Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cooking for the family: what makes a good dinner?

Hi, I’m Cory Vicens from and I’ll join you every Thursday for the next four weeks to talk about cooking and eating together as a family. Earlier this year surveyed parents about their food and nutrition habits, and we found that nearly 85% of families will eat dinners together four or more times each week. That’s great! When kids are involved in the preparation of their meals they are more likely to enjoy eating it more or trying something new they helped make. We also know from scientific studies that there are many benefits from family meals including improved nutrition and overall physical and emotional health.

You can make the most of your time together by planning to cook and eat together. Here are some ideas to make everyone a part of the action during mealtime:
     - If your kids are helping you cook, review your recipes or cooking plans before you start so you can identify how your kids can be a part of the cooking. In particular:
          o Find activities that are age appropriate. Younger kids can help locate and identify ingredients; then hand them a spoon and let them stir away. Elementary-aged kids are ready to read the recipes, measure, wash, peel, and mix together ingredients at the stove top, while older kids are likely okay using a knife (after guided instructions and practice with an adult) or cooking at the stove top or in an oven on their own.
          o Make sure your children are working in a space that fits their size and where you can monitor their progress at all times.
          o Use cooking together time to help educate your kids on safe food practices like washing hands and surfaces as well as the correct use of knives and kitchen appliances.
          o You can also assign meal preparation activities like setting the table, even creating fun place cards for family members. Just make sure to help your child safely reach the items they will need to complete the task.

     - Mealtime is a great time to get to know one another and encourage your kids to open up about what’s going on in their lives. But, to get the conversation going, you might need a few shortcuts. Here are some ideas for a successful mealtime:
          o Do sit down at the table together.
          o Mix it up! Change where everyone sits to allow for different dynamics and conversation flow.
          o Encourage different members of the family to start conversation. Have your kids ask you questions about what you did during the day.
          o Put the extras on the table, so everyone can serve themselves seconds without getting up and down. This will also allow older kids to assist younger kids at mealtime.
          o Use mealtime to talk about the future. What will your family do this weekend? Are there any fun new activities you each want to try or do? Places you’re curious to see?
          o Keep a bowl with general questions that can help spur discussions: What was the silliest thing you saw today? Did you learn a new joke recently? What was the most interesting thing you heard today? What is your favorite smell? What was (or is) your favorite bedtime story? Kids are interested in what mom and dad were like as kids so chime in with those stores and discussion too!
          o Make sure everyone stays at the table until everyone is done…don’t let kids rush through meals. Teach them to slow down their eating and maintain portion control.
          o Make your mealtime together a family priority so eliminate any external distractions; no TV, texting, emailing, or phone calls for kids and parents.

For some more tips on family eating and some easy family meals try these links:
     - The Benefits of Family Dinners
     - Cooking with Kids
     - Table Talk
     - Fizzy’s Lunch Lab: Family Meals 
     - Healthy Kids
     - Kids in the Kitchen
     - The Dinner Routine
     - Five Dinners in an Hour or Less

We asked our Facebook community to share their favorite moments around the dinner table. This is what they had to say:

Megan H: sharing good food, and memories :)

Barbara H: When my kids get to "telling" stories on each other!! Lol. By the time the meal is finished, we had literally cried, from laughing so hard! The truth coming out... :)

Chris F: Just the family time, we get to slow down everyday and enjoy each others company at the dinner table without distractions of other things. It's something, from talking to other people, that is starting to fade in many American homes. Food is good, the company is good then life is good too.

Melanie T: I just love taking the time with my 3 daughters and husband to share a meal at the kitchen table without everyone in front of a tv or on the computer or texting.

Leigh W: When my children were younger, all of them, from the 29 year old down to the 5 year old, hummed whenever they ate especially yummy food. The thing is, they were all completely unaware of their humming. Our youngest still does it. I love listening to those happy hums -- even if it's just for Fruit Loops!

Barbara P: Every night we tell the funniest thing about today stories. It's great. It really brings us together in a good way, and forces us to find something good about the day! I love hearing my kids' stories.

What are some of your favorite moments around the dinner table?’s Fresh Bites Back-to-School blogs are in partnership with Hidden Valley Ranch and PBS Kids.
Top image courtesy of


Hi Cory! It's wonderful that so many families are eating the dinner meal togther. I know Allrecipes is so helpful to so many of us out here looking for inspiration.

Hi Valarie thanks for your post! we agree that time shared together as a family over a meal is invaluable on so many levels. Hopefully the links we provided were helpful and introduced you to some new inspirations and info. Have a great day.