Simple mealtime prep can bring your family back to the dinner table

Back to the Family Dinner TableIt’s a typical night after work. I go home briefly, pick up my son, and then rush to get him to baseball or another activity. On another night, I might be rushing to a parent/teacher conference, or to finish some errands. On the weekends we are often traveling to see family, or at an event for one of our children. Sound familiar?

The reality is that most families are on the go. This can make mealtime challenging - especially if you aren’t at home to eat together. Dining out frequently gets expensive, and depending on the choice of food, it can be unhealthy. When we stopped to look at what we were spending on eating out, it really hit us that we were wasting a lot of money! So - we took action and turned things around.

Here are some things my family did to change our old habits and become more prepared for meals with our busy lifestyle. Even when you are short on time, you can still eat together and make healthy choices!

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
Preparation is key. We make the menu and prepare food a week or two in advance. I buy fresh meats and veggies and then assemble simple freezer bags filled with the ingredients.  Everyone participates in the process, so even though we can’t always eat together, we still get to have fun in the kitchen as a family. We play music and the kids love to use the scale to weigh out the meats! The bags go into the freezer and then we take them out as needed.

Use the crockpot!
Crockpot meals save so much time. You can find blogs and websites that are devoted entirely to crockpot cooking. Before you go to bed, put your ingredients into the crockpot and turn it on. In the morning you will have a home-cooked meal that is ready to go. Pop the crock in the refrigerator and heat up your meal when you get home, or freeze portions of the meal to save for another time.

Take it to go!
Buy easy finger foods such as nitrate-free sausages or brats, cheeses, fruits, and veggies and make kabobs with them. You can also cook chicken breasts and cut them into strips. Be adventurous!

Keep a cooler in your car to store your snacks, and pick up a bag of ice along the way. You can also buy natural fruit juices and add protein powder or gelatin to them for extra nutrition. Store some stainless steel water bottles in your trunk to fill with water for drinking or washing up.  

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Share your favorite family recipes on our entry form, which you can find on the American Family Insurance Facebook page. We’ll include some select recipes and stories in our upcoming Back to the Table electronic cookbook. 

Family Meetings at the Dinner Table

Family Meetings at the Dinner TableWith all of the meetings I participate in there is one that I believe to be the most successful meeting I have ever encountered.

This meeting happens seven days a week with the most important people I have ever met. Every member of this meeting comes to the table eager to discuss the day’s events and progress they have personally achieved in a day’s work looking for insight into the future as well as share their personal thoughts on upcoming events.

Family meeting agenda
During this meeting home cooked meals are prepared and shared with participants. Once everyone has been served we move across the table ensuring each and every one has the opportunity to discuss their accomplishments for the day.

When things are not quite going right our team works together to determine the best possible solution for moving forward and the entire group must agree on all decisions.

Common topics include homework, chores, friends, work, personal choices, community involvement, politics, human rights, and anything and everything that has an effect on anything important to anyone who sits at this meeting.  

Meeting participants
Participant ages have been as young as 1 day old and each and every voice heard at this meeting is equally important. Attendance to this meeting is required by everyone.

Family meeting outcomes
As result of our family meetings we have seen an increased communication level across all members outside of dinnertime compared to families who are not currently participating in this process; allowing collaboration on vital decision makings of individual family members across the board.

As a proud parent of three amazing little girls I couldn’t ask for anything more.

How to conduct a family meeting

1. Assign meeting coordinators

  • Meal preparer specialist
  • Table-setter specialist
  • Beverage authorities
  • After-meeting cleanup specialists

2. Take turns around the table discussing everyone’s day

3. Enjoy each other’s company

That’s it! It’s really that simple. Why not give it a try if you haven’t already? Your family will thank you for it.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Share your favorite family recipes on our entry form, which you can find on the American Family Insurance Facebook page. We’ll include some select recipes and stories in our upcoming Back to the Table electronic cookbook.

The power of family time and food

The Buchheim familyTurns out, I have a lovely oak kitchen table. It’s not just a dumping ground for unopened mail, old newspapers or random homework assignments. My family and I can actually sit down and eat meals at it – together.

Sound familiar? Every family is different, but what brings them together is the dinner table. It might be breakfast before everyone heads off for the day. Maybe it’s a special weekly dinner (with fancy plates and flatware, too). It could be a long-standing recipe that gets the kids excited – like at my house when I make the famous Buchheim family spaghetti sauce.

I know – crazy talk.

As my family prepares for another school year, I’m amazed at how crucial family mealtime is for everyone at the table – especially my two kids (ages 12 and 10). Research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows eating dinner as a family helps kids get better grades, and avoid unhealthy choices (like smoking, alcohol and marijuana).

Family mealtime slows things down, which is crucial given all the activities about to begin that can dominate schedules. But really, it’s important any time of year.

Food is part of the equation, but so is what happens around it. Meals at home are the single strongest factor in higher achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems in children of all ages. More home-cooked meals also mean less obesity for kids.

We can all talk about the importance of family mealtime, but it’s more fun and engaging to be involved and do something about it.

Back to the Family Dinner TableSo, in September, American Family will begin collecting family recipes (and the stories about them) from our Facebook community. We’ll publish a Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook later in the year, along with tips for busy families and ideas to make mealtime a priority.

But I need your help.

We want everyone to be part of this American Family CookbookUse this form to send us a favorite family recipe or two – and encourage your co-workers to do the same. From your submissions, we’ll choose a sampling for the Back to the Family Dinner Table cookbook and special Pinterest recipe board. (And everyone is eligible to win prizes, too.) 

This is your chance to show off a favorite recipe (including an optional photo). I look forward to clearing off my kitchen table and trying some of your recipes with my family this fall.

Buy life insurance when you’re young and healthy — and keep it in force

Peg and her two sons.When my sons were just six and seven years old, I became a divorced, single mother. Having worked in insurance previously, I was aware of the importance of life insurance and bought a universal life insurance policy for myself to protect my family financially. 

Unfortunately, just five years later, circumstances changed, which added some extra financial burden to my budget. I needed funds and cashed in the policy. Two years after that, I began my American Family career with a now-retired agent and purchased life insurance again, this time for myself and both of my sons. Sometime later, another priority came up, I needed discretionary funds, and I decided to let the policies lapse.

I've experienced a heart-related health issue, and while I’ve improved to “mildly affected” status, I was also diagnosed as an adult diabetic, as a result of one medical test. I live a healthy life today with no real problems. 

However, in a nutshell, due to a combination of factors, including not completing medical testing recommended by my cardiologist to help prove insurability because of the expense, I decided not to pursue obtaining life insurance again. As a result, I am not able to provide the financial safeguards through life insurance that I would like for my sons.

Because of the value I place in the benefits of life insurance and understanding the importance of insurability while young and healthy, I did purchase 10-year level term life insurance policies for both my sons, and kept the payments paid and the policies active. Over time, I also began the process of converting a portion of the term policies to purchase 20-pay whole life insurance policies for them. I’m thankful that I did.

I never imagined my son, who is now 27, would have a major seizure out of the blue at age 21. To this day there is no definite reason why it happened, but he’s now diagnosed with epilepsy. Thankfully, my son is on the best seizure meds available, and for all intents and purposes he’s a healthy, active, young man. Although still insurable, it’s comforting to know that he already has life insurance in place.

We’re really enthused about life insurance here at the Michele Weber Agency. As a life-licensed American Family agent assistant, I use my personal experiences to tell the story when selling life insurance in our office. I believe my first-hand knowledge is appreciated by everyone, especially younger, newly-married folks.  

I tell my customers – and it’s my message to you as well – buy life when you’re young and healthy, and keep it in force. That way, in case something happens to you that limits or prohibits you from purchasing more life insurance later in life, you will at least have some life insurance in place. 

I like how American Family Life Insurance Company is creating easy-to-apply-for products for busy customers. The auto-life discount, when applicable, is also nice to discuss. The important thing is to get thinking about and making life insurance part of our lives.

Feeding hopes and dreams around the family dinner table

The Wingate familyThe family dinner table is where I learned to dream.

Often, when friends came over they expressed surprise that we sat down as a family for dinner.  It didn’t happen at their houses, and they really liked being part of the ritual at our house. Years later, they bring it up at reunions or around town when they see my parents. My mom even got a note on Mother’s Day from a friend of my sister’s, saying how much she’d appreciated being welcome in our family during those times.

The trait I most admire in my parents is that they encouraged each of their four children to identify our own dreams. And it started at our family dinners. My siblings and I talked about school, sports, theater and our friends. Whatever we said we wanted to do, my parents built us up with positive comments, making us feel like we really could do anything we set out to do.

That encouragement has continued all our lives.

At the Easter dinner table, when I was 28, I announced I was quitting a really good job to return to graduate school full-time, and my parents’ support and encouragement gave me confidence that I was on a good path.

The conversations and inspiration that take place around the table have measurable value to children. Children who regularly eat dinner with their families do better in school and are less likely to use tobacco or alcohol.

That hit home for me recently. I unexpectedly worked much later than usual one night, arriving home around 7 p.m. My husband was gone for the evening, and I thought our teenagers would have had dinner already. They hadn’t. They’d waited for me so we could eat dinner together – that’s how much they value our time together at the dinner table.

I was completely in awe of how important this nightly ritual is to them.

At American Family, we’re focused on building a community of dreamers. Building the next generation of dreamers starts at the family dinner table. That’s the reason behind Back to the Family Dinner Table, which kicks off this week.

Through Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, we’ll be sharing family favorite recipes – and the stories behind them. We’ll also give your family tips for getting organized and suggestions for involving everyone in meal planning and cooking.

We’re partnering with cooking blogger Isabel Laessig, whose mission on her website, familyfoodie.com, is to bring back Sunday supper around the family table in every home. Isabel and her network of bloggers will partner with American Family and share ideas for easy and fun, family-friendly meals – including hosting a Google Plus Hangout and Twitter chats this fall.

American Family wants your recipes, too. Go to our entry form and enter your favorite family recipe – and you’ll be eligible to win prizes to help bring your recipes to life. We’re also gathering everything (recipes, tips and more) into an electronic cookbook, which we’ll share with our customers and everyone who shares a recipe.

Of course, when we talk about “family” dinners, we know a person’s family is really their network of support, no matter what form that takes. We’ll celebrate that with additional blog posts here on Dream Protectors, recognizing “family” goes well beyond the traditional idea of parents and kids.

I hope you’ll join us by trying new recipes, sharing your stories, and focusing on bringing your family back to the dinner table.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Share your favorite family recipes on our entry form, which you can find on the American Family Insurance Facebook page. We’ll include some select recipes and stories in our upcoming Back to the Table e-book. 

11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19