Please remember that the views on this podcast and website are not meant to be substituted for medical advice, shouldn’t be used to diagnose, treat or cure any conditions, and are intended for general information purposes only.
Stephanie chats with Brianne DeRosa from The Family Dinner Project about practical strategies for overcoming common barriers to family meals. They help you work through challenges with picky eaters, having a limited time and budget, different schedules, and wiggly toddlers. They also discuss considerations for military families and single parents, along with real life tips to navigate technology and screens at meals. You’ll walk away from this episode feeling heard and with simple tools to put into action right away.
Interested in trying Vital Farms new pasture-raised squeezable ghee? Look for Vital Farms ghee in a squeeze bottle exclusively at Whole Foods Market in Original and Himalayan Pink Salt and visit vitalfarms.com/ghee for a chance to win a year’s supply of Vital Farms ghee for FREE.
Brianne DeRosa 0:03
Young kids who eat with their families have larger vocabularies and better pre reading skills than their peers, even their peers who are read to. So we say, you know what, it’s great to read to your kids, you should totally read to your kids, and we all do. But you should also be having family dinners with them because the kind of conversation and storytelling that happens at the family dinner table actually builds their vocabularies and their sequencing skills more quickly and effectively than reading children’s literature with them.
Stephanie Greunke 0:38
Welcome back to theWhole Mama’s podcast. We’re here to give you tools, resources and evidence based information so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Whether you’re trying to conceive or navigating life with a toddler or a teenager, we’ve got you covered. I’m Stephanie Greunke, registered dietitian and program director for home moms club. I’m also the co-creator for Whole Mama’s pregnancy program where I teach moms how to navigate The endless decisions around pregnancy and my co-host is Dr. Elana Romell, pediatric naturopathic doctor and creator of Med School for Moms, an online resource where she teaches moms how to safely be a doctor mom. I think you’re gonna love this interview.
Today’s guest Brianne DeRosa from the Family Dinner Project has such a gracious but wise approach to bringing your family to the table even when there are a million barriers that are preventing you from enjoying meal time. We hit on considerations for military families, single parents, picky eaters, navigating technology and screens at meals and how to gently encourage deep conversations.
But before we begin, I’d like to thank our podcast partner Vital Farms. Vital Farms is one of my family’s go to brands for eggs. We’ve trusted their quality for years and every time we try a new brand of eggs that states it’s pasture raised, the yolk is not nearly as bright orange as the ones we get from vital farms. And now we get to enjoy their ghee that comes in a convenient squeeze bottle and is held to the same high quality standards. If you’re not sure what ghee is, it’s butter that’s cooked down to remove the water and milk solids. What’s left is a creamy lactose and casein free, versatile buttery spread that’s perfect for high heat cooking. It doesn’t burn or chemically alter at high heat so you won’t set the smoke alarms off or be forced to open your windows to clear the smoke in these cold winter months. Pasture raised ghee isn’t just delicious on veggies. Since it has a high smoke point, it’s great for various cooking needs. You can swap ghee for other cooking oils in your kitchen and enjoy the health promoting benefits that you don’t find in other fats like the fatty acids CLA and butyrate and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. By swapping healthy fats like pasture raised butter or ghee for other highly processed vegetable oils like soy and canola, you’ll help reduce inflammation throughout your body, which we now know also includes your mental health. If you’re looking to make changes in the new year, consider making this simple swap. You’re already using cooking oil, so why not make a better choice especially one this delicious and convenient. Interested in trying vital farms new pasture raised ghee? Look for vital farms ghee and a squeeze bottle exclusively at Whole Foods Market in original and Himalayan pink salt and visit vitalfarms.com/ghee for a chance to win a year supply of vital farms ghee for free. That’s vitalfarms.com/ghee.
All right now on to the show. Welcome to the show Brianne. I can’t wait to talk about the beautiful book, Eat, Laugh, Talk by the Family Dinner Project and discuss how to make family meal times fun, realistic and meaningful. I really enjoyed the book and think our community is going to love your relatable message and tips. But before we begin, we want to open up the episode with our nourish yourself segment. So we’re all curious how you approach self care. What are you doing today or what have you already done today to nourish yourself?
Brianne DeRosa 3:59
So today is a little bit different from other days. At this time of year, I’m getting ready for a big choral performance with our local Philharmonic. And my task for the day is to make sure that I’m really well hydrated. We at this time of year, we’re doing a lot of singing, it’s really dry. There’s a lot of stuff going around in the air. And so just the simple task of making sure that I’m drinking a lot of water and kind of slowing down and breathing throughout the day is my big self care to both stay focused and to make sure that I’m going to be ready to go for my performance this weekend.
Stephanie Greunke 4:36
Oh, I love it. Do you have any tips for how you remember to drink water? Do you have like a big cup or do you have a timer? Are you just remembering?
Brianne DeRosa 4:43
Yeah, I do have a big cup that I try to keep near me at all times. And I try to remember that anytime I stand up during the day that I need to make a trip past the refrigerator to refill that water glass. So in the course of my regular day, every time I stand, I check my water level and make sure to go refill.
Stephanie Greunke 5:06
I’m just thinking, you know, every time you stand up, you probably are having to stand up a lot more to go to the bathroom drinking more water too. So it’s kind of like this little circle that you have going on.
Brianne DeRosa 5:15
Yeah, it’s kind of a self fulfilling prophecy. But you know what, it works really well. And I think you know, it’s so silly but remembering to drink water and to stay hydrated is one of those things that’s really good for you and it helps so much with staving off colds and illnesses and just feeling your best and we all forget to do it. So it’s kind of nice to have an excuse to focus on that.
Stephanie Greunke 5:38
Yeah, and hopefully you can carry that with you into the new year. So for me, I recently had surgery and I fell out of my morning routine which is waking up around 515 and going to the gym before the kids wake up and I just I love doing that because then I get it done. I can check something off and I can Come home and I’m able to handle the morning chaos with breakfast routines, which we’ll talk about today on this episode with just a lot more resilience. And so I’m so glad to be finally getting back into that morning routine and having that sacred hour for myself. So that feels good.
Brianne DeRosa 6:17
Yeah, that’s amazing. I hope your recovery is going really well and that you’re going to be full strength soon.
Stephanie Greunke 6:23
Yeah, definitely. I feel like I’m already back to business. So, Brianne, you work for the family dinner project, which is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring families back to the table and give them realistic ways to connect through food fun and conversation about things that matter. And we’re definitely here for that over at Whole mamas. Can you tell us more about your organization, how you became connected with them and some things you’re really passionate about?
Brianne DeRosa 6:49
Sure. So the family dinner project, as you said, is a nonprofit initiative. We’ve been around for just a little over a decade now. And our team is really diverse in terms of our backgrounds and experience. We were started by Shelly London who is a retired corporate executive who did a course in philanthropic giving at Harvard in leadership. And she wanted to find a way to dedicate sort of her second act in life to doing good in the world. And she teamed up with Dr. Anne Fishel, who is a family therapist, and the two of them together started the family dinner project based on over 20 years of research that shows us that family dinners are really good for you. They’re good for your body. They’re good for your mind. They’re good for your spirit. They have so many benefits for everyone in the family. And so I became a part of the family dinner project just about five and a half, almost six years ago now. I had connected with them before that at a family dinner conference at NYU where I was a speaker. And we hit it off and wanted to work together and spend a couple of years kind of staying in touch and talking to each other about where the fit might be. And I came on to do content management and social media. And it’s been a fantastic, fantastic journey. I grew up with family dinners, I have kids of my own and family dinner has always been a huge thing in our household. So I’m passionate about making sure that people know that this is absolutely attainable for real regular families just like mine. And that it’s the kind of thing that can really add to your family and to your life without needing any kind of special training special equipment. It’s not it doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s just something you can do every day and make a habit of that makes a huge difference.
Stephanie Greunke 8:57
Well, that’s such a powerful story and I love that it comes from A personal passion of yours too, that the family meals being that really special time and being essentially free, right? The food is something that you have to pay for, but you’re going to pay for that anyways. But that activity of being together is something that, you know, we can we can all do. And I think at the end of the day, we can all get behind that idea that family meals are important. But we may not be aware that it’s actually grounded in science, like you were saying there are over 20 years of scientific research showing why these family mealtimes are so important. So our audience is really interested in the nitty gritty details. So can you share some of the key findings from the research? Like what exactly is it showing?
Brianne DeRosa 9:39
Yes, so the research is pretty definitive. And it’s really interesting because it encompasses a wide range of areas. Now, most parents are not surprised to find out that there are health benefits to family dinners, right? It’s pretty easy to figure out that if you’re sitting down to largely home cooked meal with your family every night or a few times a week that you’re probably eating healthier than people who aren’t eating together at home, right, you’re eating less salt, less trans fat, less sugar, kids are drinking less soda, all of those types of things, families can kind of wrap their brains around. But what is really surprising about the research is that it goes well beyond the nutritional aspects. So we find that kids who eat dinner with their families tend to have higher grades than their peers. Young kids who eat with their families have larger vocabularies and better pre reading skills than their peers, even their peers who are read to. So we say, you know what, it’s great to read to your kids, you should totally read to your kids and we all do, but you should also be having family dinners with them because the kind of conversation and storytelling that happens at the family dinner table actually builds their vocabularies and their sequencing skills more quickly and effectively than reading children’s literature with them. We also find that kids who eat with their families tend to have a better sense of connectedness to their families and to who they are and where they come from, which makes them more resilient. They tend to bounce back from bullying more quickly and effectively then kids who don’t have a family dinner routine, and as they age into adolescence, they tend to have lower rates of concerning things that parents are really worried about, like depression and anxiety, eating disorders, risk behaviors, like substance use, all of those things are reduced in kids whose families make it a priority to sit down together. And even for the parents, there are big benefits. We find that moms particularly who take time to eat with their families experience a reduction in stress. We find that parents who are starting out on a family dinner journey together with young kids actually tend to be more satisfied with their marriages, then parents of young children who don’t have a family dinner routine at home, so it really encompasses a whole wide range of benefits. And there are even more on our website that I didn’t even outline here. So it’s really important.
Stephanie Greunke 12:24
That is fascinating. And I’ll definitely link to that article because I know some people want to dig in a little bit more and maybe even look at that research. But that’s, that’s so cool. Everything that you shared, and I really I want to back up and define what you mean when you say family dinner because I know there may be some people that are listening that are single parents or maybe they’re a military spouse and their partner is deployed or maybe they’re working different schedules, one parent working night shift, or kids appetites are all over the place. So there’s a variety of factors that can happen when it comes to congregating for a meal. So how do you define a family dinner?
Brianne DeRosa 13:02
I’m so glad you brought this up because this is one of the key points that I think is so important for people to grasp. We call it family dinner. But it first of all doesn’t have to even be dinner. And it doesn’t have to be the whole nuclear family and the way that people tend to think of it, you know, we say family dinner, and people get this kind of Norman Rockwell or June cleaver thing going on in their heads, and that’s not necessarily what we’re talking about. So any opportunity that you have to share food, fun and conversation with someone who means a lot to you, that can be a family dinner. It can be one parent and a child. It can be two parents together. It can be a child with an extended family member. It can be friends who feel like family and are gathering. College students having dinner together at the dorm can make a family dinner out of that experience. It really just encompasses a wide range. And, you know, we’ve worked with thousands of families over the years. And some of them are having these kind of framily dinners where they’re coming together with friends regularly. And that’s really powerful, or military families are a group that is near and dear to our hearts. We have learned so much from military families over the years, and families where one parent might be deployed, really do have significant challenges sometimes in getting together for a family dinner. But it’s still a family dinner, even if one chair is empty. And there are lots of ways to go about making sure that everybody still feels connected and involved and we go into some of that in the book.
Stephanie Greunke 14:54
Yeah, and I love how your approach is really, it’s approachable and it’s inclusive, and just like you said, there’s no one way to do it. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It really doesn’t even matter what is on that plate, it’s about that connection that you’re having with another person while having and sharing that meal. So I think that’s so beautiful. But you know, along with this question about what constitutes a family dinner, I think a lot of people also hear this topic or this concept, and they’re like, well that sounds great, but how do you even make that work in a world where parents are working full time outside of the house and kids have different after school activities and dinner times or meal times in general can feel chaotic? You know, what are some of those barriers or struggles that you hear from families when it comes to mealtime, and what are some of the top ways that you help them overcome those barriers?
Brianne DeRosa 15:49
Yeah, wow. Such a loaded topic. You know, we always say to people that the research shows why family dinner is important and the family dinner project exists to help people with that question of okay, but how? How do you make family dinner happen? And the cool thing about the book is that we’ve organized it around the top challenges that are most common to all the families that we’ve met and talked with over the years. And they really boil down into just a few key areas, right? One is, they’re too picky. Another is, we’re too busy. Also, it’s too much work. We’re too distracted. We’re too tense, right? We get to the table and then there’s just conflict or tension. It doesn’t feel fun and comfortable. And even there’s too big a crowd. So sometimes, especially like at the holidays, people feel like a family dinner has to include a lot of people. And it just becomes overwhelming to figure out where do you even begin with all of that. So those are the main challenges that we’re breaking down in the book and trying to help people overcome. We have in this book, 52 weeks of family stories, recipes, games, tips, ideas, all sourced from real people that are going to help you overcome these things. And I can give you a few examples of stories from the book that kind of fall into these categories if we have time.
Stephanie Greunke 17:24
Yeah, no, I would love to.
Brianne DeRosa 17:25
Great. So you know, first of all, is kind of that idea of picky eating, right? That’s number one top line. We hear this from so many people like why am I even going to bother with family dinner? If everybody just wants me to make something different and nobody’s going to eat what I serve anyway. Right? It’s so demoralizing. And we have a bunch of different families and stories and ideas in this, ‘they’re too picky’ section of the book that are going to help you overcome that. But one of the things that is really effective that we found right across the board is to try concept of build your own dinner. So rather than be a short order cook and say, Okay, I’m going to make the six different things because that’s all anybody is going to eat, try to plan meals that can be set out and component parts and let everybody make their own plate from the options that you’ve provided, but you’re only making one meal. So for example, things like make your own salad bar, or taco bars or build your own English muffin pizzas, things like that, that everybody can kind of get hands on and put together at the table, it really takes the pressure off. And you’re not going to be battling with your picky eaters over every bite. And you don’t have to spend all that extra time in the kitchen trying to figure out different meals for different palates. But this way, you can accommodate everyone’s dietary preferences or even you know what, even dietary needs and allergies and different kind of special considerations while serving one main meal. So that’s one thing that we kind of recommend right off the top.
Stephanie Greunke 19:00
I love that approach we actually I saw that in your book that you had a build your own yogurt sundae bar. And that is something that I’m going to make next week when our in laws come to town. So they have two daughters that eat a lot of dairy and my boys don’t eat dairy. And so what I’m going to do is I’m going to take a big container of Greek yogurt, cow’s milk, Greek yogurt for the girls and then almond milk yogurt for my boys and then set out some fresh berries and some nuts. And what else should I put out there like sliced bananas and let them build their own sundae and it’s like such an awesome experience and everybody gets to enjoy even though there may be allergies involved.
Brianne DeRosa 19:42
Absolutely. And that’s the whole kind of approach that we take throughout this book is that everything that we’re suggesting is hopefully in some way easy and customizable and doable no matter who your family is. And by the way, that make your own yogurt Sunday thing we actually have even done that sometimes for a quick family breakfast. Yeah, in my house where you can, you know, you can make it a banana split, split the banana right down the middle, fill it with the yogurt of your choice, and then some nuts and stuff on top. And it’s a great way to kind of have fun together in the morning and get everybody out the door kind of on the right foot. Right. So that’s a great one for families to try. And I’m so excited that you’re going to be able to do it in a way that works for you.
Stephanie Greunke 20:26
Yeah, yeah, let’s go through the other ones because I want to make sure we help families break down the barriers so they can make this a realistic thing for their homes.
Brianne DeRosa 20:34
Absolutely. So you know, the second part of the book is about being too busy. This scheduling crunch, right? And there are so many great stories in here and different ideas. One of the first things is and we’ve talked a little bit about it already, but is the idea of it doesn’t always have to be dinner, right? If family breakfast works better for you. That’s perfectly fine. If Sunday brunch is the one time time of the week where you can get together and sit down and share a meal. That’s great. Make it a good one and make it every Sunday. Right? Whatever that is. There are even some families that we know who have older, you know, older teens, maybe and people aren’t getting home until super late in the evening sometimes, and they’re making time for something like a family snack. So sharing maybe a cup of hot cocoa and some fruit or some vegetables together, and just decompressing and talking about the day and that can also work. We also we profile in the book, one family who we love, they have five boys ranging in age from eight to 24. And there’s just no way that logistically speaking this whole family can always sit down at the same time, right? Yeah, I mean, can you even imagine the schedules? It’s, it’s mind blowing. So they have a rule, no one eats alone, and they make sure that no matter when someone is home, and ready to have their meal. There’s another person there who can either eat with them, or at least sit at the table and provide the fun and the conversation atmosphere. So that there’s always that point of connection, right? And they have a bunch of other really smart tips that are outlined in their story in the book for how they kind of manage the entire thing of dinner with all those people and all those appetites, but that no one eats alone rule is really the important one. You can make a family dinner by creating these small groups within a larger family and it can still be really effective. Right. We also in the book we talked about, you know how to deal with it being too much work. And one of the things that is really, really interesting to us is that we talked to a lot of families who have created kind of dinner villages, right. So whether they’re military families, or just moms in the neighborhood, dads in the neighborhood, or we profiled one family in the book who the mom was actually terminally ill and the adult children all moved home to help out. And they created their own dinner village together where they suddenly found themselves sharing the responsibility. And different people would cook for everyone on different nights. And it would make it possible for everybody to have a family dinner without having to cook every single night and deal with that workload. And that we found is a tip that has carried across so many different types of communities. We talked to military families, and they’re like, yeah, we have a meal swap thing going on. You know, I cook once I share the portions with all the other families, and then I get back from them. And we all eat for like five days, but we only had to cook one time. It’s great. So it’s also about being creative and kind of leaning on help where you can get it and I think that that’s one of the things that our modern family life has to take on that maybe, you know, other generations didn’t do as often we might not have a memory of our moms or our grandparents taking that kind of help from neighbors. But in this day and age, it’s becoming more and more popular. And I think it really works.
Stephanie Greunke 24:16
I love that idea. And I think it just takes one person right it takes one person in the neighborhood, it takes one military family to suggest maybe let’s do this and then everybody wants to get on board right, everybody is looking for help for mealtimes and so you listening could be that person that changes dinner time for your entire neighborhood or your entire community. I’ve heard this happen to at like a CrossFit gym that was near my house, they would everybody would sign up and they would make a different dinner and it was like 12 different people and so they just made extra servings and then swapped so that the families could have a different meal but they didn’t have to make a different recipes throughout the week.
Brianne DeRosa 24:58
Yeah, it’s such a real Really cool idea and really effective. And we we also talked to a family that we featured on our website, who they’re actually a group of families, they get together every Tuesday night at a different home. And whoever is hosting that week makes the dinner for everybody. But they get the opportunity to sit together, laugh, their kids get to play, they get to kind of like take some of the stress of the week off. And there are so many of them that you could go like a whole month of Tuesday’s without ever having to cook on a Tuesday night, but you always have a family dinner and I thought that was so much fun. And you know if you can find some ways to do that even you know freezer soup swaps, things like that. It’s the kind of thing that I think can really be helpful and we encourage families to try to find creative out of the box solutions like that so that the workload doesn’t always fall on one person. Right?
Stephanie Greunke 25:55
Yeah. And I think then I mean, having that meal finished and enjoying that finished meal together. is really fun. But some mamas I know in our whole Mama’s community have actually done the meal prep together. So they’ll get together and they’ll chop ingredients for a meal that they would just throw into their crock pot, or they would throw into their instant pot. So they would do that prepping part of that meal planning together and have conversations around that. So there’s no right or wrong way to do this. It’s just whatever you feel like it’s going to work best for your family.
Brianne DeRosa 26:24
Absolutely. It’s, you know, be creative that and you know what, it’s just like family dinner itself. There is no one right way to have a family dinner. You have to do what works and feels doable and feels rewarding for your family.
Stephanie Greunke 26:40
Yeah. So what are some of the other struggles? And do you have any more that you wanted to share?
Brianne DeRosa 26:44
Yeah, so you know, distraction is a big thing these days. And we hear more and more about this, especially with the advent of greater technology in our lives right. Now distraction can take a lot of forums and it’s not always digital. Sometimes. It’s that we hear from parents that you know, okay, fine. I got everybody together for family dinner. And I, you know, I came home from work and I cooked and I, you know, corralled everybody and we sat down, but I’m too distracted to enjoy it because all I can think of is okay, now we have to hurry up and eat, because then I have to clean up the kitchen. And I have to answer those work emails. And I have to drive this one here and do this and the laundry. And there’s like, all this kind of noise that happens. That makes it hard for families to actually have the connection when they do sit down. And so there are a couple of things that, you know, we would say to families, one of them is that you do have to ditch digital distractions in whatever way you can. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go device free, but it does mean that if you’re going to allow phones or tablets or TV at the table, we want you to be intentional about doing that right parents are actually some of the worst offenders we’ve found with the digital stuff. They find it hard to tear themselves away from maybe the work email. So they’re constantly checking the phone. And it can be really detrimental to the dinner experience, you’re not going to get that kind of bonding and connectivity if you are doing that. So we recommend, okay, have some parameters. If you’re not going to ditch the phones, then you need to say, okay, we’re going to use them only to connect with people who are at the table. We’re going to use them to, for example, look up the answers to questions that we don’t know the answer to. We’re going to use them to settle that argument about you know, who won the World Series in 1942. We’re going to You’re right, because that that kind of stuff always comes up and you’re like, Oh, I wish I had my phone right? So you can use your phone for that. You can use your phone to maybe share a photo or an image that is interesting to you and that tells helps you tell a story about your day. Right, you can use these devices in a way that builds your connection to the people at the table. But once you’ve done that, put them face down and try to focus on what’s going on around you. The other thing is, it’s okay to get a little unconventional, a little creative. we profiled one family in those in the book who was having kind of a hard time getting everybody focused at the table. And they started bringing a book to dinner and having everybody read together at the dinner table, reading aloud, taking turns sharing about the story and getting really into it. And they actually found that to be really effective for bringing them together around a shared purpose, and finding a way to have fun together. And then when the family needed to undertake a really intense move to a new country. They were able to use that habit to introduce books about the country they were moving to and learn and talk about their new culture and what to expect before they even got there, which was so helpful for every member of the family, and really helped them make family dinner time, a time to work through those concerns and those fears without it being heavy or, intimidating, right. So there are lots of ways you can connect at the table. And we have tons of conversation starters, and games in the book to help you do that. And just to be able to lighten up, get silly, have a good time and not always feel like you know, we’re under pressure to make memories here, I think is is one of the top line things that I want families to know.
Stephanie Greunke 30:39
Yeah, and I love those conversational games that you had in the book you give ideas throughout the 52 weeks. And I think this is great because sometimes if you are used to using screentime during meals and then you try to take it away, you’re kind of like, what now and your kids are getting wiggly and you’re kind of trying to just ask them about their day but they don’t want to talk about their day, but having these games makes it more fun and playful and just kind of eases that change. Hey, Mama, Stephanie here Are you overwhelmed with all the information out there regarding pregnancy and prenatal health? We get it so I want to take a minute to share about our whole mamas pregnancy program. Our program includes over 20 videos discussing topics from nutrition to exercise, mental health, sleep, conversations to have with your partner as you approach birth and so much more. Each video has suggested reading, action steps and handouts to help you dive deeper into the topic and apply what you’ve learned. Our weekly pregnancy emails guide you through the program each week of your pregnancy. They’re the only weekly service that focuses on the nutrients that you and your growing baby need, and provide simple recipes using that unique nutrient. You also get a short checklist of things to do each week to help you prepare for a baby and take care of yourself. We want to help you spend more time enjoying your pregnancy and less time searching for answers. Want answers and support to your burning pregnancy related questions immediately from the comfort of your own home? Then you’ll love our safe, non judgmental community within the pregnancy program. It’s my favorite corner of the internet and many of our members agree.o find out more visit wholemamasclub.com and click on join programs. Can you share maybe one or two games that you offer in the book that you think are a lot of fun?
Brianne DeRosa 32:16
Yeah, there are so many good ones. And by the way, I want to make sure that your listeners know that all of the conversation starters and games in the book have age suggestions. So there’s something for every age, we say, from age two to 100, or one to 100. You can really find something for everybody. But also it’s important because this way, you can kind of check the index and look for the right age appropriate things that you might try with your family. Some of the really fun ones my kids happen to love a couple of the games in the book, they love two minute interview, which is where you set a timer for two minutes, and you ask each other rapid fire or questions, so silly things: sneakers or sandals, coffee or tea, ice cream or cookies, the beach or the mountains, and you just try to kind of get a flow going and try to keep track of how many answers you can give in under two minutes. It’s super fun. Kids love to answer the questions and ask the questions. And it’s a great way to just get those little details. I know as my kids get older, sometimes their preferences change, and I might not have a chance to find out. It’s like, Oh, I thought Carmel was your favorite flavor? No, this week, it’s chocolate. Okay, well, how do I know I didn’t know. So it’s kind of a fun way to just stay in touch and get those little details from them about what their preferences are. What do they like what’s interesting to them. Another one that they really like, is I think in the book, we have it as celebrity but there are a lot of different ways to play it, where you basically you choose a category like celebrities or countries of the world and one person starts to With naming a country of the world that starts with A right, or a celebrity whose name starts with A, but then the next person has to name something that falls into that category that starts with the last letter of the answer the first person gave. So it makes it really tricky because you’re not just going ABCD you have to really think, and my kids find that one really fun. For younger kids, there are some silly games in the book. There are, you know, basic alphabet games that can be great for literacy skills. There’s a really funny one called cat and cow where you say cat or cow and they have to meow or move and as you go faster and faster, it actually gets really tricky and it becomes like a tongue twister and then everybody ends up laughing because you say cat and somebody moos and it’s like really silly for little kids, but they love challenging themselves. And then for teenagers, you know, there are a ton of different things you can do that don’t feel so much like games. But you know, go Mom, why are we playing a game at the table? I’m too cool for that. Well, you can try some really interesting things you can try doing a little bit of trivia, you can try doing we have a game called fictionary, where you throw out a really hard vocabulary word and they try to come up with a definition and you vote for the best answer. There are different things you can do like an Iron Chef challenge with older kids, where you give them in some ingredients, and they have to try to come up with an edible dish based on those ingredients. So there are lots of ways to have fun at the table. And it just depends on you know, your mood and the people around you. But you know, we’ve got over 50 games in this book, and I’m pretty sure there’s one for everybody.
Stephanie Greunke 35:45
Yeah, and as you mentioned, their age appropriate. So you’ve got those sillier ones for the younger kids. And then you actually also have some deeper, conversational topics like asking questions, like, Are there certain foods that bring up memories for you or If you could plan a special family meal, what would it look like? That is let’s like really gets into their brain and helps you see what’s important to them or what they’re really excited about, or brings ideas for you to bring to the dinner table.
Brianne DeRosa 36:16
Yeah, one of the things that we really try to encourage people to think about is how to have those more open ended conversations. Yeah, you know, we we all have that. How was your day? What did you do nothing, right. And it kills the conversation. So instead of asking, how was your day, you might say, if you had to write a newspaper article about your day, what would the headline be? Right? And it just turns the question on its head and makes them think a little bit and you get so much more information. I know I this fall, I asked both of my boys at one point or another. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about school or about our home life right now, what would it be? Oh, that’s a good one. Right? It’s a really good one. And it, it sort of gave them the permission to talk about things that maybe weren’t going that well. But when you put the frame of waving the magic wand on it, suddenly it doesn’t feel like mom’s prying. It feels like this special magical conversation, right? It’s like, oh, we’re just hypothetical here so I can feel safe and answering. And sometimes that’s what kids need, especially as they get older, actually, this they need that kind of distancing. So you know, asking a teenager what they think about the relationship thing that happened on that show that you know they watch is probably going to get you a lot more insight into where they are with their own relationships than asking them directly about that thing that you think might have happened at school.
Stephanie Greunke 37:52
This is so good. I’ve got a five year old and a three year old so I’m taking note for later on.
Brianne DeRosa 37:58
It works with five year olds to Yeah,
Stephanie Greunke 38:01
yeah, there actually is some drama, even at five that you wouldn’t think about. So good. Thank you for sharing all those activities that we can try right now as we’re waiting to get the book. So one question that I wanted to ask you, my husband and I had a disagreement about this a couple nights ago, and I was like, I’m gonna ask Brianne, but so hopefully you’ll be on my side, no.
Unknown Speaker 38:25
Stephanie Greunke 38:26
know, what is a realistic amount of time for a toddler like a, let’s say, three to five year old because as the age of my kids to sit at the dinner table?
Unknown Speaker 38:38
Yeah, yeah. Because it’s hard,
Brianne DeRosa 38:41
right? Yeah. Okay, so I don’t I don’t want to give like a number of minutes because I feel like the thing about toddlers and really kids in general is they’re all so different from each other. Right? I, even my two kids. My oldest was the kind of kid who would happily sit and color and Daydream and just not make any noise, you know, go with the flow kind of a kid. And my younger kid was the one who needed to be taken outside of the restaurant every three seconds, right? I mean, just totally different personalities. And by the way, I feel the need to tell listeners with younger kids, my boys are now 13 and 10. And they both sit beautifully in any setting for long periods of time and behave very nicely. So don’t worry, even the challenging ones grow up just fine.
Stephanie Greunke 39:32
Okay, thank you.
Brianne DeRosa 39:34
You’re welcome. I always feel the need to provide hope. But no, you know, I think the thing with toddlers and little kids is this expecting some sort of behavior without scaffolding and support for that behavior is really just not productive, right? And this type of you know, how long should they sit for can really introduce tension into the family dinner and make it less fun for everybody. So what you want to think about instead of like, how long should they sit, is how can we make sure that they’re still they’re eating and interacting with the family, right. So some things that work for some families, and what works for one might not work for another. But with the little ones, you might if you have a child who’s motivated to like beat the clock, you might say, let’s see if we can sit and and be with the family for one minute for every year of age, right. So there, your three year old only needs to sit still for three minutes, but then can get up and take a little body break. And what you want to do is try to keep them close to the table when they take their break. Let them get their wiggles out. Okay, have a wiggle break, you can stand up, you can stretch, you can show me how you can hop on one foot, you can show me how you can crawl on the floor. Give them a little bit of a structured way to get that energy out near the table and then invite them to come back. For another, Hey, can we do another? How many? How many years old are you? How many minutes can use it? That’s awesome, great job. That’s one way to go about it. Another way to do this is to let kids who have a really hard time sitting at the table, if you’re at home in your own environment, let them stand, put their dish on the table, have a spot, you can mark it with an X or something on the floor, but let them stand. So they feel like they have the permission to wiggle a little bit. But they need to stay within their defined spot, you know, what’s their zone, and they can eat and talk to you while they’re getting their wiggles out, that often can be more productive than trying to corral them to sit. I think parents get very concerned about table manners. And we get concerned about these things very young. Now obviously what you would expect for behavior in like say a restaurant would be different from what you expect at home, but At home, you can have a little bit more freedom to let them do what they need to do to have fun and connect with you while they’re still eating being a part of the family dinner experience but letting go of some of the stuff that they’re just not ready to do yeah.
Stephanie Greunke 42:16
I love that that was such a practical answer and just I can tell you really get the struggles that families face and you know, you had your own experience as well. I think where I was seeing it is I believe what you’re believing I’m definitely on the same page with that. I think where it was where we are getting frustrated and I’m sure other families can relate to is like, Well, what do you do if if all of a sudden you have these expectations that they should be sitting at the table but they’re not? does it lead to a threatening while then no dinner for you? Or Well, no dessert or Well, I’m going to take away a privilege later and that type of thing which makes family mealtime less fun and less enjoyable and a constant battle ground. And so we were trying to figure out well, you know, how do we encourage this time where we’re all at the table together, but not push it so hard, where we make dinner time a battle ground. And I think your two examples of things that you can do really help give us that grace to understand that this is normal toddler behavior, and we can still do something about it.
Brianne DeRosa 43:22
Absolutely. And one thing that I really do want to make sure to say is that, you know, I would always discourage families from using food or meal times in any type of punishment scenario, right? Yeah. That’d be like, okay, no dessert. But you don’t want to tie behavior to food, if you can help it at all right? The dessert should be offered if there’s dessert to be offered. And it’s not because you’re a good boy or a bad boy or you’re a good girl or a bad girl, you behave well or you didn’t behave well. It’s if there’s dessert, everybody can have dessert, right? It’s one of the things that I think is really hard for parents to navigate. But having that healthy relationship to food and boundaries around a healthy relationship to food starts with removing the emotional content from that food relationship and not making family dinner a battleground. We don’t want to comment on what they’re eating or how much. We don’t want to, you know, make a punishment tied to the way they behave at the table or the you know, not let them eat something preferred because of their behavior. We want to always try to keep that relationship with eating neutral and non judgmental, and everything else will fall into place.
Stephanie Greunke 44:42
I couldn’t agree more. I just I was listing some things that I know I hear and I personally have done before I realized that maybe that wasn’t the best strategy for us. So thank you for reiterating that and I really enjoyed this conversation and I really enjoyed your book and I know people that are listening will also be very interested in finding out more about this. So where can we find the book and learn more about the family dinner project?
Brianne DeRosa 45:10
So you can find out more about the family dinner project and about the book at our website, thefamilydinnerproject.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. We’re certainly shouting out the book there as well. And you can find the book basically at this point, online booksellers all of the top ones have it, you can ask for it wherever books are sold physically, a lot of independent booksellers have it we know Barnes and Noble has stocked it. You know, obviously all the all the big players, Amazon and Barnes and Noble and indie bound and all of these online retailers are carrying it as well. So definitely check it out.
Stephanie Greunke 45:52
Awesome. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Brianne DeRosa 45:54
Right. Thank you so much for having me. It was a lot of fun.
Stephanie Greunke 45:58
We hope you enjoyed today’s Episode and Ilana and I cannot thank you enough for your support and for listening to this podcast and we’d like to ask you a quick favor. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, we love your help sharing the podcast with your community. The two best ways to do that are taking a screenshot of this episode and sharing it on social media tagging us @wholemamasclub, or leaving us a quick review on iTunes. This won’t take you more than a few minutes and we read and appreciate every single share and review. It fires us up to create more episodes and resources to support you on your journey. Thank you so much in advance. And please remember that the views and ideas presented on this podcast are for informational purposes only. All information presented on the podcast is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis and or medical treatment of a qualified healthcare provider. Consult your provider before starting any diet supplement regimen or to determine the appropriateness of the information shared on this podcast or if you have any questions regarding your treatment plan. Now go on Have a great day and nourish and nurture yourself and your family.
- What the research says about the importance of family meals
- What defines a family meal. (Hint: it’s not what you think!
- Practical ways to overcome the most common barriers to family meals
- How to make mealtime feel less intimidating
- Fun dinnertime activities you can do with your kids, at all ages
- Ways to thoughtfully use technology at the dinner table and ways to reduce screentime
- Purchase the book, Eat, Laugh, Talk
- Research on Family Meals
- Find The Family Dinner Project on Instagram
- The Family Dinner Project’s website
- Learn more about Whole Mamas Pregnancy Program
- Get Our Weekly Pregnancy Emails
- Dr. Elana’s Med School For Moms
- Schedule an appointment with Dr. Elana
- Follow Steph and Elana on Instagram
- Whole Mamas Podcast Archive
This episode's guest
Brianne DeRosa, MFA, is the Content Manager for The Family Dinner Project and co-author of Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook. As a freelance writer and consultant to nonprofit organizations, she has spent over a decade working in communications, program development and creative initiatives. Bri runs her own food blog, Red, Round or Green and has contributed to the Cooking with Trader Joe’s: Easy Lunchboxes cookbook as well as the Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. She has also written for numerous outlets including Motherwell Magazine, Yahoo! Parenting, HandPicked Nation, KidsNation Magazine, Real Mom Nutrition and The Lunch Tray. Bri has the opportunity to practice her family dinner skills every day with her husband and two young sons.
About The Family Dinner Project:
The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit initiative started in 2010, champions family dinner as an opportunity for family members to connect with each other through food, fun and conversation about things that matter. More than 20 years of scientific research shows “why” family mealtimes are so important. The Family Dinner Project provides the “how” for today’s busy families.
Our team members have come from varied personal and professional backgrounds. We are parents and non-parents, and our ages range from “young professional” to “Medicare-eligible.” Our collective professional experience includes education, family therapy, research, food, social work, marketing and communication. With nonprofit partners and local champions, The Family Dinner Project team works online and at community events to help families increase the frequency, meaning and long-term benefits of their shared meals. We are based in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychiatry Academy.