October 11, 2011

Chatting with Laurie David {Tales from the Trenches}

The Family Dinner

This is the latest installment of my Tales from the Trenches Series. An ongoing series where friends and readers share their stories and recipes about the great food they fit into family life. We all have tips and tricks to share with each other: when we cook, what we cook and how we cook the delicious food we love to eat.

GIVEAWAY: {If you are interested in a winning a copy of Laurie’s book please see entry rules below the interview}

Today I am chatting with Laurie David, the author of The Family Dinner Cookbook: Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids, One Meal at a Time and well-known environmental advocate. I had the great fortune of meeting Laurie at the BlogHer Food Conference in Atlanta last May where we made an instant connection. Both of us strongly believe in the power of families eating together as a way of connecting with our children and strengthening family bonds. As you know, I often cook during naptime or when my daughter is at school so that I can enjoy cooking and our dinner is ready with minimal fuss in the evening. This is my way of getting a joyful dinner on the table for us to converse over. Sure, there are nights when my husband travels or I am out for work, but, like Laurie, I strive to make our meals meaningful and memorable as often as possible.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Laurie’s wonderful book and enjoy it. Better yet, pick up two copies, one for you and one for a friend. The volume contains gorgeous recipes and anecdotes relating to all kinds of family gatherings and ways to connect with your family over meals. It stresses the importance of low-stress food and easygoing fun. A notion I think all parents, especially me, can stand solidly behind.

1. It can be hard to have lengthy sit down dinners with young children. Do you have any tips for parents looking for ways to get their toddlers to stay engaged at the table for more than just the time they are eating?

Kids stay at the table when they’re having fun.  And one way to accomplish that is by playing verbal games.  My book is full of suggestions for games we played in my house to take the conversation away from the ordinary and get everyone laughing.  Kids love to answer questions, they love to respond and they even love to wait their turn to participate.  Tonight, try playing “What I Like about Me”.  Go around the table and have everyone say one thing that they like about themselves.  And then for the second and third rounds, have everyone go around and say what they like about the person on either side of them.

2. Since time can be the enemy of parents with young kids, what kind of meal prep tips do you recommend for people trying to sit down for at least 10 minutes with their families for dinner?

First of all, take the pressure off yourself about what constitutes “dinner”.  It can be soup and a salad or healthy sandwich and cut up fruit.  On days when you’re super busy, remember that the really important thing is sitting down together and talking. Also, I’m a fan of time savers, such as doubling up recipes and freezing one, sharing meals with friends and simplifying, simplifying, simplifying!

3. Sometimes my husband gets home late so I eat dinner with my daughter and then he eats later. Our family sit-down meals tend to be weekend breakfasts or lunches. A lot of my friends are in similar situations, how do we make this work for us?

Sounds like it’s already working!  You might want to make it a family goal to add one more family meal to your week, whether it be a breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Or how about a before bedtime cup of herb tea that you all share together.

4. The fun part for new families is the prospect of building new family meal traditions, especially around holidays and birthdays. How do you recommend building new family meal traditions, while balancing the established ones, with your family?

I think the key to family rituals are that they’re not once a year, but that they’re weekly.  You can start next week with the addition of Meatless Monday.  I love naming certain nights of the week after a particular dining experience and that helps make dinner feel like a party.  Taco Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays (e.g. breakfast for dinner), Shabbat Friday, Souper Sundays are all great ritual ideas that you can incorporate into your week.

5. How do you recommend parents with limited amounts of time begin taking steps toward a more environmentally kitchen? People often ask me for the small, easy things that they can build on to make a difference. It is about removing the intimidation factor and taking it one day at a time to make it manageable. There is so little free time for big projects with young kids at home!

Here’s the great news.  Your kitchen is the greatest room in the house to teach those green values.  And they don’t take any more time and effort and they can save you money.  A perfect example of this is banning plastic water bottles from your kitchen. Always serving water as your family’s main drink in glasses from your tap is a great green habit, better for your health and much better for the environment.  Other simple green things you can do is reduce your overall plastic use in the kitchen using glass ball jars in the kitchen instead of saran wrap.  Make sure you’re buying environmentally sound cleaning supplies and recycled paper products.  After you’ve done those simple things, think about planting a pot of herbs on your windowsill, balcony or backyard.  Your kids will love picking them for your recipes and you will love the money and plastic packaging you save by not having to buy them at the store.

6. How can you get little kids involved in this process? [Note: referencing question #5]

Your kids can be in charge of trying to reduce the amount of waste your kitchen tosses out every day.  And I love involving kids in making lunches from leftovers after dinner and of course aiming for waste free lunch too!   Your kids can help you shop, looking at labels and get them involved in the cooking process as early as possible.  The more they cook with you, the more they’ll eat and the more aware they’ll be of the environmental issues too.

7. Do you ever get in cooking ruts? What do you do to get out of them?

Of course I do! I buy a new cookbook or revisit the ones on my shelf for inspiration!

8. Entertaining with young kids is a whole different ball game. What are your strategies for family entertaining when it is likely the toddler set is more interested in playing than eating?

I bring games to the table.  A simple example is “telephone” where someone whispers something into the ear of the person sitting next to them and then they have to share with the person next to them and so on. . . . It’s always fun, even for the littlest kids at the table.

We also have fun little rituals like “broccoli moments” where someone announces “broccoli moment” at some random point during the meal and we all (adults included!) pick up a piece of broccoli (or whatever veggie is pick-up-able on the plate!) and pop it into our mouths.

The basic idea is that dinner is a time to laugh, have fun and connect with each other.  Dinner isn’t just about refueling, it’s also about connecting and creating memories.

9. My husband and daughter have a Saturday morning breakfast tradition at our local diner. I encourage it because it is their special time together. Do you advocate these kinds of meal traditions, too?

Absolutely! Any excuse to create a ritual is a good thing.

10.  I love that you agree that take-out is a great option on occasions. Do you ever use take-out as a chance to explore new cuisines and flavors?

Yes and I think that’s a great suggestion!  I also think that family field trips to ethnic markets and restaurants are another great way to learn about other parts of the world.  And. . .just because it’s take out, doesn’t mean you need to serve it that way– put it in bowls, light a candle, take out the non-disposable chopsticks and the cloth napkins.

11. For all of us parents trying to maintain sanity and build long-lasting family traditions with our families we thank you for writing this book. Do you have any words of advice for those of us with growing families? Words of encouragement for those of us with tables still surrounded by high chairs?

The bottom line for all of this is that the research proves that if you want to raise healthy, happy, well adjusted children, you have to eat with them more often.  That’s the good news, because this ritual is going to make your life more enjoyable too.  I predict that your best family memories won’t be fancy vacations but all the great meals that you’ve shared around the table.

To Win a Copy of Laurie’s awesome book:

1) Leave a comment describing a favorite family meal ritual or recipe.

2) Join The Naptime Chef on Facebook

3) Sign-up for The Naptime Chef newsletter (upper right hand corner)

4) Contest runs from October 11th at 7:00amET through October 17th at 7:00amET. Winner will be drawn by random.org and the winner has 48 hours to claim the prize or else it will be award to another person. Winner will be announced in the newsletter on Friday October 21st.