Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dinner Games: A Review

I discovered Families with Purpose last year through an online forum. I immediately felt a connection to their mission of empowering families to take control of their family lives and live their lives with intention and purpose. Then I had the opportunity to speak with the Founder and President, Polly Schlafhauser on her radio show a couple of months ago (May 4, 2010 podcast). Polly and I share a passion for helping to bring families together to enjoy family meals, and during our radio show conversation, we discussed different ideas to help families make family meals a reality.

Families with Purpose offers a variety of products to help families get organized and enjoy their time together, ranging from chore charts, family calendars, and planners to my favorite, dinner games. Polly generously sent me a few samples of the dinner games that Families with Purpose offers for sale. I don’t believe that families necessarily need to buy a product to help improve family interaction. Most often my family’s dinner conversation consists of sharing highlights of our day or discussing a current problem or upcoming event. However, these products are definitely useful tools that make it easier to add variety to typical family dinner conversation. Plus, these products are reasonably priced. I think that all of the products have value and can be useful to families to enhance their dinner-time interactions in some ways, but allow me to share my family’s experience with each of the products.

The Original Dinner Games: This set contains 51 laminated cards in a recipe box-like tin, each containing a suggested family activity. The game cards are color-coded by type of game, including math games, social skill games, vocabulary games, memory games, and more. We tried several and enjoyed them all. Although, I must admit that I vetoed some of my kids’ choices for games. Some of the games require additional objects to be brought to the table or require that people get up from the table for an activity. I preferred games that involved all of us staying seated without any additional items to either distract us or potentially be spilled upon. Those vetoed games seem like they would be fun for other times, perhaps even an after-dinner game, but I think they have potential to interfere with the process of eating together. One of the games we enjoyed involved quizzing each other about facts about relatives or ourselves. It was a great way to tell some old family stories and for the kids to learn a little more about their family history. Our biggest laughs came with a game that involved everyone creating an acronym out of their name using favorite foods. Any game that can get an often sullen 12 year old to cry laughing is well worth the cost in my opinion. These games definitely got us talking about things that don’t typically come up in our dinner conversations.

Gather Round Dinner Games: This game includes a small battery operated circular game piece with multiple question rings. You press the button in the middle and lights accompanied by music determine which question or game your family will tackle. My kids enjoyed pressing the button and fooling around with this game, but I did not bring it to the dinner table. Maybe I’m too old and happy to be past the stage of musical lighted toys in my family, but I found the format to be distracting from enjoying a meal together. However, I do see how this game format could be extremely engaging to younger children. For those with short attention spans and those who need a fast-paced activity to hold their attention, this game would be a good choice although perhaps not at mealtime. For me, I still have my mother’s rule of “no toys at the table” firmly ingrained in my head from my childhood, and this game seemed to violate that rule for me. Again, I see the activities included in this game as fun and appropriate for times other than mealtime.

MatChats: This product consists of placemats with thought-provoking questions on a particular topic. I reviewed the questions on the Gratitude and Mindfulness topics, but other topics include, Attitude, Health, Fun and Work, and Friendship. I absolutely loved the questions included on the placemats. They are questions that require some reflection and have potential to enhance family communication. The questions seemed appropriate for my children’s ages (8-14). However, the format didn’t really work for dinner time with my family. Our family dinners are usually relatively brief and we don’t often have the luxury of time for extended discussions, as one of us is usually rushing off to work, sports practice, dance class, or a game. I think the MatChats would be ideal if we were eating out somewhere and were seated and waiting for our food, or if we made time at home to sit together for an activity at a time separate from dinner.

I highly recommend that you visit the Families with Purpose website (and sign up for their monthly newsletter while you’re there); they have lots of valuable information and products. Whether or not you buy one of these dinner game products, I encourage you to find time with your family to talk, listen, play, and laugh!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Enjoying the Fruits of the Season

Earlier this week I found myself near one of my favorite farm markets so I made an unplanned visit. I came home with some fresh New Jersey peaches (who knew such great peaches were grown up north!), corn, and cucumbers. Everything was so good that it was gone within 24 hours. So my produce-loving middle daughter and I made a second trip this week and stocked up on some more. This time we bought a bigger bushel of peaches. They're not gone yet, but they will be soon. Delicious.

This is the time to seek out some fresh, local produce. Whether it's at your grocery store or farmer's market (visit to search for a farmer's market near you), I encourage you to bring home some fruits and veggies to enjoy. Be adventurous and try something new or make a different recipe than usual. And make sure your kids see you enjoying the season's bounty too. As Ellyn Satter wrote in Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, "The secret to feeding a healthy family is to love good food, trust yourself, and share that love and trust with your child."

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Great Cookbook Gets Even Better

I was thrilled and honored when Leanne Ely contacted me to see if I would like a copy of the second edition of her Saving Dinner* cookbook. I had already purchased a copy of the first edition (published 2003) several years ago, and it is filled with little yellow stickies on pages of recipes that I've already made or intend to make. I have loved the recipes in Saving Dinner because they are simple to make, taste great, and have lots of ingredients that I enjoy. This is my go-to cookbook when I am looking for a recipe for a slow cooker meal because Leanne has included so many innovative slow cooker recipes. The Crock-Nutty Chicken is a favorite in my family.

The cookbook is organized by season and each recipe includes suggestions for side dishes. Within each season the recipes are organized with a suggested weekly meal plan and its corresponding shopping list. I don't use this book in this way myself, but if you are someone who dreads the process of meal planning and creating a shopping list, Leanne has done all the dirty work for you.

Leanne is a certified nutritionist and she includes nutritional information for each recipe in Saving Dinner. Honestly, I don't pay too much attention to those details myself and tend to choose recipes with taste and variety as bigger guiding factors. However, for many the included nutritional information is important. Regardless of the nutritional facts, I enjoy so many of these recipes because of the fresh, largely unprocessed ingredients.

What's new in the second edition of Saving Dinner is the section on "Freezer Meals." I highly value my freezer as an essential appliance in helping me bring home-cooked meals to my family's table. Saving Dinner gives you step by step instructions on how to assemble your own freezer meal kits at a much lower cost than the franchise meal-assembly establishments. The concept is that you're assembling all the ingredients together, freezing the meal, and then defrosting and cooking when you're ready for that meal. So much fresher than cooking all the way through, freezing, and then reheating!

I highly recommend Saving Dinner. I consider it to be a vital tool in my toolbox to helping me serve my family healthy, creative meals without too much stress. I encourage you to check out all of Leanne's books and materials at her website

*Ely, Leanne. (2009). Saving Dinner. New York: Ballantine Books.