Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creating Happy and Nourishing Family Dinners


Family Dinner Class Notes
These are the notes from a class I taught recently. I learned so much as I prepared and I hope you do too:)

What are your experiences with family dinner?
Is it a time of major stress??
It used to be for me… when 4-5pm rolled around and I was scrambling to figure out what to make—with every recipe I looked at— realizing I was missing a key ingredient or two!
I had a whiny toddler hanging on my leg… one son wanting to chat…another needing help with his homework.. and a crying baby!
I knew my husband would be home soon from a long hard day at work expecting (or hoping) to eat dinner…
And everyone is STARVING!!

So if your experiences are like mine one of two things happened:

Scenario #1—I would load up the kids for a fast food run—we would come home with bags of nutrition devoid meals and not to mention the chunk this takes out of your budget—this is a pricey way to feed your family. Feeding your family this way does not feel good—it is not wholesome or heartwarming.


Scenario #2-I would find a recipe that I had the ingredients for and I would be rip snorting around the kitchen trying to get a nice meal pulled together---at the expensive of piles of dishes, a trashed kitchen, neglected children (with little ones usually crying and older ones teasing and tormenting each other—at least that is what my boys seem to do when they are tired hungry and being ignored by a stressed out Mom) By the time we eat it is usually closer to bedtime than dinner time and I am exhausted. Those are nights that I hated cooking and couldn't believe I was in for years of this!! Just looking at the kitchen and all the work of cleaning up was discouraging.
So we had a delicious dinner—but look at the cost—phew it makes me tired just thinking about it.
Can anyone relate to this?

I do believe that this type of experience is getting more and more common for busy Mom’s and families these days.
I think in light of this dinner experience I have shared a lot of people have given up on the traditional family dinner—thinking it is just not possible in our crazy hectic lives.

Dallin H. Oaks in one of my favorite talks quoted a Time magazine article...

"The number of those who report that their “whole family usually eats dinner together” has declined 33 percent. This is most concerning because the time a family spends together “eating meals at home [is] the strongest predictor of children’s academic achievement and psychological adjustment.” Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children’s smoking, drinking, or using drugs. "

He goes on to say

"There is inspired wisdom in this advice to parents: what your children really want for dinner is you. "
Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign November 2007
full text
here and Time Magazine article here

Deiter Uchtdorf counseled:

“My dear brothers and sisters, we would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most.”

I think that family dinner is one of those things that we need to slow down and make time for—having dinner as a family is of great importance. Here is more recent counsel from the apostles…
"Since 'no other success can compensate for failure' here, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities. (Deiter F Uchtdorf, Ensign Nov 2010) Full text here:,5232,23-1-1298-7,00.html

“ Parents should be vigilant and spiritually attentive to spontaneously occurring opportunities to bear testimony to their children. For example, a naturally occurring family conversation at dinner may be the perfect setting for a parent to recount and testify of specific blessings he or she received during the course of relatively routine activities that day." ( David A. Bednar, Ensign May 2010) Full text here,5232,23-1-1207-15,00.html

(I posted the video with this in it here.)
"When we sit down at the dinner table, is our whole family there? I remember as a young man asking permission to play baseball through dinnertime. “Just put my meal in the oven,” I said to my mother. She responded, “Robert, I really want you to take a break, come home, be with the family for dinner, and then you can go out and play baseball until dark.” She taught all of us that where family meals are concerned, it’s not the food but the family interaction that nourishes the soul"
(Robert D. Hales, Ensign May 2010) Full Text here:,5232,23-1-1207-30,00.html

Even though the rest of the world may be too busy for family dinner we can listen to these inspired messages and gather our family around the table –slowing down enough to make family dinner an important part of day.

Quoting from a book I love, (written by a southern boy and Oprah's personal chef), "Back to the Table; a Reunion of Food and Family":

"Throughout history, humans have sat down together at the table to break bread. The simple ritual of the shared meal reunites our family and brings balance to our lives.

Unfortunately, in our fast paced world the symbolic role of the table has been threatened. In many households, family members all eat separately, according to their own schedules, on the run or in front of the TV."

I hope that I can inspire you to bring your family back to the table and back to each other.

Family dinner does take time—but it is worth it and you can learn to plan ahead.

Work smart instead of hard.

Recipe for Stress Free Family Dinners
While we discuss these ideas think about what
Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (as quoted by Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

I got tired of the the frazzled and stressful dinner time scenarios I described in the beginning. I knew there had to be a better way. These are the ideas that I have come up with that greatly reduced my stress and made our dinner a happy time. Take the ideas that work for you and leave what doesn't:)

1st Have a Plan---saves so much time and stress

Menu planning-- Take some time to plan your weekly menu. I do this on Saturday sometime or Monday morning as soon as I get my boys off to school. Look in your pantry/fridge see what needs to be used, check the ads for sales, ask for requests, flip through cookbooks and online for recipes you want to try etc.

Create a week or two week menu. **I have a great menu planner to share with you--find it print for free!**

Looking at the recipes you have chosen—right down what you need to pick up at the grocery store. Then you will have every ingredient you need for the planned meals.

*Recipe binders
Meal planning is a lot easier if your recipes are easily accessible. Keep all your recipes in an organized way that works for you. I like to type favorite recipes up, print them out and place them in page protectors in 3 ring binders. I started out with one binder divided into appetizers/ breads/ breakfast/desserts/drinks/entrees / sides/salads/soups. I have collected so many that I now have separate binders for most of those categories. Find a system that works for you and start collecting your favorites. The secret to being a good cook is having good recipes (and following them) Having organized recipes will save a lot of time in the long run!

2nd Work your plan
Hang your menu up—somewhere easy to see and refer to—check it before bed—once kids are off in the morning or when you have a little down time during the day—try to get a jump on the planned dinner—do as much ahead of time as possible.

*chop vegetables—also save time for the future by chopping extra --onions and peppers freeze perfectly

*crockpot- utilize this great kitchen appliance. Some of my favorite crockpot dinners are:
Sweet and Spicy Chicken, Rumbi Mango Chicken and Rice and more found here.

*make your dough for fresh bread early so it can have time to rise. Fresh bread is the secret to a fantastic dinner--at least that is what my family thinks! Everyone loves some warm bread. For easy home baked bread check out the
5 minute artisan bread recipe, 30 minute rolls, my favorite--Buttermilk Refrigerator Rolls, and easy breadsticks and the many muffin recipes here.
*marinade or grill meat for salads or pasta dishes—grill extra for the freezer. We love
7up chicken, lemon chicken. They both freeze well. To save time with marinades—freeze your meat in the marinades. Then while you are thawing the meat it will be marinating and can save you some time on a busy day.

*make certain dishes in the morning like,
stuffed shells, lasagna, enchiladas etc—make an extra batch for the freezer. Lots of freezer meal ideas here.

**back up Plan**

Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work-that is just life. Things come up, you get home late, you don’t feel well, a child needs your help with a project (the list goes on) I like to have a few meals on hand all the time that literally take minutes to get on the table. Here are some of my go to quick dinners:

1st Our family favorite is “brupper” (breakfast for supper)
Pancakes, waffles, hootenanny pancake, green smoothie, French toast, scrambled eggs and toast, Egg sandwiches with precooked bacon strips on biscuits from freezer

Meatball sandwiches, shrimp (or chicken) quesadillas with guacamole (I keep the premade fresh guacamole from Costco in my freezer), chickpea and noodle soup, paninis, Fiesta ravioli dinner, tacos (meat already cooked in the freezer)

It is a good idea to come up with a few meals that you always have on hand when you are in a pinch.

3rd Set the table
Warm, welcoming family meals begin with the table. Put your best foot forward for your family. Don’t save the table linens, and good dishes for company. When a table is set your family both adults and children will approach it with eagerness. This gives reverence to the meal and the family. Your family will feel loved and special when they see that you have taken the time to set a nice table for them.

Also—my Mom taught me to set the table first—then when your husband and children come home tired and hungry they see the table and think—“yes” dinner is almost ready—even if it is not!

Last but not least:
Enjoy dinner with your family.

As Mothers we set the tone for family dinner—choose to make it a wonderful daily tradition—something for your family to look forward to after a long day out in the world. I really believe that gathering your family around the table to share a meal together is sacred. Not only do you nourish their bodies, but most importantly you can “nourish their souls”—who knows what kind treatment they received at school or work—to come home to a warm, wholesome dinner… surrounded by people who love them most in the world—what a blessing! What a way to bond and build good self esteem in your family.

As I prepared for this class I was very prayer full. I hope that no one feels overwhelmed or discouraged. As I thought about you--those who will take the time to come to this class (or read this), women who love their families and are trying to be good Mothers, wives, grandmothers, friends etc. I felt so much love and appreciation for you! I know that our Heavenly Father is aware of the desires of our hearts and he will consecrate our efforts for the good of our families. We are all trying to do our best and that is what matters!

Here is to happy family dinners!!


Kari said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this wonderful post!! I remember every one of those talks and have actually reread most of them in the past few weeks!! I have definitely had these struggles and am always much more successful when I have my meal plan done. One of my goals this year is to try at least one new recipe a week and you included so many links to get me started ;) I've been intending to start putting together a binder of my favorite recipes, too, since they seem so scattered at times and you have inspired me to! I can't wait to have them all in one place!!

Hope you've been able to dig out from under the snow ... we NEVER got that much when we were living in TN!

Cindy said...

Thanks for your wonderful notes. My six children are grown now but Hubby and I still enjoy dinner together. I still make menus, try new dishes and love the dinner hour.
My girls and I share menus each week and encourage each other in the 'dinner quest'.
I will send your notes to my girls, thank you for sharing a message I have always felt strongly about.
Enjoy every moment with your sweet boys, the years go fast!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the post. I'm a working mom with a two year old which sometimes makes dinner hard but I know all the stress of cooking dinner is worth it. He eats so much better when I cook and I know he is getting healthy food. I've recently started preparing the next nights meal the night before and then just reheating it. My little guy wants to eat as soon as we get home so this way there is little time for him to have to wait. It makes me not as stressed too because I don't have to hurry so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the dinner planning ideas! I have a 4 year old, 2 year old, and a baby on the way so your suggestions are great! Question - I can't find the attachment for the menu planning document. How do I access that?

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

You are fabulous! I love all your ideas, quotes and recipes. Thank you so much for sharing. Keep it all coming!

Brittany said...

thank you so much for sharing Mel -I agree whole-heartedly with the importance of a healthy and happy dinner time with your family! great ideas and tips - love you sis!

Kristin said...

Thanks for sharing. I am inspired to try some of your ideas to make dinner time go more smoothly at our house. I think setting the table earlier could really help so kids don't start picking at dinner or snacking before we sit down. (one of my pet peeves and things that ruin dinnertime.)

Amy said...

I love this post! Great job encouraging others and reminding us of what is important. I really enjoy reading about you and your family; you are a great source of inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing.

Emily said...

Melanie -

I only get over to your blog sporadically but just think the world of you.

I have to tell you that tonight, I got ready to make dinner and the kids were all wild and I just couldn't do it - and so we hopped in the car to do the drive thru thing. And I felt horrible.

Then I sat the kids up at the counter to eat and by chance, decided to pop on over to your blog. As I was shoving in a handful of fries I started reading this fantastic post of yours.

I had already been spending today thinking about what I can do to better serve my family...and here it is. Thank you so much for putting this all together and for reminding me what is important.

I'm re-jotting down all these quotes.

And while I'm at it - does the amount of food that your family consumes scare you? I am getting so nervous for a houseful of boys.

Thank you again - you are awesome!!

rebecca said...

Thank you for this post!! And the great talks you posted! I try to do good at planning my weekly meals, but your tips you gave to make it even easier are much appreciated!!! I really want to do better at setting a nicer table, too:) Usually I just throw on the plates and forks:) And I see Kari commenting at the top! She's one of my favorite people here in AZ:)

Travelin'Oma said...

This is such a well-thought out post, with the reasons for a family dinner as well as the way to accomplish it. Your children are lucky to be living in your home!

Jaci Moore said...

Thank you for this. I am pregnant with my 4th kid and my oldest is 4. I was thinking this morning that above everything else feeding my family is my biggest stress! I always look at your blog for ideas, but I'm ready for dinner to be a positive experience. I want to try what you've written and I'm excited about it. Thanks again. If you're curious who I am, I actually cut Griff's hair. But I just got the last kid to bed and I'm going to make a 2 week menu.

Amber Omer said...

Amazingly said! Thank you. I hope I can get this awesome system down before my kids grow up and move out! 1 step at a time. :)

Summer said...

You did a wonderful job! You certainly convinced me to continue to push on and make it work! Thankyou. I will study this in preparing for my little class this thursday. I'll be sure to give you credit for the references I make from your lesson and I'm sure you'll be seeing some more fans from LaGrande. Your recipe blog helps alot. It takescare of that one step of me trying to be creative and think of what to make. Thankyou!!

Jan S said...

What an inspiring blog entry. I just loved it and I am going to start doing better. With kids grown up and gone, it is temptation to come home after work and fix a soup-out-of the can supper every night. OK, I am committing to use your ideas and have some quality dinners again. :) Thanks!

Natster said...

Wow. I so needed this. I have been reading your blog/the sisterscafe blog for a while now and am so grateful for all that you share. I don't have kids yet but this is something that I am already passionate about. Thank you so much for all you share on here about strengthening families. I teach primary and yesterday I vowed to never have children. (One of those days...) But I read your blog and I have hope. Cheesy, but true. Thanks so much!

Marnie said...

Thank you so much for posting your notes. I was going to email you for them. :) I have a question for you. How do you handle picky eaters? My oldest cries and complains over practically everything that I make. Mealtimes can be extremely frustrating at our house. I have pretty much made him his own version of dinner for years (he has a sensory processing disorder and seriously is sensitive to many food textures...will gag, vomit, etc). However, I really feel like it is important that he have the opportunity to try new foods as he will not always be able to choose what he eats (mission, friend's houses, and just for nutritional reasons). Meal times instead of being a peaceful nurturing experience sometimes feel like a battlefield. Any suggestions? Do your kids always eat the wonderful and exotic menus that you post every week? I'd love any suggestions....thanks!

Amy said...

Hey Mel-just read all these wonderful notes! Thank you so much for taking the time to share them. Making mealtimes more peaceful and enjoyable is one of my resolutions too. I have to say that having a meal plan makes all the difference in the world for me. And I have also started preparing as much of dinner during naptime as I can-and it is so so much better for me...the stress in my house drops significantly around dinnertime. Loved all the quotes, gives me the extra motivation I'll need to keep going. Love you Mel! Miss you're cute family. Btw...did I ever tell you that Coleman left the most adorable comment on my blog a few months ago. I just love him and wish I could see him more often. Say hi to the gang for us!

Matt said...

Hey Sis- cool blog post. My nephews are so lucky to have you as their mom and you've always been a great big sister to me! I sure love you.

Mindy said...

I loved these notes, too. Very motivating. This goes back to organization for me. I need to use a meal plan. I think it would help me lose my baby weight, too!

Val said...

What an amazing post!!! I have 4 children and it's not always easy to have sit down dinners but it's so important!! Thank you!

Andrea said...

Wow! What a great post full of wonderful suggestions! Thanks so much. I'm in charge of a small class and handout on Family Mealtime for our next Enrichment Meeting: do you mind if I use some of your suggestions?

I have five boys as well (ages 15-3) and the amount of food our family eats is incredible! But yes, we all enjoy eating together so much more when I take the time to plan and be on top of mealtime.

As a mom of boys, do you have any suggestions for encouraging good manners at the table? Sometimes the boy behavior gets a little bit out of control.

Thanks again!

kera said...

BEAUTIFUL POST.....beautiful. i'm gonna reference back to this often! such thought and sweetness came with this....we can learn from everyone who crosses our paths. you really make me want to be better at pre-thinking meals to avoid the crazy end of the day meal preperations and i think the biggest thing that i forget is that i set the tone for how dinner will go. sooooo true. really great great post! THANK YOU!

Erin@mamaswhoknow said...

Wow, I wish I had been able to attend your class. Thanks for sharing so many great ideas.

slchugs said...

How do you access the attachment?

Brynn and Jared said...

I love this article! Thank you for preparing it and making it available for those of us that didn't come to your class!

One question -- I am in charge of a sharing station on family dinner at BYU women's Conference. Everything I am trying to cover is summed up so well in this article. Can I have your permission to quote you and reference your article. I will provide a link to this if permission is granted :)
Thanks so much!

Melanie Anne said...

Brynn and Jared:
Of course you can use it!! I am so glad that you found it helpful. I will be at Women's Conference and can't wait to visit your sharing station!! See you soon:)

daveandcandice said...

Thank you for this timeless and increasingly important post on the importance of family dinners. I so appreciate your words. I just sent an email to you and your sisters about my pursuit to take the stress out of dinner and give us Chief Wellness Officers (aka Moms) back the time we need to spend with our families. Thank you for reaffirming the importance of our efforts.

EMILY A. said...

Thank you for this awesome post. You really brought the value of mealtime to the forefront and reminded me why I do what I do. A wonderful and insightful and uplifting article. I will be recommending it to others.

Anonymous said...

Hi - Love the article - was looking forward to the various recipes but the links are dead. Can you please update for the recipes? Thank you!!!!

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