periods of darkness and cold. In an effort to help ease some of your stress, I would love to help you on your path to empowered parenting and successful family meals. What better gift can you give your children than the gift of a confident parent?

As my gift to you, I am offering the following specials for the month of December:

Free Teleclass Thursday 12/3/09 at 9pm with Courageous Loving with the opportunity for discussion of questions and concerns about parenting during the holiday season. To register, click here. Also, take this survey to submit questions and content suggestions for the teleclass.

Dr. Cuneo's Parenting Assessment, only $40 (regularly $50). The Parenting Assessment is ideal for anyone who desires a clear roadmap for building confidence in their parenting and strengthening their relationship with their children. See here for more information about the assessment.

Dinner Together Assessment, only $40 (regularly $50). The Dinner Together Assessment is ideal for anyone struggling with making enjoyable family meals a regular part of their routine. Aspects of cooking and meal planning as well as child eating behaviors will be reviewed in this assessment. Learn more about Dinner Together here.

These offers expire 12/31/09. Each assessment includes a phone consultation, which can be scheduled anytime up til 3/1/10. Gift certificates for these offers are also available. Why not give a loved one the gift of empowered parenting? E-mail to make arrangements or for more information about any of these offers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fostering Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond, Continued

Earlier this week, I wrote an article, "Fostering Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond" for my Dinner Together newsletter. In that I asked for readers' ideas for activities or crafts to do with children on Thanksgiving that truly highlight gratitude and thankfulness as part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

I wanted to share some of the responses I received. One reader shared an activity that she had done with her family.

One year we found a small branch with several smaller shoots coming off of it. We made a "Thanksgiving Tree" by cutting out construction paper leaves and attaching them to out "tree" with yarn. Each family member got a few leaves and wrote on the leaf something they were thankful for. We anchored our "tree" in a terra cotta flower pot and put it on our kitchen the table. On Thanksgiving day we brought it to my mom's house and we passed it around and each person read aloud what they were thankful for. Of course younger children can draw a picture of what they are thankful for.

Another reader directed me to her blog, where she had just posted on article on "Teaching Your Children the Meaning of Thanksgiving." Her blog, in turn lead me to another post on cultivating gratitude in children. An idea mentioned in that post, the family gratitude journal, struck home with me. We had started a family gratitude journal back in 2002. I pulled it off the shelf. It has a spattering of entries over the course of several years. My 8 year old was excited to see this because she really didn't have much memory of this journal from its early years. The older two, however, were not so enthusiastic. More like, "Oh no. Not the gratitude journal again." I was surprised at their negative reaction, but as they talked I realized that their negativity had more to do with the process than the content of the activity. In the past we would try to do it at the dinner table. I think they felt too pressured and inconvenienced to do this during a meal. So now I said I would just leave it out and whoever wants to write in it can whenever they want. We'll see how it goes.

But we did have a discussion last night about what gratitude activity we will be doing this year at Thanksgiving. I brought up a few suggestions, but they came up with their own idea. And I have to say, I'm very proud of them. So what we will be doing is creating a sheet of paper for each of us, all our Thanksgiving guests, and some of our family who won't be with us that day. The kids will decorate and personalize these papers before the guests arrive. We will leave them out on a table in the living room for each guest to write on each other person's paper stating something that they are thankful for about that person. Then each person will bring home their personalized paper.. Hopefully everyone will feel affirmed, grateful and blessed.

I'd love to hear any of your ideas for working in gratitude traditions with your family. And Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easy Spinach Lasagna

I haven't posted a recipe in a while and have been wanting to. Tomorrow night my family will be eating a spinach lasagna that a made last month and froze. I never make just one lasagna. Whenever I make one, I make two. I either give one away (perhaps to a friend who just had a baby) or freeze one for later. No friends have had babies lately, so I saved the second one for us this time. Consider this recipe to be more of a guideline than an exact recipe. I usually make my own marinara sauce, but feel free to use jarred. Sometimes I use fresh mozzarella, sometimes I use the pre-shredded bagged cheese. Use whatever you have on hand ~ or whatever is easiest! This is also a great recipe for including kids as helpers. The recipe below is for 2 lasagnas.

8 cups marinara sauce
3 lbs. ricotta cheese
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
10-oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 8-oz boxes Ronzoni Oven-Ready Lasagna, uncooked
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine ricotta cheese, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, and spinach.
  • Spread a thin layer of marinara sauce at the bottom of two 13x9x2 pans (you can use a disposal foil pan if you're giving one lasagna away, or if you don't have two pans).
  • Layer in the following order: lasagna noodle, ricotta cheese mixture, mozzarella cheese, sauce.
  • Repeat. Each lasagna should have three layers and be topped with a lasagna noodle.
  • Cover the entire lasagna with sauce. When using oven-ready noodles, it's important that all the noodles are moist and covered with sauce.
  • Top with mozzarella.
  • For the lasagna you are cooking, cover with foil.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove foil and cook another 10-15 minutes.
  • For the lasagna you are freezing, cover first with plastic wrap, then with foil. When you're ready to cook it, remove the plastic wrap and replace the foil. Bake frozen lasagna covered for about 90 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
Each lasagna serves about 10-12.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mistakes with Feeding and TV

In last week's guest post from TwinToddlersDad he wrote about some of his family's struggles applying Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding. One of the struggles involved managing TV time for his children with dinner time for the family.

It reminded me of some of my own struggles with my oldest child, who is now in high school, back when she was a toddler. Dinners together as a family did not come so easy back then. During the week, the "family" was often just me and her. Sometimes I might eat with her, sometimes I would wait for my husband to come home. But we definitely did not have a consistent routine of the three of us sitting down together at the same table for dinner. It became much easier somehow with a second child two years later. Suddenly, it seemed more like a family meal to me.

How does the saying go, "if I only knew then what I know now." Well, I did not know about the division of responsibility back when my oldest was a toddler. Even without that knowledge, I think I did fairly well with providing the structure of when she ate and I was okay with making choices about what she ate. But I let the ball drop with the "where." She would often eat standing up at her little plastic desk in our living room. She was not then, and is not still, a child who can stay still for very long. Letting her stand and walk around the room and come back for her food didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time. But in retrospect, I know that I didn't provide her with much opportunity to learn how to sit at the table.

She would often watch videos while she was eating or snacking. She was adorable as she danced around in between bites. I'm happy to say that she can now sit for a meal at the table. So those early years did not do irreparable damage with setting up a bad pattern for where she ate. But I could have saved myself and my daughter from some of our battles around mealtimes if I had done it differently from the start.

The TV has not been on during mealtimes for a long time in our house. My husband and I are very comfortable in our authority to turn the TV off. And most of the time now, the kids are pretty accepting of that. Now that they're older, we seem to be past the stage of fearing a meltdown. Well, at least the meltdowns are different ~ and not likely to be brought on by turning off the TV. But I remember that fear. It's a powerful feeling. As TwinToddlersDad said, sometimes "you can't resist anymore and give in." What I've found with all aspects of parenting, an overall pattern of consistency is vitally important, but no one is perfect, and sometimes rules are bent and patterns are changed. If the overall pattern is well-established, with most children, occasional variants in the pattern will not "ruin" all that you've previously established.

Last month I was interviewed for the blog, on the practice of watching TV during family meals. Studies have shown that the benefits of family meals can still take place even if the TV is on, but I don't recommend it as a regular practice. As I said in that interview, television can be a distraction and barrier to tuning into, connecting with, and talking to the people with whom you are eating.

What do you think? How do you manage TV with your children and with your mealtimes?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Are They Really Full?

In his guest post earlier this week, TwinToddlersDad wrote about his family's challenges in applying Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility model. One of TwinToddlersDad and Mom's struggles was knowing whether are not their children's food refusals were based on their truly being full or merely being dissatisfied with their food choices. I completely agree with TwinToddlersDad that it can be difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to truly know the motivation behind our children's every behavior. But I don't think that as parents we have to get it right every single time. We should be striving to get it right more times than not and to be open to making corrections when we realize we got it wrong.

I believe that our kids don't know their own motivations all the time either. It's our job as parents to help guide our children to uncover their motivations and understand their behaviors over time. One of the things I love about the division of responsibility is that it provides a model for allowing some of that learning to take place. Children need the opportunity to learn their bodies ~ to learn what it feels like to be full and hungry. They won't learn as well if they are frequently told how much to eat. Will they make mistakes sometimes? Absolutely. It's part of the learning process.

TwinToddlersDad points out accurately that parents fear leaving their children hungry. Parents also have fears that their children haven't eaten enough, that they won't grow adequately, that their health will be affected, that they make wake up in the middle of the night hungry, and many other food- and eating-related fears. I would guess that these fears are based on instinct and human survival. But in most cases, we can take a step back and make a realistic assessment. Most (but unfortunately not all) Americans have adequate access to food. Most children (but again, unfortunately not all) do not have significant nutritional deficits or growth disorders. So most parents realistically do not need to let these fears guide their parenting decisions. If our generally well-fed, typically growing, healthy child goes to bed hungry one night, what's the worst that can happen?

There is also a risk in not letting it happen. By not giving our children the opportunity to learn whether they are full or not without our interference, we can be putting them at risk for poor management of their eating and weight as they get older. Our nation's growing obesity epidemic is likely influenced by poor body awareness and food regulation skills.

I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to put aside those fears and worries about related to our children's eating. But I encourage you to try. Reframe those worries into opportunities for learning and growth and see what happens over time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two Hungry Monkeys and Challenges in Teaching them Division of Responsibility

Photo:, all rights reserved

This past summer I had the pleasure of connecting with TwinToddlersDad on Twitter. He writes a science-driven, real-life toddler nutrition blog at In the guest post he asked me to write on his blog, I wrote about family meals and tips for feeding toddlers. One of my tips was to understand and apply Ellyn Satter's model of the division of responsibility in feeding. It has been a few months now and TwinToddlersDad and Mom have been attempting to apply the model to their adorable young twins. The article below is written by TwinToddlersDad about his experience. I really admire his honesty in writing about the challenges his family has faced, and I'm sure these challenges are shared by many other parents. In future Dinner Together blog posts, I will be sure to share some suggestions for strategies to consider to overcome some of the obstacles parents face in trying to apply the division of responsibility model.

I am honored to write a guest post for Dr. Kathleen Cuneo’s Dinner Together blog. I first learned about the concept of division of responsibility for feeding children through her post The Power of Family Meals: Tips for Feeding Toddlers which she wrote for my own toddler nutrition blog. It is a very intriguing idea. Pioneered by Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter, it has found strong support among nutrition experts because of its simplicity, elegance and effectiveness in shaping the child’s eating habits.

Simply put, division of responsibility means parents are responsible for what, when and where and the child is responsible for how much and whether. Satter advises parents to trust their child’s natural instinct to eat when needed and stop eating when full. If done right and consistently, she confidently suggests that children will learn to eat the food their parents eat, they will grow predictably and they will learn to behave well at the table.

Sounds good, you say as you make a resolution to give it a try. We did the same but we had no idea how challenging it would turn out to be in real life! Especially if you have to deal with two little monkeys at the same age with very different personalities! We are not giving up though, but I should tell you that progress so far is slow.

In this post, I want to share with you some of our challenges in implementing this idea. I would love to hear about your experiences and tips for what has worked for you.

Can’t be sure if they are really full

A parent’s worst fear is to leave her child hungry after dinner. Since young toddler children are not very good at expressing their feelings, it is not easy to read their cues. One moment they can refuse to eat but the very next they may come back to the table asking for more! If they continue to refuse whatever you offer them, you can’t be sure if it is because they are full or because they don’t like their options.

We try to offer whatever we have prepared for ourselves at dinner. But we also keep some of their favorites handy to make sure they will at least eat something. We do not offer dessert as a reward to finish their meal and we do not force them to wipe their plate clean before they can leave the table.

They are not ready to eat at your dinner time

Maybe it is because you gave them a light snack on the way home from Daycare. Or maybe they are just not in the mood to eat and want to continue playing. As busy parents, we are constantly watching the clock. It’s time for dinner, it’s time to go up to get clean, it’s story time and then it’s time for bed. We want to establish a routine to make things predictable and simplify our life.
But guess what! Toddlers don’t operate by the clock. They don’t have a sense of space and time. They live in the moment and naturally resist your attempt to make them do the next thing on the schedule. It is a delicate balance between imposing a structure and waiting for them to make a choice to eat.

We set the table at our regular time and ask them if they want to join us. If they do, that’s fine but we try not to force them if they don’t appear to be hungry. We simply finish our dinner and let them come to the table later if that is what they want.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!

They are distracted by TV

Before we had our twins, we never had the TV on during dinner. It was our time to catch up with each other since we were both gone the whole day. But now, the TV is constantly on when we bring them from Daycare because they like to watch their favorite shows like Dora, Diego, Little Einsteins, Wonder Pets, Barney and High 5. My son loves to watch his train DVD’s while my daughter prefers these On Demand shows or her Princess DVD’s.

On one hand it is nice to have them go to separate rooms to watch their shows and leave the two of us alone. But then, it is also a problem to have them come to the dinner table when we are ready to eat. Worse still, they try to bring the food in front of the TV so they can continue watching.

We have tried to make them turn the TV off before dinner. Again, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t!

They are too tired at the end of the day

One reason toddlers may not want to eat is because they are too tired and they simply don’t realize they are hungry. Maybe they didn’t take a nap or maybe they played too hard with daddy when they got home! Their mood can change suddenly because of exhaustion. In that case, you will likely have a huge tantrum on your hands if you try to force them to eat with you.

We try to get them to nibble on something, maybe their favorite snack before trying to bring them to the table. Or we offer the snack side by side with the regular dinner foods.

You can’t resist anymore and give in

You have had a long, stressful day. You are tired and just want to get it over with! You don’t have enough patience to go into a cat-and-mouse game with your child at dinner time. In those moments, it is easy to give in and let them nibble on anything they want. In our case, it is usually sweet stuff and chocolate for our son and cheesy snacks for our daughter. If they fill themselves with these snacks, there is no way they will sit with you at the dinner table.

It has happened to us many times and I am sure you too have found yourself in a similar situation. We try not to let it make us feel guilty. We are not trying to raise perfect children, if there is such a thing! We simply move on and try another day.

I think it is hard for parents to accept Satter’s division of responsibility as a simple black-and-white contract with their child. You do this as a parent, and they will do that as a child and magically they will turn into well-behaved children at the dinner table. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Feed with love and respect, have courage to face your emotions, and don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t work. Just keep trying and don’t give up. On good days, it is a lot of fun playing with them and enjoying our dinner as a family. Here are a couple of posts I have written on how to make dinner time a fun experience for them:
My favorite food is (blank)
Play is the secret ingredient of success at mealtime
What has worked for you? What has been your challenge? I would love to hear your comments!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Website Launch

I'm very excited to announce that I have launched a new website. In addition to my work with Dinner Together, I have developed some new programs and services. At Dinner Together, I have always believed that how we approach feeding our children is a huge part of parenting. But we all know that there is much more to parenting than feeding.

My new programs will empower parents to feel more confident in their ability to raise compassionate, resilient, and successful children. Visit to learn more about these new programs and to get my free report, "30 Things You Can Do To Raise Self-Confident, Compassionate Children."

I'm really excited about this and look forward to connecting with you - and helping you to connect with your children. So please help me spread the word to other parents (and grandparents) with young children.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Iron Chef" As A Feeding Strategy?

Weekend lunches are my least favorite meals to make. I can easily tune into how some people must feel about making dinner because I have very little interest in making lunch, especially on the weekends. I use lots of strategies (sign up for my newsletter at for monthly tips and strategies) to get dinner on the table (e.g., planning ahead, preparing ahead, etc.) and to get us all together to sit down for dinner together as often as possible. But my attitude about lunch on the weekend is much less impressive. I only plan lunch if we're having company and we rarely sit down together as a family to eat lunch. My advice to my kids at lunchtime is often something like, "See what we have and get yourself something."

So this Saturday, my youngest daughter made me smile with her response to my unimpressive directions to her about getting herself something for lunch. She asked me, "What's the secret ingredient?" I had no idea what she was talking about at first. She then clarified that she was going to pretend "Iron Chef," a show she's watched several times on the Food Network. So I said, "The secret ingredient is cheese." She set the kitchen timer (for 68 minutes!) and set off in a frenzy creating her lunch. She made herself a cream cheese sandwich, cut a few pieces of brie, and some Italian bread. When she asked me about how her "plating" looked, I told her I thought it needed some fruits or vegetables. She then set off to peel herself a carrot and cut it into chunks. She was very pleased with herself that she beat the clock with over 50 minutes to spare. She then sat and ate her lunch.

I don't generally recommend making games out of feeding, but this was a game that I really embraced. She took responsibility for her own eating. I probably violated the division of responsibility of feeding by neglecting to provide the "what" of my daughter's lunch. But I know that sometimes I need a break, and I bet I share that sentiment with a bunch of other moms. Since I take the job of figuring out the "what" of what my kids eat for the majority of their weekly meals, I don't feel too much guilt for my weekend lapses. Also, my daughter is almost 8 years old, and I'm happy to see her comfortable, happy, and a little independent in the kitchen. I also felt happy seeing her creativity expressing itself.

Have your kids ever surprised you in the kitchen? I'd love to hear any successes you've had in helping your kids find creativity and joy with food.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Family Dinners: Managing the Guilt

I read yesterday's New York Times article, "The Guilt-Trip Casserole," by Jan Hoffman with much interest. I'm always interested to read about the research on the benefits of family meals. I founded Dinner Together based on my knowledge of this research and my desire to help families overcome their obstacles to making frequent family meals a reality in their homes. Refer to my earlier post, "The 4 P's of Successful Family Meals," for some strategies for organizing family meals. Hoffman's article highlights the guilt that many parents feel in response to their struggles and shortcomings in gathering their families together nightly around the dinner table.

I'd like to take this chance to respond to a few of the issues Hoffman raises in the article.

Will eating five family dinners per week prevent your children from drinking alcohol and using drugs?
I am not so bold or naive as to make that claim. As was pointed out in the article, the research at this point is correlational and does not show that eating family dinners causes lower use of drugs and alcohol. I agree with Dr. Philip Cowan who was quoted in the article as saying that parents who can organize themselves to pull off the feat of frequent family meals are likely to produce children with good outcomes anyway. Further, I believe that parents can learn skills and strategies to better organize themselves so that they can improve on their abilities to "pull it off" more frequently.

Is eating dinner together the only way that parents can connect with their children and gain the benefits associated with frequent family meals?
Absolutely not. First of all, any meals counts. In addition, there are many ways to connect positively and spend quality time with your children. As for meaningful conversation, I have probably had just as many, if not more, meaningful conversations with my 14 year old in the car than at the table. One of the important functions the family meal serves is to provide a structured, regular opportunity for parents and children to share time together. Family members need a time that they can count on, that they know will be coming to have the opportunity to talk with each other.

Is there something special about the family meal that other shared activities might not address?
I would love to see more research in this area. I believe that other activities and family variables may be just as likely to be associated with lower risk of adolescent substance abuse and better child outcomes in academic and mental health domains. However, my gut tells me that the frequent family meals present a unique opportunity to influence child outcomes in the domains of nutrition, weight management and healthy eating habits. Witnessing healthy adult role models for eating and sharing and participating in a meal with family members are distinct experiences which can directly influence the relationship a child will develop with food.

Does a family meal have to be home-cooked?
I believe that the time together is more important than the food when defining a family meal. However, I think the quality of the food still bears importance. How often can a family meal regularly consist of take-out fast food without eventually affecting the physical health of family members? Generally, home-cooked meals are healthier.

So what do you think? Are you struggling with family meals and feeling guilty about it? What would help you?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Celebrate Family Meal Day!

In recognition of the importance of family meals on children's health and well-being, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University is promoting "Family Day: A Day To Eat Dinner With Your Children." This year's event is scheduled for next Monday September 28, 2009. Whichever day you choose to celebrate, I encourage you to make the effort to schedule in a day to eat dinner with your children in the next week or so.

We all face many obstacles to making family dinners a reality. I'd love to hear from you about family meals in your home. Any strategies or ideas you've found to overcome obstacles to family meals? Any favorite recipes that are a hit with the whole family? Feel free to post a comment or e-mail me ( so I can share your ideas with the Dinner Together community.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Is Unconditional Love a Realistic Parenting Strategy?

First, I apologize for my extended absence from posting to this blog. Part of the reason for this is that I've been working on setting up a new website and blog. It's still in progress, but I just made my first post on the new blog, which will be focused on a broad range of parenting topics. I'll continue to post recipes and other family meal and feeding related ideas here.

Click here to check out my new blog...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dinner Together Featured on Meal Makeover Moms

I'm just back from a week at the beach with family and friends. We had a very relaxing week and ate lots of good food. While I was away some of the work that I'd done before I left hit the web. My new friends Janice and Liz at the Meal Makeover Moms published their monthly blog feature, "No Whine With Dinner" which featured me and my family. Click here to see the feature and for a great family recipe for semi-homemade pizza. Plus for those of you who are curious, you can also check out some photos of my family. I also encourage you to check out the Meal Makeover Moms site,, for some great recipes and ideas for busy families.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

So Tasty We're Considering Becoming Vegetarians

Last night I grilled some vegetables and mixed them with pasta. The meal was so tasty that my daughter and husband were seriously talking about being vegetarians. Since we all still enjoy meat, we decided to just eat more vegetarian meals - like this one. This recipe can easily be adapted to whatever grill-able vegetables you have on hand. Adjust the amount of vegetables to your taste (e.g., less zucchini, more tomato, no onion). The key to the flavor of this dish is the lemon zest added to the olive oil. Try it and let me know what you think.


1 lb penne (or other short pasta)

1 eggplant

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 medium zucchini

1 red bell pepper

1 tomato

1 onion

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

  • Peel eggplant and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.
  • Place eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Let stand for 30 minutes and then rinse with cold water.
  • Cut zucchini into quarters, lengthwise.
  • Seed and quarter red pepper.
  • Cut tomato in half and quarter onion.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions.
  • Brush all vegetables with olive oil and save remaining oil.
  • Place on hot grill. Grill vegetables for 5 - 10 minutes, turning as needed. Vegetables will be softer, and somewhat charred (but not burned) when done.
  • Cut grilled vegetables into one-inch pieces.
  • Mix 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining olive oil, lemon zest, and herbs.
  • Combine pasta, vegetables, oil mixture and cheese. Toss well and serve.

Serves 6.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Experimenting with Frozen Spaghetti

Last month I hosted my daughter's softball team for a pre-game pasta dinner. I probably had about a pound of leftover plain, buttered spaghetti. It just seemed like too much to throw out so I put it in a ziploc freezer bag and found space for it my freezer. Up til now I have only frozen pasta dishes that are oven-ready, like lasagna and baked ziti. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this frozen spaghetti and I had my doubts about how it would taste. I went through my recipe folder and found a recipe I had ripped out of a magazine (I think it was Family Circle, but it doesn't say on the page) for spaghetti pie. So I decided to experiment with this recipe and use my frozen spaghetti. I'm happy to report it was a hit. Granted, my oldest, most sauce-avoidant and picky eater was not home, but the rest of us all liked this very much. So here's the recipe:


1 lb (or less) cooked spaghetti (previously buttered, frozen, and defrosted)

3 cups homemade marinara (or jarred)

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3 ounces Canadian bacon, diced

1/2 cup pitted black olives, chopped

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup bread crumbs

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cut spaghetti into 3-inch pieces.
  • In a large bowl, mix together spaghetti, marinara sauce, mozzarella, Canadian bacon and olives.
  • Add the eggs.
  • Coat a large pie pan with cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle the pan with bread crumbs.
  • Spoon spaghetti mixture into the pan.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Sprinkle on grated cheese and bake another 10 minutes.

Serves 6.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Contest Winners

Congratulations to the Dinner Together Summer Gift Card Giveaway and No-Cook Recipe Contest winners!

Our recipe contest winner is Jenna H. of Brooklyn, New York. Jenna owns Rosaberry (, a business which provides personal chef services and private cooking lessons. Her delicious recipe for Tuscan Tuna and White Bean Salad will be published in next month's Dinner Together newsletter. Sign up now at to be on the newsletter mailing list. In the meantime, check out Jenna's website; my mouth waters just looking at it!

And the winner of the $50 Target gift card, chosen by random selection, is Gina R. of Beaverton, Oregon. I'm so excited to have a subscriber in Oregon!

I appreciate everyone's efforts to help me spread the word about Dinner Together near and far. Thank you especially for all who took my parenting topics survey. I really appreciate your taking the time. More to come on parenting....

And thanks to the recipe contest judges, Michelle Stern from What's Cooking ( and Janis Bowers from The Dinner Spin, (

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kids with No Kids Menu

I'm just back from a weekend away at the lovely Benn Conger Inn near Ithaca, New York where my family gathered to celebrate my brother's wedding. My kids had a wonderful time frolicking with their cousins, some whom they haven't seen in five years. The children in the group range from age 6 to 13 years. It was one of those great weekends where the kids go off and have their own little society without hassles from their parents about what to do or what to eat. In fact, they ate at their own table in a room separate from everyone else for the wedding dinner.

What struck me about their eating was that there was no complaining (at least that I heard!) and no special requests. There was no children's menu. They were left to their own devices to serve themselves from the buffet. The buffet was very nice, but it was not one of those huge smorgasbord type buffets with lots of variety. Basically, there were about two starches, two proteins, vegetables, and bread at each dinner. All the kids did really well as far as I could tell. Everyone got by even if some of the food may have been strange to them (e.g., tilapia with fruit salsa, peanut chicken, chicken stuffed with brie and cranberry). They picked around it and made do. And all the parents were having such a good time that no one was hovering around their child(ren) to see what they did or didn't eat. The focus wasn't on the food.

Sometimes we may fall into the trap of worrying too much about what our kids are eating. And sometimes we cross the line of the division of responsibility by serving them only things that we think they will eat - that is, more traditional kids menu fare. I think we can learn from backing off and letting them explore and make do with what's made available. Our kids may impress us and turn out to be quite successful eaters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Clever" Ways To Deal With Picky Eaters (?)

Earlier this week, I was going through e-mail first thing in the morning. One of the e-mails was from the Meal Makeover Moms. They are registered dietitians who have a cookbook that I really like (and recommend!) and a website with recipes and other food-related information for busy moms. Their e-mail was a link to survey which they are conducting to gather information for their upcoming new cookbook. It was before 7am when I was completing this survey so my brain was not yet fully functioning. One of the questions was asking for clever and "out of the box" ideas for getting children to eat better. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I remember feeling very boring for not really having any ideas that I would consider to be "clever."

But later in the day, as I woke up, I started to think more about it. I will be very interested to read the Meal Makeover Moms next book and strongly support their work. I'm always open to new ideas and will be looking forward to hearing what clever ideas other moms have, but I'm wondering if clever is always the way to go. I've had success with my "in the box" methods. Applying tried and true ideas works for many people. So if you're looking for ways to deal with picky eaters that are really new and different, I'm probably not your person. But if you're looking for ideas that have been studied and shown to be effective, I can help! I believe that dealing with a picky eater requires the following:
  • Have family meals and serve them family style.
  • Always include one or two foods that your child usually likes.
  • Maintain a positive social and emotional environment at the family table.
  • Understand the division of responsibility in feeding. Familiarize yourself with Ellyn Satter's classic work, stating that parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding, while children are responsible for whether and how much.
  • Relax about the nutritional value of individual meals and look at your child's eating patterns over a broader time period (a week or so).
  • And finally, have patience! Teaching children to eat a variety of healthful foods takes time.
What works for you? Do you have any "clever" ideas you'd like to share - I may not be able to come up with them on my own, but I'd love to hear about them.

And if you like taking surveys, take the one by the Meal Makeover Moms, and while you're at it, take mine, too!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dinner Together Summer Gift Card Giveaway and No-Cook Recipe Contest

Dinner Together Summer Gift Card Giveaway and No-Cook Recipe Contest

Summer is here and who couldn’t use a few extra bucks to pick up some things to help enjoy the season. Dinner Together is giving away a $50 giftcard to Target - one of my favorite stores. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada ages 18 and older. Contest begins on June 22, 2009 and ends on July 12, 2009 at midnight (EST). Void where prohibited. The winner will be selected on July 13, 2009 by a random number generated at

To enter:

  1. Each subscriber to the Dinner Together newsletter receives one automatic entry. If you're not already a subscriber, sign up at
  2. Receive an additional 1 entry if you blog or tweet about this contest. (Be sure to e-mail me at to let me know how you spread the word.)
  3. Receive an additional 3 entries for completing the brief (6 item) Dinner Together 2009 Summer Survey at the following link: It only takes a minute!
  4. Receive an additional 5 entries for each new confirmed subscriber you refer to the Dinner Together newsletter (Again, be sure to e-mail me and let me know who you’ve referred so I can give you credit and check the updates to the confirmed subscriber list.)
  5. Receive an additional 5 entries for each recipe submission (limit of 3 submissions) to the recipe contest.*
  6. Receive an additional 15 entries for winning the recipe contest.*

*Recipe Contest

It’s summer. It’s hot. I know I don’t like adding extra heat to the house by turning on the oven or the stove. I’m looking for your favorite no-cook recipes to share in my August kitchen newsletter issue. The winning recipe will be chosen by a panel of judges, including myself, Michelle Stern of What’s Cooking (, and Janis Bowers of The Dinner Spin ( Recipes will be judged on kid appeal, parent appeal, and ease of making. No ovens, stoves, or grills allowed. You can use microwaves, blenders, and food processors though. Veggies, fruits, dairy, canned fish, rotisserie chicken, and any other ingredients you can think of are fair game! E-mail your recipe submissions to, subject "recipe contest."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Involving Kids in the Kitchen: A Developmental Perspective

Involving children in the kitchen from an early age can help them develop a healthy relationship with food and feel comfortable in the kitchen. I speak with many mothers who care about their children’s nutritional health and want to make healthy, home-cooked meals for their families, but feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the kitchen now as adults because they never learned how to find their way around the kitchen as children. It’s important to always keep in mind physical safety, food safety, and the child’s developmental capabilities when designing helping tasks for children in the kitchen. It’s also important to be realistic about involving children with cooking. You don’t have to include your children in the preparation process for every meal. They may not necessarily be able to offer help that you can rely upon and their help may slow the process, but think of yourself as both training today’s helper as tomorrow’s cook and as improving their chances of developing good eating habits. If you try to keep cooking fun and not make it a chore, you’ll likely get more enthusiastic participation from your kids.

The list below contains suggestions for cooking activities to be used as general guidelines. You know your children best and what their ability levels are. This list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a place to start and may spark some ideas of your own.

2 year olds
· Help set the table
· Help select fruits and vegetables when shopping
· Look at recipe books together and select things to make
· Rinse fruits and vegetables at the sink
· Tear lettuce
· Arrange frozen potatoes on a pan
· Stir and mix ingredients
· Brush vegetables with olive oil with a pastry brush before roasting

3 and 4 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Squeeze and juice lemons and limes
· Knead and shape dough
· Count items (e.g., carrots, olives, grape tomatoes for a salad)
· Cut soft foods (e.g., bananas, strawberries, butter) with a plastic knife
· Use a salad spinner
· Push buttons on a blender or food processor (supervised)
· Pour or add measured ingredients to bowls

5 to 8 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Measure ingredients
· Crack eggs (I recommend having them crack eggs into a separate bowl in case they leave
· Beat eggs
· Mix and form hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf
· Scub potatoes and other vegetables with a vegetable scrubber
· Snap ends off green beans and asparagus
· Make a salad

9 to 12 year olds
· All of the above plus…
· Making scrambled eggs
· Baking (may require some supervision with using oven)
· Follow simple recipes on their own
· Cut using a regular knife – with training and supervision as needed
· Stir at the stove – with training and supervision as needed

Copyright 2009 Kathleen Cuneo, Ph.D., Dinner Together, LLC

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Worrying About What Our Kids Are Eating

I recently connected online with Stephanie Gallagher, and she and I share a similar view. Her philosophy is "if the food tastes good, and it's eaten together, the rest will generally take care of itself." She writes about about kids and eating and posts recipes on her site: I'd recommend checking it out.

So if you're really concerned about what your children are eating, my strongest recommendations would be to do your best to prepare meals that taste good and then eat them together as a family. When you prepare meals at home, you have greater control over the ingredients and can make choices based on taste preferences and health concerns. When you eat together, your children have better odds of eating more fruits and vegetables and less fried food and soft drinks. When you are planning and preparing your children's meals, you're acting as their "nutritional gatekeeper" - deciding what they can and cannot have access to.

By making decisions about what foods are brought into my home, I make decisions about what foods my kids can or cannot have access to all the time - although they may not always realize it. Each weekly trip to the grocery store involves numerous decisions about what to bring into the house. Will I spend the extra money on organic produce? Sometimes. Will I buy sugared cereal? Rarely, but Santa and the Easter Bunny bring them as treats. Will I buy my daughter her favorite lunch meat - bologna? Once in a while. Will I buy chips? Sometimes. What milk will I buy? Either 1% or 2% depending on the expiration date and organic availability. Weekly menu planning also determines which meats and non-meat proteins they'll be having.

Take your "nutritional gatekeeper" role seriously! Researchers estimate that parents control about 72% of what their children eat*. As a developmental psychologist, I would predict that the percentage varies with age. Establishing good nutritional habits when kids are young increases your chances that they'll carry good habits with them as they grow. But also take yourself off the hook. Notice that the number is not 100%. Do not feel that you can control all of your children's nutritional health. You're more likely to feel frustrated and get into battles with your kids if you think you can control it all.

*Wansink, Brian (2006), “Nutritional Gatekeepers and the 72% Solution,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106:9 (September), 1324-6.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do Parents' Eating Habits Influence Their Kids?

I just finished reading a brief article in today's NYTimes, Nutrition: Parents' Healthy Diet Has Little Influence, which reported that researchers found little resemblance between parents' healthy diets and their children's food intake. One of the study co-authors was quoted as saying, “This suggests that parents don’t play as large a role as people have thought in their children’s diet."

Something about that quote rubbed me the wrong way. I have not read the full study myself, but from the description of it, it sounds like reports of food intake and subsequent analysis of the nutrients in those foods, were the measures used in the study. I'm wondering if there were any measures of parenting feeding practices. Did the researchers look at any measures of how the parents were eating and how they were feeding their children? Were these families eating together?

I consistently recommend that parents be good role models for their children, with regard to eating and many other variables. But being a good role model implies more than just the food that you eat. It also implies the when and how of eating. And being a good role model is not enough to raise a healthy eater. Children do learn by observation, but they also need direct intervention and guidance. So eating well yourself is a start, but you also need to learn effective parenting practices to raise successful eaters.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

I often speak with parents who are frustrated because they "can't get" their kids to eat vegetables - and sometimes not fruit either. Some parents want to know if I have any tricks, "quick and dirty" techniques, or secrets to share with them about how to get their kids to eat veggies. As parents, we often worry about our kids. Undestandably, much of that worry is directed towards what our kids eat. We want our children to be healthy, to grow to their potential, and to be free from disease and obesity. Unfortunately, we can't fully control any of those desired outcomes - even if our children eat well-balanced meals with organically grown products all the time.

So what are we to do? My best advice for parents who want their children to eat more fruits and vegetables is to: 1) eat fruits and vegetables yourself, 2) serve fruits and vegetables often and prepared in a variety of ways, 3) make recipes that taste good, 4) eat meals together as a family, 5) let children decide for themselves if and how much they will eat, and 6) trust and be patient.

For an idea for a veggie recipe that tastes good to my children, check out my latest newsletter. If you're not yet a subscriber, sign up (free!) at

Monday, June 1, 2009

Free Weekly Menus

Since starting Dinner Together, I have met so many interesting women both near and far, thanks in part to the internet. I met Janis through The Mom Entrepreneur Support Group, where we are both members. Janis runs The Dinner Spin, which provides 5 kid-friendly, heart-healthy recipes each week. And the best part of all is that membership is FREE!

I have written before about the importance of planning meals (The 4 P's of Successful Family Meals) and believe it to be hugely important. I plan my family's meals a week at a time. I review our schedule for the coming week and decide which nights I'll have time to cook, which nights I'll have to use my crockpot, which nights I'll simply heat up something from my freezer stash of meals, and which nights we'll go out or order take-out. I also involve my husband and children when creating my menu for the week by asking each one if there's anything in particular they're wanting to eat in the week ahead. This thought and effort usually takes me about 15-20 minutes per week to create a plan, and the stress it saves me from during the week about what we're going to eat definitely makes it worth it to me.

If the thought of creating a plan makes you feel overwhelmed or lost, The Dinner Spin will do it for you. Or if you're someone like me who loves to read, collect, try, and get inspired by new recipes, the free recipes you'll receive are worth the time it takes to sign up. Check it out at By the way, I do not receive any compensation for endorsing this service. I just think it's great and wanted to share!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Texting at the Table

This week the New York Times has had two articles about the effects of texting on our social relationships. I was interviewed for the article that appears in today's paper, "Play With Your Food, Just Don't Text!", but alas, no quotes from me appeared. I'm both relieved and a little disappointed, and the experience has definitely been one filled with learning for me. I was originally contacted as a mental health practitioner working to help families have more meals together. I was excited as this is right up my alley and exactly the message I'm trying to get out. The article evolved into an article on texting at the dinner table. I had told an anecdote about my husband and I catching our 13 year old trying to hide her texting one night at the table. As soon as her eyes glanced down at her lap we knew what she was up to and confiscated her phone. Fortunately this was an isolated incident and we don't allow gadgets at the table. I was concerned how I would be portrayed in this anecdote - thus my relief that I wasn't portrayed at all.

But reading the article and some of the readers' comments on it has got me thinking. It can be really difficult to gather a family together to have a meal, but then once you're all there, other obstacles can get in the way of an enjoyable meal together. For my family, there are several - my children's sometimes picky eating, boisterous behavior, my husband's occasional emergency phone calls for work, and having to rush on to another activity after dinner are the obstacles that come quickly to mind.

What gets in the way of enjoying meal time together for your family? I'd love to hear about your challenges.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Are Calories Good or Bad?"

My 7 year old daughter asked me the other day, "Are calories good or bad?" Since she has asked me this question more than once in recent months, I'm feeling like something in my answer is not getting through to her. This time, we talked about it a little longer and as we were all in the car together (some of the best conversations happen in the car!), my 11 year old - currently learning about food and nutrition in her health class - also joined in. My answer has always been that calories are neither good nor bad and you need calories to live. This time, however, we talked more about the relationship between calories and energy. You need calories in order to do things like dancing, running, and even just sitting and breathing. My 11 year old drove home the point that different activities need different levels of energy and calories. We also talked about trying to eat the amount of calories that your body needs for growing and for different activities. She seemed satisfied with our answers. Whew...

I worry sometimes though about the messages my kids are getting about things like "calories." There seems to be so much value judgment in the education that they receive around the topics of food and eating. Some of that may be very well intentioned, but some of it may be misguided. I recently read the Academy for Eating Disorders Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs ( and was really impressed with how thoughtful they are. In our best efforts to prevent the growing problem of childhood obesity, we should be careful not to harm children psychologically and perhaps unintentionally create other problems.

I don't want my children worrying that calories are "bad." It's like worrying that inches, grams, or any other unit of measurement are "bad." I also don't want every decision my children make about what to eat to be based on the calorie content of food. I hope for them to be successful eaters - eaters who eat a variety of foods, eat when they're hungry, stop eating when they're full, and enjoy their food. I hope messages that they receive about food and eating from school, media, friends and other adults support my goals for them, but I'm not always so sure...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Delicious Asparagus Side Dish

This past Saturday we had no plans for dinner -highly unusual for me since I usually plan our meals a week at a time. But this Saturday was complicated with church, softball, and party plans. I wasn't sure who was going to be around for dinner or when or where dinner would take place, and frankly I was too tired to think of a plan. But alas we did have dinner! After softball - and the post-softball ice cream - two of my children, one of their friends, and my husband and I were home for a late dinner. I used some of my "emergency" freezer stash of pasta sauce (puttanesca, this time) and made spaghetti.

I also had some fresh asparagus and prosciutto with some vague idea, but no real recipe, of preparing them together. To find a recipe I went to, a site I would highly recommend. The site has a feature where you can search for a recipe based on ingredients you want to include. When I typed in asparagus and prosciutto, two recipes came up in the search results. Reading the recipes and others' comments on the recipes, I came up with the recipe below. I use this strategy often. I would recommend that you search for several similar recipes and adapt, combine, and modify them as suits your tastes and cooking style. There are a lot of great recipes out there just waiting for you to tinker with!

Asparagus with Prosciutto and Provolone

1 bunch of asparagus, washed and trimmed
8 slices of prosciutto
4 slices of provolone
canola cooking spray
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Wrap half a slice of provolone cheese, followed by a slice of prosciutto around a bundle of 3 pieces of asparagus. Place wrapped bundle in a baking dish.
  • Repeat with remaining asparagus.
  • Spray with canola cooking spray.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes.

I have to say that we enjoyed this and it was so easy to make.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Oops...I goofed on the low-fat cheese ingredient

In my last newsletter I included a recipe for Chicken Taco Rice which listed low-fat cheese as an ingredient. After the newsletter came out I received an e-mail from Ellyn Satter, the author of multiple books and creator of the model of division of responsibility in feeding for children. I attended an intensive workshop with Ellyn last fall and am fortunate to have received not only a great deal of education, but also encouragement from her.

Ellyn asked me why I listed low-fat, and not just regular, cheese as an ingredient in my recipe. To be honest, I hadn't really noticed. I copied and pasted the recipe from my files in my somewhat distracted efforts to get the newsletter ready before I became consumed with entertaining and hosting activities for my daughter's 1st Communion. But when it was brought to my attention, I realized that I almost never use low-fat cheese. I sometimes buy the Cabot brand of 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar. I think it tastes pretty good, but other reduced fat cheese reminds me of rubber. For me, taste is hugely important in guiding my choices for what I eat and what ingredients I include in recipes that I cook. So unless you enjoy the taste of rubbery cheese, I'd suggest you change the low-fat cheese to regular cheese.

In addition, Ellyn also provided me with some references for research showing that when people perceive foods to be "healthier" (e.g., "low-fat"), they actually eat more of it. People have been shown to ignore their own internal regulators of fullness and to eat larger quantities of food with low-fat labels regardless of the actual fat content of the food!

So what do you think? Do you use low-fat dairy products? How do you think labels affect your food choices and consumption?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The 4 P's of Successful Family Meals

I originally wrote this for Rockland Parent magazine. Thought I'd share the ideas with a wider community of parents trying to figure it out...
What works for you? Any tips you'd like to share for how you pull meals together?

It’s 4:30p.m. You stand in front of the refrigerator scanning its contents to see what you can throw together for dinner. You look at the clock. You have half an hour before you have to run out to pick up your daughter from dance class. There’s not enough time to make a decent meal. “Besides”, you think, “the kids probably won’t eat what I make anyway.” So you decide to just pick up some take out. You daughter is famished after class and eats her meal in the car. When you get home, you make yourself a salad and eat it standing at the counter. Your husband heats something up for himself when he comes home later.

Sound familiar? It seems like the family meal has become a relic of the past. Many of today’s families struggle with the challenge of getting everyone together for a meal and with the challenge of finding the time to actually cook the meal.

Before you throw in the kitchen towel and head for the drive-thru, there are a few things you should know about family meals.

Importance of family meals

Research has shown, however, that it’s worth the effort. Studies have shown family meal times to be an important element in cohesive, well-functioning family life and in healthy child development. Children who frequently eat meals with their families have been found to have better eating habits, better academic success, better mental health, and less risk for both obesity and substance abuse.

How to do it

Making healthy family meals can be a challenge, but it can be done. Consider the 4 “P’s” in pulling it all together.


If you can look ahead at your schedule a week in advance, you can get a jump on planning meals. When you know ahead of time that you’ll be too busy in the pre-dinner hour to cook that night, you can plan for a slow-cooker meal. Another possibility is to have a supply of previously frozen meals that you can defrost on those days with no time to cook. If you get in the habit of doubling recipes and then freezing meals, you’ll have meals on hand for those nights when things get too crazy. Planning in advance also saves you unnecessary trips to the grocery store. When you plan your meals and shopping lists in advance, you can save time with just one or two grocery shopping trips per week.


Sometimes it can be difficult to take a step back and examine your schedule. Many activities that keep our families away from the table are necessary (like work) and many are important (like lessons and sports for our kids). Only you can decide the priorities for your family. If you feel like your family’s schedule is out of control and creating unnecessary stress, maybe it’s time to make changes. As a parent, you have the authority and responsibility to set limits and make priorities when considering the family schedule.

Putting together a support system

You don’t have to do this completely on your own. If your kids are older, enlist their help in meal preparation. If your kids are younger, you can find ways for them to help. Young children can’t really save you time, but today’s helper can be tomorrow’s cook. Outside your immediate family, you can seek assistance from local extended family members, friends, and neighbors. Some families have successfully coordinated meal sharing in a variety of ways. Consider arranging to double a recipe and cook for both your own and a friend’s family one night each week while your friend does the same for you on another night. Or, organize a group of mothers from your child’s preschool and assign each a meal to prepare for everyone. You can then gather together and exchange prepared meals to bring home to your own freezers. Be creative: think of people with whom you can form support systems.

Preparation techniques

You’ll be able to make more effective meal plans if you have a variety of preparation techniques at your fingertips. Many meals can be assembled quickly and some can be prepared in advance, at least partially. You might not have time to cook right before dinner time, but you might have time at other points in your day. Early morning, your child’s naptime, later in the evening, and weekends are all possible times to do some meal preparation, whether it’s chopping some vegetables or preparing a casserole. Slow-cooker crock-pots also provide many opportunities for home-cooked meals without actually cooking at dinner time.

What to do when the family is at the table

In the ideal world, you’ve done all your planning, prioritizing, and preparing, and the whole family is sitting down together for a family meal. Everything should go smoothly from there, right? Maybe not. Often, picky eaters, unruly behavior, and lack of conversation can seem to ruin all your good efforts in getting everyone there in the first place. Changing the behavior of picky eaters is a complex topic beyond the scope of this article, but in general, the quality of the time spent together at the table is something that can be improved with some creativity and planning. Games and activities that incorporate teaching manners and promoting positive conversations are available.

Taking charge of your family meals can be exciting and rewarding, but a few caveats are important. First, don’t expect perfection. Having everyone in the family present for every evening meal is not realistic for most families. If you currently eat together once a week, any increase should be considered a valuable improvement. Be flexible in considering which meals your family eats together. Maybe breakfast is a more realistic option than dinner for your family. There may not be any simple formula, but you have the power to make healthy, enjoyable meals for your family.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For Those Trying to Work in Some Veggie Meals

In my effort to have meatless meals at least once a week, I came across this recipe a couple of months ago and modified it a bit. I loved it and am making it again tonight. The kids gave it mixed reviews so I also make a plain cheese quesadilla. I serve them all family style and people can serve themselves whichever wedges they want. We also usually have a salad or some other vegetable with this. Try it and let me know what you think.


1 sweet potato, cooked (boiled or baked) and mashed
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil, divided
2 tsp. cumin
1 avocado, peeled and mashed
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
1 cup baby spinach leaves
4 flour tortillas, taco size

· In a medium-sized non-stick skillet, heat 1T oil and sauté onion and garlic until soft.
· Add black beans and heat through.
· Stir in avocado, sour cream, cumin, and cheddar cheese. Cook until cheese melts.
· Spread mashed sweet potato over one tortilla.
· Top with baby spinach, then black bean mixture. Smooth mixture over tortilla (should
only be about ½ inch or so thick).
· Top with a second tortilla.
· Heat ½ T oil on high heat in a skillet.
· Brown quesadilla about one minute on each side.
· Repeat for second quesadilla.
· Cut quesadillas into wedges and serve with salsa, if desired.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Family Favorite Recipe

Tonight will be a crazy night at our house and we won't, unfortunately, all be eating dinner together. :( I won't even be here.

Last night I assembled and today I put in the crockpot the recipe below. This is one of the meals that everyone in the family really likes - with no variations, no complaints, and usually no leftovers. So therefore, I make it every few weeks. So tonight even though we won't be eating together, we will be sharing this meal - at separate times.


1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 T sherry
1 ½ T cider vinegar
1 ½ T brown sugar
1 ½ T minced fresh ginger (or 1 t dried ginger powder)
8 chicken thighs

· Remove skin from chicken thighs if not already skinless. Pulling on the skin with a paper towel is an effective method.
· Mix ingredients other than chicken together in a bowl.
· Chicken and sauce can be mixed together in slow cooker or combined together in a Ziploc freezer bag.
· If cooking right away, cook on low for about 6-8 hours.
· If freezing, thaw overnight in refrigerator when ready to cook. Then put in slow cooker and cook for 6-8 hours in slow cooker.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Awaiting the New Blueberry Diet and Blueberry Supplements and Additives

Maybe I shouldn't be so cynical on my first day back from vacation, but I just read the article, "Blueberries May Help Reduce Belly Fat, Diabetes Risk" ( and my first thoughts were now they're going to come up with a blueberry diet and/or add blueberry to all sorts of products with marketing campaigns about improved health.

I love fresh blueberries and I truly am happily anticipating the season of their peak freshness which is right around the corner. My 11 year old can eat a pint all at once if she's hungry enough when she comes home from school. I have no doubt that blueberries have many health benefits, as do most fruits and vegetables. But I always become wary when I see one particular food publicized as having medicinal-like qualities. My eating philosophy is that we need to eat variety, with a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables. So I'll sit back and wait with a skeptical eye towards new blueberry press and blueberry-added products, but I'll eagerly wait the fresh blueberry season.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughts about TV cooking

I enjoy watching cooking shows on the Food Network when I have the time. Sometimes I get ideas or recipes from the shows. Sometimes I just enjoy watching good food prepared. I also think I've learned little tips and techniques from just watching how the TV chefs move and work in their kitchen.s

I like the concept of "30 Minute Meals" and I used to watch the show fairly often a few years ago when it coincided with my daughter's nap. I would feel a little frustrated though that the meals I was watching being prepared would take me way more than 30 minutes to prepare and clean up. Although I enjoyed the show, I wanted some real 30 minute meals! Since then, I've found some good, quick recipes that I like to make (some even from Rachael Ray) but I have also found other strategies (e.g., crockpot, making ahead, freezing, etc.) that help me make it through weeknight meals for my family.

Today's NY Times Food columnist has a good column about TV cooking vs. Real Cooking. Click on the link below for the full column.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Website Updates

Just finished making some updates to the Dinner Together website ( Check it out and let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holiday Family Meals

As tomorrow is Easter, I'm thinking about kids' eating in the context of large family gatherings. My aunt is taking out our family to a restaurant with a beautiful buffet tomorrow for lunch so everyone will find something that they enjoy to eat. So no worries for me. But I've been at other family gatherings when my kids were younger where they only ate bread. I've also been to gatherings where kids are only offered chiken nuggets and french fries. I think it's sometimes a hard balance to achieve - offering healthy choices yet also offering something "kid-friendly." By relying on kids menus too heavily, I think we've done a disservice to a generation of kids. We send the message that children should eat different food than adults. We end up narrowing the number of foods that our kids will eventually eat, and we feed into an expectation that they will be catered to and offered "special" foods. On the other hand, food from kids' menus is generally much cheaper than adult menu food. Sometimes I would prefer that my kids just eat the $5 kids meal than the $15-$20 adult entree just to save money. Sometimes we've been able to get two of the kids to share an adult entree, but not always. So nutrition, economics, family dynamics, and particular tastes all go into making that decision of what to order. Who knew it could be so complicated?!

P.S. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Success with Roasted Kale

Last night I tried something new with kale. I've made kale before but the kids have never eaten it. I've heard of people roasting kale so I searched the web for some recipes. I found a couple of easy ones, adapted them and came up with this:


1 bunch of kale
1 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
Salt and pepper, to taste

· Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
· Rinse kale and pat it dry.
· Break kale into pieces, removing spines and stems.
· In a large bowl mix all ingredients.
· Spread mixture on a baking sheet. It does not have to be in a single layer at this point.
· Bake for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
· Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6.

The kids actually liked it. My pickiest said, "This doesn't even taste like a vegetable!" High praise from a vegetable-avoider. Another said, "They're kind of like potato chips," referring to the crispy, airy texture. So if you're looking to try a new and different way to serve vegetables, I'd suggest giving this a try. By the way, I used almost a teaspoon of salt, which I personally thought was too much, but the kids liked it, so go figure...

Friday, April 3, 2009

How to Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Easter is almost upon us. Right now I'm making a dozen hard-boiled eggs for us to color tonight so that my daughter can bring them with her to a church function tomorrow. When I was in graduate school, a fellow student taught me a method for making perfect hard-boiled eggs that has never failed me in the years since. Before learning this method, I would drop eggs into boiling water and guess at how long it took them to fully cook - sometimes I'd overestimate, sometimes I'd underestimate.

So here's how to do it. Start with large sized eggs (extra-large or jumbo will need more time than what I'm describing and I'm not exactly sure what the proper timing is). Place the eggs in a sauce pan, large enough for the eggs to have some space between them. Cover the eggs with cold water. Bring to a rapid boil over high heat. As soon as the water is boiling, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and turn off the heat. Set your timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, drain the hot water, cover the eggs with cold water, and then remove them from the pan to a container. Store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

BMI Reports and Body Image Messages

My 13 year old daughter's "State Health-Related Physical Fitness Test" results were mailed home today. We get this every year and I usually don't give it much thought because my girls are all fit and healthy. Today, however, I became angry reading the form with my daughter's "failing" BMI score. Fortunately my daughter has an amazing self-concept. She is self-possessed and feels comfortable in her own skin - to a much greater extent than I ever felt as an adolescent! She does not appear to be overweight, and I doubt that she would give these results much attention. However, I would predict that many adolescent girls would be upset to see on paper that their BMI is too high. I would expect that the development of their body image, self-esteem, and future dieting behavior could be hugely impacted.

Perhaps this struck a chord with me today because I was reading an article in my monthly American Psychological Association magazine which described some work by psychologists to help "women gain health and self-esteem by losing their obsession with weight." If anyone wants to read more about this, check out The point is that many women go through life dieting, regaining weight, dieting, regaining weight, etc. And they often feel terrible about themselves throughout the process. Do we set our daughters up for this cycle from early on with messages about their appropriate weight/height ratios? As I said, my daughter does not appear to be overweight, but she does have a butt - a butt like her mother before her, her grandmother before her, and her great-grandmother before her. Although I may have some negative thoughts about my own body at times, I try very hard to avoid saying anything out loud in front of my daughters. I want them to stay physically active, to enjoy eating, and to feel good about themselves and their bodies.

How do you handle body image issues with your daughters (or sons)?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dinner With My Neighbors

Tonight my family will be eating dinner with a family that lives next door. We used to eat together more often, but as our children have gotten older it's become more difficult. Tonight I will be bringing a meal I was planning to make in my Crockpot anyway, and my neighbor will be making a separate entree and the rest of the meal. It's really very nice to share food and eat together. We have the chance to connect and relax with one another when we spend time together during a meal.

I chose to write about this particular neighbor today though because she and I used to share meals in a fairly unique way that was helpful to both of us. Several years ago, I would cook dinner for her family every Monday night. She would cook for mine every Wednesday. Whatever I was making on Mondays, I would just double to have enough to feed two families. We used a big flat box from Costco to transport the meals. Often my older daughters would run the box over to their house on Mondays. And after working on Wednesday evenings, it was nice for me to come home to a prepared meal that I could just sit down to eat with my family. This system saved time for both of us, allowed us to feed our families good home-cooked meals, and helped us stay connected and in touch with each other.

This exact system may not work for everyone, but maybe it can spark some ideas of your own. If not a neighbor, maybe you have a relative or coworker nearby who would be willing to participate in some sort of meal sharing arrangement with you. It's hard to get a good tasting, home-cooked meal on the table every night. We don't always have to do it alone. There are ways that we can support each other and build community while still providing our families with healthy meals. I'd love to hear any creative ideas that any of you have tried.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Easy - and Flavorful- Baked Fish Recipe

Since it is Lent and I do follow the practice of no-meat Fridays. Some people don't feel comfortable cooking fish, perhaps because they don't have good recipes. Here is an easy recipe that also has a lot of flavor and health benefits. If you're not a "fish person", you might want to give this one a try. My kids will eat this one, but will pick off the tasty toppings to varying degrees. They tend to prefer salmon or breaded fillets, but I can't always cook just what they like!


1 ½ lbs tilapia loins or other thick fish fillet (like cod)
½ t salt
½ t pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
½ cup green olives with pimentos, coarsely chopped
½ cup red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 T fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme leaves
Cooking spray

· Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
· Coat a glass baking dish with cooking spray.
· Place fish in baking dish.
· Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
· Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and spoon over fish.
· Bake until fish is cooked through (about 15-20 minutes). Fish will be white and flaky.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cooking personality quiz

Home cooks can have great influence on the diet and eating habits of their entire family. The person who does the food shopping and cooking in the family, sometimes referred to as the "nutritional gatekeeper", has been estimated to control over 70% of what their children eat. The choices that influential person may make will in turn be influenced by their own history and background with food and cooking as well as their "cooking personality." To get an idea of your own "cooking personality" click on the link below to take a quiz.

Cooks who are more adventurous and willing to try new things are most likely to make healthy and flavorful choices. So don't be afraid to experiment - it's good for everyone!