Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking is Better Together!

My good friend and fellow writer, Laura Gomez, is a guest poster today on my blog. I really enjoyed tossing writing ideas back and forth with her when our children were in the same class in elementary, and again recently. I hope we hear more from her again soon!

The Christmas tree lights were on, the sound of carols drifted through the house, and I was so happy just to be at home and spending time with my boys for the holidays.  Life really doesn’t get much better than that!  

 I was in the kitchen starting on our dinner to be eaten Christmas Eve, Colombian style. The boys - my husband, Mauricio, and two sons, Eric and David - were hanging out in the living room. I love cooking, especially on the holidays, so I was enjoying my work in the kitchen, but I realized I also longed to spend the time WITH my boys.

So, I went and told them I was lonely, and asked them whether they might help me make the dinner. It sounds easy, but those types of requests never seem to come out of my mouth right, and I was afraid I would ruin the holiday atmosphere.

They came, perhaps somewhat begrudgingly, to the kitchen to help, but as we continued preparing the meal together they began to enjoy themselves.

That was years ago. Now it has become a tradition. They all help with our big holiday meals. And since they like to eat the same food each holiday--they love their traditions--they have traditional jobs now with meals.

Mauricio and Eric are in charge of "french cutting" the green beans. We can't buy them frozen in a bag here in Colombia, so my guys lovingly slice a huge pile of green beans the old fashioned way! I always tell them they don't have to slice the whole pile if they don't want to, only as much as they want to eat, but they love our holiday French cut green beans with slivered almonds toasted in butter so they insist on taking the time and effort to slice them all!

Some years I can’t find slivered almonds either, so we sliver them ourselves!
David is in charge of inventing a centerpiece, and keeping the Christmas carols going.  Mauricio is the master turkey carver. 
There is another job they actually fight over! They take turns putting the hot potatoes through the potato ricer. It’s a bit more manly of a job, since it takes some strength to squeeze the potatoes through the ricer, especially since they always fill the basket full. It brings back memories of playdough to see potato come oozing out the holes and into a bowl where butter and milk are waiting to make them into scrumptious mashed potatoes.
Cooking together has made the holidays more fun for me.  And I think it has also increased the rest of the family’s enjoyment of the day.

I believe that children should help out around the house, including duties involved with the meals.  But this story isn’t about children helping around the house.

I also believe that boys should learn to cook, and mine will often get in the kitchen and bake brownies or even cook a meal for the family. But this story isn't about teaching boys to cook.

This story is really about how I learned how much fun it is to prepare the meal together on the holidays. Sharon is always reminding us how valuable mealtimes are for the family. And on the holidays, when the meal and its foods are a big event, and everyone is at home, cooking together can also be a great time for interacting as a family, involving everyone, girls and boys, cooks and non-cooks. Then when everyone sits down to eat, not only does the food taste delicious, but we have the satisfaction of having made such a wonderful feast together.

Laura and her family live in Bogota, Colombia, where they work with the Navigators.  Her biggest thrill comes from interacting over God’s Word with other women.  The meals at her table are typically a true mish-mash of California Cuisine and Colombian fare, with a scattering of international dishes just to keep everyone on their toes! Her latest moderately successful experiment was with homemade potstickers or gyoza.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

15+ Quick Tips to Have More Family Meals

Don't have time to linger at the table?
Don't have the schedules that allow you sit together at a meal?
Don't have the energy to cook?

I don't have all the solutions here, but here are 15+ quick tips to designed to get your family all together at meals more often.

* Resolve to eat together. Decide with your spouse that this is something you want to do and are willing to work to make it happen.

* Talk it up with the kids. Reminisce about family meals when you were growing up. Watch some old Waltons, Brady Bunch, or even Leave it to Beaver shows where they have fun eating together. 

* Don't over-schedule. No one has to be in every activity that comes along. "No" is a word. A very important word.

* Ask your kids what kind of food they like when it's made at home. Get a list of ideas. Hopefully some will be quick and easy.

* Lists, lists, lists. Make a menu list. Make a grocery store list. Then take the time, make the time, to actually browse in the grocery store and buy everything you need. (Remind yourself how much money you will be saving over restaurants, carry-out, and even fast food!)

* Cook for two, meals that is. If you are making meatloaf, lasagna, soup, stew, or so much more, make enough for two meals. It's not that much more work and you can freeze one for a night next week when you are busy or tired.

* Find shortcuts. When I lived overseas everything had to be "from scratch." Now that I live in the states I find things like jars of minced garlic to be one of the best inventions around! When bagged salads are on sale, I go ahead and use them--especially coleslaw that takes so long to chop. 

* Don't let others look down on your unorganic sugar coated meals. Those voices are probably just in your head. But even if it's not, repeat after me: grilled cheese on white bread, canned tomato soup, and Oreos® at home are better than burgers and fries in the car. Any day.

* Enlist help. In the kitchen put on the kids favorite music and put them all to work while they dance and sing. Preschoolers can do way more than you think, but if you are skeptical, let them wash the lettuce. Older kids can cut, chop, combine, and even stir-fry. Most anyone can help set the table.

* House rules: you eat what I serve. I have one daughter who is a vegetarian so she didn't have to eat the meat, but she ate the veggies and other things I made. No one (unless they are sick) gets a special separate meal.

* Save labor-intensive meals like a roast, curried anything, and enchiladas, for weekends when you might have more time.

Quick Kid-Friendly Meals
* Macaroni and Cheese with chopped turkey hot dogs in it. Serve with microwave-steamed green peas.

* "Gourmet" frozen pizza. Take a hint from the fancy pizza restaurants and add some sautéed spinach and/or red, green, yellow, or orange peppers. That way you don't even need a side of salad to get some veggies inside your family. 

* While you are baking chicken nuggets or fish sticks cut up some red pepper strips, add some grape tomatoes and baby carrots. Give everyone their own little bowl of their favorite low fat dressing and let them have "hors d'oeuvres" while they wait.

* Hot dogs and baked beans. Maybe it's not the healthiest food they've ever eaten, but if it's only once in a while and if it's instead of a bacon cheese burger, it's fine!

* Pancakes! I love breakfast for supper. Serve it with berries and bananas and orange juice to pack in the vitamins!

Now just do it!

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

5 Sure-fire Ways to Teach Thankfulness

I just read in Reader's Digest that grateful people make better decisions!  (RD, November 2014, p. 58)

Who knew?!

We teach our children to be thankful for a variety of reasons:

  • To be nice people to be around
  • To not listen to grumbling all the time
  • So they can make friends easily
  • So they will appreciate us and all we do for them
  • Because thankful people are happier people
  • And did I say, so we don't have to hear them constantly complain about, well, everything?
So maybe there are other reasons, too: Grateful people are less likely to be depressed, more likely to have a good marriage, will have better self-esteem and improved health, have more friends and be less self-centered. 

But the best reason to be grateful is:

Always giving thanks
for all things
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
to God, even the Father.
Ephesians 5:20

Being grateful is a command of God. Even if there were no other benefits, I should be thankful to be obedient to God. But of course it does profit us to give thanks, that's why God commanded it. He is looking out for our good!

Here are five ways to instill thankfulness in our children:
  1. Good manners and gratefulness fit together like puzzle pieces. If I had a penny for every time I reminded my children to say, "Thank you." I would have a lot of very heavy jars serving as door stops around my house! While it may seem like the "thank you" is perfunctory, this is the start to teaching children to recognize kindness and generosity in others.
  2. Be an example. We know that as parents our kids are watching us. What is our attitude? I'm an introvert and so I am often just focusing on not making a stupid mistake when I'm out in public, but lately I have been pushing myself to notice when people do something for me--even those who are "supposed to" like servers in restaurants--and looking at them to say, "Thank you." Which leads to the next point...
  3. Look beyond the gift to the giver. When someone hands you a present, naturally you look at it, ooh and ahh appropriately, try it out or hold it up, but then you should look at the person who gave you the gift and express your appreciation to them. In Colombia, when a friend gives a gift, the recipient stands up and hugs the giver. Whether the gift is a dollar store trinket that made them think of you, or diamond earrings, the giver wants to be appreciated for giving the gift. 
  4. Make them work. Remember how much more you realized all that mom or dad did when you got your own place, started your own family, had to pay your own bills? Yeah, that's the idea. If they see how much is involved in making a meal, from deciding on a menu and making a list, to getting it all on the table at the same time and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards, they will be more grateful for what you do, and what others do. How about deciding together to give someone something and have them help you go to several stores to find just the right thing, buy wrapping paper, wrap it, package it, stand in line at the post office to mail it, and letting them see how little effort saying, or writing, thank you is in comparison?
  5. Join the Attitude of Gratitude club. Yes, posting or tweeting about what you are thankful for every day in November is a cliche. But it's also a good exercise. Focus on people and the non-tangibles and not just "la casa, el carro, y la beca" (the house, the car, and the scholarship--a Colombian cliche). Maybe we could start something new, "No Grump November."

Every year since our children were young we have have decorated the wall of our eating area with a multicolored turkey or fall tree with feathers or leaves listing what we are grateful for. Each night after dinner, whoever is at our table gets a feather or leaf, depending on what version we are doing that year, to write one thing they are thankful for and to tell us all what that is. It's a good tradition and one I intend to keep up, even without kids at home.

We end with prayer, looking at the One who is truly the source of all we have. Sometimes each of us gives thanks for our own item, sometimes one person does for us all. Either way, we recognize the generosity and mercy of our God and say, "Thank you."

How do you instill gratefulness in your children?

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