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Back to the Table

A Dinner Together in the Life of a Large Family

Silverware for a large familyIt’s a typical night, and our oldest has football practice. Sooner or later my husband will get the SOS text, at the most inopportune time, mind you. Our next in line has cross country until 5:30, and our youngest daughter is anxiously waiting her turn to go to volleyball practice at 6:30. 

The other three are busy working on their homework ... kind of.  Jack’s barks springs my heart out of my chest as the doorbell rings. It’s the cross country girl. She’s home, but wants to know if she can go to the home volleyball game to watch her friends.

Yet another hurdle to jump, and still have dinner together. 

Luckily, I planned a meal with ingredients easily prepared and set aside for later. Tacos, whether they’re turkey, chicken or beef, are a regular in our house. Miraculously, all six children like them and they’re generally a healthy choice. 

The clock strikes 6:00, and I call the three boys up to help their sister set the table for eight. If they can get the table set, my husband can pick up the football player, and we might get to sit down. We’ll take 15 minutes to devour our tacos and share the day’s stories. Hopefully we have enough milk to go around…

Having a large family has its challenges when it comes to eating dinner together, but when made a priority, it’s one of the best parts of my day. Stories, jokes and laughs are sure to be shared. Never mind the spilled milk or a fight over the last roll.

If I didn’t have this time of day with my family, I might not even hear a word about school from any of the boys, the socialites that they are. With three teenagers in the same high school now, you can imagine the light-hearted and fun comradare at our dinner table. 

But truth be told, these meals don’t just happen. With a large family and crazy schedules, we have to have a plan, and make sure we have all of the ingredients to pull it off. My husband and I both work all day, so running to the grocery store isn’t an option, especially when dinner needs to be on the table before the next drop-off. 

About a year ago, I had each child jot down five of their favorite meals we commonly have. Between all six kids I expected at least 15 different meals, but of course it wasn’t that easy. It turns out they all have similar tastes, so we narrowed it down to eight favorite meals. 

I use those as go-to meals, but try to add in new recipes I find on Pinterest throughout the week as well. On Sundays, we head to the grocery store and stand in line with every other person, it seems, and unload our overflowing cart with that weeks’ nightly meals.  After juggling everyone’s busy schedules, we agree on each night’s menu.

And the process repeats itself. How do you meal plan? Leave a comment below!

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor's note: American Family Insurance is partnering with Familyfoodie.com in support of bringing families back together at the dinner table. Join the movement with us, and capture your next family dinner by submitting your meal recipe for a chance to win one of six $100 William Sonoma gift cards, or the $500 grand prize.

Posted by Lisa Ott on Fri, Oct 18 2013 1:32 pmLisa Ott is a social media specialist and Pinterest community manager for American Family Insurance.

My favorite meals

What's your favorite meal-time memory?We all have favorite songs, books, movies, sports teams – you name it.But have you ever thought about your favorite meals of all time?

If I had to boil them down (pun intended), there are a few eating experiences that stand out.

One of them involved the first Thanksgiving my wife and I celebrated together, after we moved from Milwaukee, Wis. to Washington, D.C. to achieve our career dreams. In the beginning, we were cash-strapped. Dinner often consisted of rice mixed with peanut butter, and among the few furnishings in our simple apartment was a “couch” we fashioned out of an army blanket and bundled newspapers.

Clearly, traveling back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving was not in the budget.

Instead, we gathered for a holiday feast in D.C. with friends, acquaintances and co-workers. Like the original pilgrims, we all were far from “home,” and each of us contributed what little we had to the Thanksgiving table. The food was delicious, but the sharing of stories, laughter and togetherness was far more satisfying, proving that home truly is where the heart is.

Another favorite food experience involved a week of dinners prepared by our son and daughter when they were in middle school. Some meals were ambitious, while others – scrambled eggs, for example – were somewhat unconventional. But our kids took responsibility, created a plan of action and executed it. Since then, they’ve made some great dishes and treats. My son’s panko-crusted tilapia and my daughter’s smoothies are to die for.

And finally, there was the amazing backyard crab feast in Maryland that changed me forever. I’d never eaten soft-shell crabs before, and it was love at first bite. After two bushels, I forced myself to stop. I also experienced other “firsts,” like learning how to dance the “Electric Slide” to Marcia Griffiths’ irresistible “Electric Boogie” in the 95-degree heat. Whenever I hear that song, my mind is flooded with memories of friends, food and fun on that sweltering summer day.

The more I think about my favorite food experiences, the more I’m convinced that food itself isn’t the only thing that sustains us.

It’s the act of sharing and enjoying food with others that truly feeds our souls, and makes us feel connected, loved and alive.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: Celebrate your favorite meals by submitting your favorite recipe for our e-cookbook. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to bring these meals -- and memories -- together. Enter here by Oct. 19, 2013, for a chance to be featured in the cookbook. You will also be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards, including one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

Posted by Bill Shepard on Wed, Oct 16 2013 7:29 am

Play with your food! Bringing Fun Back to the Family Table

Play with your food!Elbows off the table, please. 

Must you chew so loudly?

For the last time - stop kicking your sister under the table!

Sound familiar? I may not have kids of my own yet, but judging by the outrageous amount of milk spilled at my dinner table growing up, I think you’ll agree that family mealtime is rarely a glamorous scene. In fact – it can be downright comedic. Do you have any funny memories from around the dinner table? (Mine is when an entire canister of parmesan cheese exploded on my Dad’s face – right after he had given me a stern lecture no less!)

When disaster strikes at the table or the kids’ manners leave you distraught, it’s easy to turn family mealtime into a battlefield. Because it’s one of the few times the whole family is together, the table can quickly become a hot spot for conflicts over manners, grades, chores, and the like.

While these discussions are important, experts agree that happier families strive to make mealtime as friendly as possible - and save the more serious matters for later.

Here are a few ideas to keep things fun at your family table.

  • Play restaurant: Transform your dining room into a five-star eatery. Light candles, turn up some jazz tunes, and have the kids design menus. Get the whole family giggling by throwing a dish towel over your arm and playing waiter – extra points for faking a French accent!
  • Combine dinner with game night: A little healthy competition over your family’s favorite board game makes for a memorable meal. Kids enjoy the departure from a traditional dinner, and by choosing non-fussy foods like paninis or quesadillas, you can focus on your winning strategy.
  • Have a celebration plate: Find a colorful plate and use it only on special occasions. Whether it’s a birthday, or a glowing report at parent/teacher conferences, the gesture is a simple way to make someone you love feel extra special during the meal.
  • Encourage storytelling: Just as important as it is to ask kids about their lives, hopes, and dreams, it’s equally essential for you to share your own. Talk about your family history, how you met your spouse, your dream job, or where you would love to travel someday. Stories like these spark entertaining conversations and help family members become comfortable sharing with one another.

How do you keep mealtime fun in your home? Share your comments below!

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.

Posted by Grace VanDeWeghe on Mon, Oct 14 2013 10:00 am

A Food Blogger’s Journey: Celebrating the Family Dinner Table with Hmong Cuisine

Annie Vang and her family.My family and I came to the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War. I am Hmong and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Four generations of my family lived in Laos, and before that my ancestors lived in China.

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom and dad prepared countless home-cooked meals that we shared around the table. Having experienced hunger during the war, they always reminded us it was a privilege to dine together. Many Hmong relied on the generosity of others to survive, and my parents never forgot this – emphasizing the importance of family and sharing meals with others.

As a Hmong American woman, I embrace my culture and celebrate with my family every chance I get. When we have family gatherings or special events, women come together to learn cooking techniques from the elders. Most of our family recipes are handed down by word of mouth, so the only way to learn how to make a dish is to watch someone else prepare it!

Two years ago, I realized I wanted to share my passion for Hmong cuisine with other families – not just my own. I started my own food blog, and began shooting cooking video tutorials that I posted on my Hmong Food YouTube channel.

To my amazement, I was welcomed with open arms by the online food community. To date, my videos have been viewed more than 2.3 million times, and I have more than 12,500 YouTube subscribers. My Facebook page has over 13,600 likes and is growing. I also authored and developed an iPhone app, called Yumaholic, featuring my personal collection of Southeast Asian recipes.

What I have learned on this journey has tremendously impacted my life in a positive way. I was a girl who came from poverty, overcame obstacles, and beat the odds.

Every day I am amazed by the powerful love and support from both friends and strangers who have written to tell me my recipes have rekindled family memories and reawakened their passion for home cooking. I am so happy I am able to help others prepare meals for their family to enjoy at the dinner table.

I am living my dream -- inspiring others -- one delicious video at a time.

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.

Posted by on Fri, Oct 11 2013 6:53 am

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.

Posted by Bill Shepard on Mon, Oct 07 2013 10:41 am
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