Back to the Table

#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

Posted by Isabel Laessig on Fri, Oct 04 2013 11:32 am

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.

Posted by Debra Hermsmeier on Tue, Sep 24 2013 2:34 pmDebra Hermsmeier is a social media specialist with American Family Insurance

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. 

Posted by Kate Collier on Mon, Sep 16 2013 6:33 pmKate Collier is a performance learning specialist with American Family Insurance.

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.

Posted by on Fri, Sep 13 2013 6:40 am

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.

Posted by Tom Buchheim on Wed, Sep 11 2013 10:55 am
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