Food for thought: Life lessons around the family dinner table

Life lessons at the family dinner tableHere’s some food for thought:  You can learn a lot of valuable life lessons at the dinner table. 

Okay, I’m not what you call a foodie philosopher. But I do know that preparing, consuming and sharing food can be as enriching for the mind and soul as it is for the body.

Here’s a smorgasbord of random lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen and the dining room.

Take risks: Experimenting with different ingredients can be a little risky, but can yield surprisingly savory new dishes. Likewise, changing your routine and seeking new experiences can be just what you need.

Give it your best: Cooking from scratch requires time, work and patience, but it’s always tastier than fast foods. Investing time and effort into the things that matter in life pays the biggest dividends, too.

Enjoy simple pleasures:  Sometimes juicy peaches, s’mores or grilled burgers are as lip-smacking as haute cuisine. Seeking enjoyment in simplicity can be very satisfying and gratifying.

Everything in moderation: Too many sweets and the resulting stomachaches teach us the value of moderation. Restraint can help preserve our well-being, and increase our enjoyment of life’s “treats.”

‘Too many cooks’ is better: My favorite meals have involved cooking alongside others. It’s fun and gets better results. That’s why collaborating and cooperating with others always is a “best practice.”

Expand your horizons: Trying new dishes opens up new possibilities. Case in point: my family’s exploration of Mediterranean cuisine made us healthier, and inspired us to visit that part of the world.

We are what we eat: Achieving variety in our diets helps us feel better and healthier. Similarly, our experiences shape who we are.  The more experiences we seek, the wiser we become.

What lessons have you learned from cooking and dining?

Feel free to leave a comment below – we’d love to hear what you can bring to the table.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

#SundaySupper and the Value of Spending Time Around the Family Dinner Table

Back to the Family Dinner TableI have always known that time around the family dinner table is the best nourishment we can give our families.

It is about so much more than just the food that is served. It is something that the entire family looks forward to. It is about commitment to each other, working together and encouragement. In my heart I know that this is the most important thing I have done for my family. The family table is not only where our family is nurtured, it is where dreams are born.

As a mother of four, getting dinner on the table has always been a priority, but I don’t think I truly understood the impact our family meals had on my family until the day my oldest left for college. When asked what she would miss most about home, she responded: "The time we spend together in the kitchen. I can’t imagine not being home on Sunday for dinner."

Her words had such a profound effect on me. At that moment I realized that time around the family table meant as much to my children as it did to me.

We love shopping together and planning new recipes around seasonal ingredients. Whether it’s a trip to the farmers’ market, our local grocer, or stopping by our favorite ethnic market, Saturday mornings are all about planning our Sunday supper meal and setting the stage for the rest of the week.

Shopping, planning recipes, cooking together, and ultimately conversing around our kitchen table has become a tradition our family looks forward to. Witnessing how our meals have shaped my own family inspired me to start the Sunday Supper movement. Our mission is to bring back Sunday supper around the family table in every home. It starts off as one day a week, but soon becomes a way of life.

Many times when we think about the words dream and future, we immediately relate it to future generations. We think of our children and their dreams and how we can inspire them.

But dreaming isn’t just for kids.

My dream started with my family around our kitchen table. The day my oldest left for college, she inspired me to start my blog, Family Foodie. I wanted to encourage families to spend more time together in the kitchen. Beyond my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the future that was ahead of me.

Family Foodie logoI am so excited and honored to be visiting the American Family Insurance DreamBank in Madison, Wis. Oct. 13th. I will be talking about my dreams and will host a live #SundaySupper back to the #FamilyDinnerTable cooking event with tips to plan easy weekly dinners for busy families. 

Editor's note: Join Isabel Laessig as she invites your family back to the table with delectable inspiration at DreamBank! From savvy tips for stocking your pantry to time-saving techniques and recipes, Isabel’s live demonstration will help you rediscover the pleasures of eating together with the ones you love.

Each participant will get to take home a meal for four to enjoy with their families! This event is limited to 30 food lovers, so RSVP now! Can't make it to Madison? Join the live Google Plus Hangout and watch from the comfort of your computer. Learn more on the American Family Insurance Google Plus page

For more ideas on bringing your family back to the table this fall, visit American Family Insurance’s Facebook page to submit a recipe in our Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook contest

Improving Lives of Others, One House at a Time

Missions MinistriesTwelve years ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and traveled alone to a place with the kind of reputation that would keep many people away. It was a risk that turned out to be life-changing.

I went to help build a home for a family in Juarez, Mexico, after reading an article about an organization called Missions Ministries, and decided to participate.

The entire family of seven had been living in a pallet home, barely the size of my youngest son’s bedroom. There were gaping holes in the roof, and the walls and the floor were made of dirt. The family had five children, the youngest only three weeks old. The mother was using a cardboard box as a crib for the baby, and the rest of the family slept on pieces of Styrofoam laid on the floor. There was no running water or electricity.

Children could only go to school if they could afford the required uniform. People in the community who were fortunate enough to find employment often made less than $1 a day.

The experience opened my eyes to a whole new world and gave me a new appreciation to the many blessings I take for granted every day.

The following year I took my somewhat reluctant husband with me. The year after that, we brought our then 4- and 6 year-old sons. We continued to go each year, bringing more and more family and friends. Our third son joined us when he was only 2 years old.

Missions MinistriesDuring the last decade or so, we have been privileged to build many, many homes. In addition, we helped build a library, provided many community outreaches and helped distribute donated food, medicine, school supplies and clothing. We have sponsored a student for the last four years and have had a couple of opportunities to visit her when we were in Juarez.

We’re also involved with a continuing Christmas box outreach. Every year we distribute empty Tupperware boxes with packing lists for different ages of children to family, friends, coworkers and members of our church who support the work we’re doing. We ask them to shop for their “assigned” age/gender child and pack the boxes with items such as soap, toothpaste, underwear, gloves, small toys, etc. Before Christmas, we drive down to Juarez with hundreds of these Christmas boxes for the children in the community. These children would otherwise not receive anything for Christmas.

Our travels to Juarez have given us a meaningful perspective on how fortunate we are to have roofs over our heads and meals on our table every night. It has taught my children the importance of volunteering and giving time to others. Finally, it has been a launching pad to other opportunities to volunteer in our own neighborhood and community.  

As I watch our sons head off to school this year, I reflect not only on how many blessings I take for granted but also on how blessed our family is to have discovered the joy that comes with helping others when and where we can. 

The Great American Road Trip is Alive and Well!

Dreaming of the RoadIt’s the subject of movies and TV shows. Songs and books are written about it, and families look forward to it.

“It” is the great American road trip! We’re happy to report that road tripping is alive and well and still making memories to last a lifetime.

During the summer, American Family Insurance began putting together Dreaming of The Road, an e-book planning guide about road tripping. We included games to play, road songs, suggestions for getting your car ready, ideas on keeping young children entertained and tips on safe traveling.

The best part though, came from our customers. We asked people to take their own “road trip” down memory lane and share with us their favorite road trip stories. Our plan was to include as many as we could in the book. Frankly, we were overwhelmed by the responses. It seems everyone, no matter how old they are or where they live, has a great story to tell gleaned from miles of rolling down the highway.

We received tons of entries. There were stories of love lost, re-found and re-kindled; crossing things off of a bucket list; and final memories of a now-departed loved one.

We received stories that restore your faith in people; about building strong family bonds; and how a new sense of inner strength was discovered. Some of the entries we received were touching to the point of tears. Others brought a smile and laughter. A big thank you to everyone who shared their stories!

The e-book is now complete! Download a free copy of Dreaming of The Road hereIt’s designed to be read on desktops, tablets and smartphones. Or, you can print a copy and throw it in your glove compartment to help plan your next road trip. Who knows what new memories you’ll make when the open road calls?

We hope you enjoy reading Dreaming of The Road as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to plan!


Open the gift of holiday dinners

holiday mealsI look at holiday dinners as an endless gift exchange – but probably not in the way you're thinking. Instead of presents wrapped in paper and topped with bows, holiday gatherings offer the gift of refreshment and a welcome contrast to the busyness of life.

Not just Christmas or Chanukah, but any holiday dinner has gifts to open. I’m thankful we don’t have drive-through holiday dinners. That would be like fast-forwarding through life! From the beginning to end of holiday gatherings – let’s take time to unwrap different these gifts together.

What’s your favorite gift?

I enjoy seeing the theme and twinkling lights and decorations throughout the house, the flower arrangement on the table, and the hosts dressed in themed attire, like lederhosen from Germany or African tunics from Tanzania. Your hosts may have been inspired from a vacation or a mission trip to a foreign land.

I grew up in a family that celebrated the holiday the same way every year. The decorations, menu and music were all the same. Now it’s fun to be a part of a family who is more creative -it is such an inspiration. What themes have you planned for your holiday dinners? I think of the theme as the ribbon on the gift tying all of the festivities together.

Now it’s time to open the box – perhaps the invitation itself was the best gift because you are a dinner guest in a new season of life – away from home, a freshman away at college or new to the area. Greeted by smiling faces for a fun afternoon together, being included in the festivities, it’s a treat to be served a home-cooked meal and sent home with leftovers to break the monotony of microwave dinners and PB & J.  When I was single it was fun to invite friends and neighbors from different generations and international students to holiday dinners. The gift of fellowship, conversation, laughter and memories can bring value beyond words.

Are you surprised and delighted by the delicious meal, thoughtfully prepared down to the last detail?

With the savory smell of the peppercorn gravy for the Beef Wellington or perhaps it’s the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth creaminess of Great-grandma’s corn casserole (as you try to ignore the calorie count…)? Or perhaps the sounds of “mmmm…” when the guests taste the dish you brought to pass?

In many ways it’s the food that brought us together, and each time we share a meal we are sharing a part of ourselves and our traditions. What’s the origin of your favorite holiday recipe? Do you feel like you are creating a gift when you make a holiday meal?

As the celebration goes on after the meal, we play games, tell stories, and take a long walk in the woods to work off the big dinner. I like to think of these activities like the nested gift boxes inside of each other. We often play a silly game that generates laughter.

At Easter, for example, it’s Peter Rabbit. Adult guests sit in a circle, and the story is read aloud very quickly. Each time Peter Rabbit’s name is spoken, we have a bag with a secret prize that we must quickly pass to the right.  You can shake and squeeze the bag, but it’s hard to tell exactly what’s inside. And when the story is over and you’ve heard Peter Rabbit for the last time, the bag you’re holding contains your gift. Surprise – it could be one of Great-grandma’s pink, feathered pill hats, or bubble bath and candy.

Although you wouldn’t want to miss the celebration altogether, maybe it was your turn to work this year as a nurse in the ER, the policeman on his beat or the tireless voice in customer service. Aside from leftover food, you got a different kind of gift this year – since it is better to give than receive.

With all the gifts opened, and the food savored – you’ve come to realize the best gift of the day is the entire package – quality time together with family and friends.

Share the gifts you unwrap at your holiday dinners in the comments below!

Back to the Family Dinner Table recipesEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

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