Stress Less on Family Dinner – A Playbook for Parents

Ahhhh… Dinner. It’s not just about eating.

A shared meal is a place to reconnect with each other after a busy day of buzzing around in opposite directions (a key ingredient for better health and happiness for everyone). 

Yet, even though we want to make the “ideal dinner” happen regularly and We know how many good things can come from enjoying a meal with our family. We cannot deny that dinner can quickly become a source of stress. Not always the good kind that energizes you, but the kind that leaves you saying “Screw it, I don’t care. Pass the cereal.” 

I’m recalling last night, for example, dining on leftover lukewarm calzone while my youngest frolicked in the tub, covered in what appeared to be a mixture of yogurt, tuna fish, and snot (she’s getting over a cold, it was a state of emergency to get her to the tub). And there I was, trying not to get my dinner wet.  

Nevertheless, there is help.

I was recently inspired by the art behind meal planning after reading DINNER – The Playbook by Jenny Rosenstrach. (Jenny, you don’t know me yet, but I heart you.)dinner_theplaybook

I discovered Jenny’s awesome books after her blog (and mine) were both recognized by Janet Helm of Nutrition Unplugged as part of the “good” (not bad or ugly) of bloggers.

Below are some of Jenny’s tips I found the most helpful and sensible for stressing less about dinner. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas below.  

Where do I Start?

Start with a calendar, a strategy and a well-considered batch of recipes, and most importantly a commitment to making dinner happen. Acknowledge that there is never going to be a perfect time when you have a week without work, recitals or melt-downs. Even if such a week did exist, what would you be learning after all? The idea is to get into a rhythm where dinner no longer becomes a source of stress or dread, rather a time to reconnect and unwind. 

Share the Load

Avoid making dinner just on you, that’s when it becomes a burden. Dinner is for the whole family, therefore everyone can pitch in. Anyone can learn how to cook–start with simple easy-to-follow recipes like Quesadillas or Omelets. Kids can browse through cook books and share their preferences or simply answer the question “what do you want for dinner?” Enlist helpers in the making dinner happen tasks such as setting/clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, placing the condiments on the table. 

Build Meals Around Familiar Ingredients

When you know everyone’s palates and taste preferences you are able to select recipes that will not be offensive. Build on foods everyone loves. An example is pasta, use it as the base and add to it with new ingredients like roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. If they don’t like the new add-ins at least they’ll have a positive outlook that it is ‘pasta’ when they sit down for dinner.  This can be a helpful strategy when introducing new recipes that involve new flavors.

Gather Your Recipes (the fun part!)

Dig out that pile of the “someday we’ll make this” recipes and add to it with new recipes. To start, you’ll probably want to pick 15 “go-to” recipes. From there, weave in recipes that involve new flavors, colors, and textures. Remember, the end goal is to put an edible dinner on the table not impress the Queen of England.

Make a Meal Plan

Find a time to round up the family before the week get started. (Ideally Saturday and on Sunday you will do your shopping). It’s helpful to have everyone bring their calendars if you are juggling multiple kids/schedules.

Suggested Formulas for Meal Planning

  • Use monikers like “Meatless Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays”.
  • “Fish” or any seafood dish, make it happen on Sunday or Monday so it is still fresh from your weekly shop (done on Sunday).
  • “Halfway There” recipes that has a make-ahead component, ie, pasta sauce or or something that has been marinating all day. This can also be based on repurposing leftovers (steak into steak salad).
  • “Use It or Lose It” this is the last dinner of the week that takes advantage of the odds and ends in the crisper drawer, ie Baked Potato or Taco Bar and also helps you feel less guilty about going out to dinner on the weekend.
  • “Double Up” by making a double batch of spicy mayo to use on asparagus with a fish dish at the beginning of the week and then Chicken BLTs later in the week. Or make an extra batch of rice to use for a tofu bowl one night, then add to an omelet later in the week.

Shop on Sundays

To keep is reasonable on yourself do the bulk of your shopping at one store (ideally same place you can buy toilet paper and parmesan cheese). Make Sunday your day to do your big shop. Take your kids with you, have them help make the grocery list/clip coupons. This will also help them learn practical life skills, like sticking to a budget, selecting the best produce and bagging groceries.

Build up your pantry with flavorful staples like canned chipoltes in adobo sauce, anchovies, rice wine vinegar and dijon mustard. Overtime you’ll have a nice collection of these ingredients that add flavor to dishes and  you’ll be more willing to try new recipes.

Prep Ahead

Is there anything you can do before you leave the house for the day that you haven’t already done on the weekend? This can simply be setting a pot of water on the stove so it’s ready for boil when you walk in the door. Or washing and chopping the veggies for the recipe the night before. You will appreciate this small task at the end of the day. 

Keep Notes

After you’ve finished your meal take a few moments to reflect on it. What grade would you give it? What did they kids think about it? Did it require too much prep? Was the clean up brutal? Most important, is it a keeper? Taking these few extra minutes before you go to bed with will help make future meal planning a breeze. 

Let’s Hear it From You

What are your meal planning secrets to serving up nutritious meals and keeping everyone happy? I’d love to hear your tips! Feel free to share by leaving a comment below.

Fall Weather Recipes: Pumpkin Soup, Vegetarian Chili, Easy Tacos, Lamb Pizza






Bring On the Pumpkin

Pumpkin Curry SoupWhen September hits we are all about the pumpkin. I started my “Healthy and Fit for Fall” TV segment with this savory Caribbean pumpkin curry soup recipe. It partially gets me in the mood for fall and partially takes me back to the Islands.

Easy and Effortless Help

The grocery store can be your bestie when you’re trying to pull together a quick meal. I made these easy ham tacos with some frozen sweet corn, black beans and cubed ham.

Cook from Your Pantry “Cantry”

You’ll also want to check out this vegetarian chili recipe I made from my “cantry”. Fresh fruits and veggies are picked at their peak and canned, often within hours, locking in their nutrients.

Prep Ahead to Save Time

These ground lamb meatballs have quinoa, carrots, and zucchini in them! Plus you can change it up. Try them with marinara sauce or make your own pizza!

Reach for Quality Snack Bars

Eating on the go is just part of how we do it as busy people. How do you decide when you’re swimming in an endless sea of protein or energy bars? Quality. I love KIND Snacks (and nuts and spices line especially). You can see the nuts in the bars and some varieties give you that little chocolate fix you’re searching for.

Fall Fitness Hydration

As a 15-time marathoner, I’ve had my fair share of sports beverages. I love BodyArmor because it tastes delicious and no artificial colors or flavors. Plus potassium packed electolytes (it’s made with coconut water) and low in sodium, unlike other sports drinks.

Pick up BodyArmor at Target, Wegman’s or Shoppers.

If you or your kids are athletes, give it a whirl with your fall sports and activities. Check out my tips for youth athletes hydration.

Disclosure:  Mazola Corn Oil, Smithfield Anytime Favorites, Superior Farms Lamb, Cans Get You Cooking, KIND Snacks, and BodyArmor compensated me for this broadcast TV work, not this blog post.


Your Healthy Eating Habits are Ruining My Good Time


How to Eat Well

Tonight’s the night. You finally landed reservations at the hottest new dining spot in town and have invited a group of friends to join. You’re glancing over the elaborate menu when the waiter brings by what looks like freshly made warm bread and whipped butter. You begin to salivate as you stretch your arm out to capture your fair share when someone blurts out “ugh, carb bombs.” Screech. Silence. Your heart is racing and palms are sweating like those dreams where you are naked on a stage and everyone is laughing at you.

As soon as you think that awkward moment has passed, it inevitably happens again.

One of the guests asks a million questions about the fish and you can tell she’s trying to avoid butter and oil until she makes it blatantly obvious to everyone at the table when she asks the waiter “Can you just have the chef bake this one without any butter or seasoning?” “Plain,” he asks. “Yes, and instead of the mashed potatoes can I get double asparagus?”

You sink back into your chair flooded with embarrassment. Sheesh…someone needs a glass of wine. Or a chill pill.

Can you relate?

Your excitement to eat at a new place is squashed once you realize you’re in the company of a royalpicky eater” and she’s ruining your good time.

Now let me be clear: “picky eater” doesn’t refer to those folks who have a true food allergy or medical reason that requires them to be armed with an epi pen at all times. My brother has severe food allergies. I completely understand the health risk when someone at the dinner table could be flirting with a visit to the emergency room.

When I say picky eater, I’m talking about the overly rigid eaters of the world who suck all the fun out of food. These are the folks who make us feel lesser if we’re not on a health kick 100% of the time, drinking green juice, or labeling ourselves as gluten-free or Paleo.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, it’s time to listen up and loosen up so we can all get back to enjoying our meals.

Don’t Suffer From Order Envy

Recently, I was out with a group of moms getting what I thought was a reprieve from the joys of dirty diapers and teething. I soon realized that I was the only one who was even considering something other than a salad. Now don’t get me wrong I love salad, but I know how to make a darn good salad at home, so it’s not something I will enthusiastically order when dining out. I couldn’t believe that I was the only one drooling over the steak.

As our waiter made his way around the table, it was suddenly my turn to order. For a split second I doubted myself, wondering if I would be judged for not getting the salad. I stuck to my guns and ordered that steak – with fries! As soon as my plate of steak frites got to the table, the salad eaters fixated on it. The waves of questions – “how are the fries, is your steak cooked right?” were more than casual conversation. They were jealous. Some even reached over to my plate and took some fries! (At least they asked if they could have some while making a beeline for them). Order envy is the worst!

TIP: Don’t look to other people to approve what you are eating. You’re out to have a good time and enjoy your food. If you really want it, get it and enjoy it! Have trust in your body and know that one meal, or one day of non-A+ eating is not going to derail you from your overall health goals. You won’t magically gain 5 pounds if you choose to order that steak or slice of cake.

Stop Paralyzing Yourself Over The ‘Right Choice’

Obsessing about healthy eating is not healthy for yourself or your relationships. It’s also not healthy to moralize food as GOOD or BAD or CLEAN. I mean, since when was our food ever dirty? Actually, vegetables grow in the dirt. Vegetables are dirty. So, what’s clean again? What does clean even mean? Actually, nothing. It doesn’t have a definition everyone can agree on. Some say it’s vegetarian, plant-based, no processed foods (really, so no canned beans or frozen broccoli?)

It makes my head spin. These negative messages don’t help people make healthy choices they can feel good about. They increase anxiety about not being good enough.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m 100% in support of living healthy. I choose to live a healthy life, and I encourage my clients, as well as my daughters to do the same. I’m thrilled when my daughter asks for an apple instead of chocolate, but I don’t force or restrict food in my house. I don’t want our meals to be turned into food fights.

TIP: Think about some of the recent food rules you’ve set out for yourself. Are you ever worried at the dinner table? Imagine what you’re missing out on – taste, conversation, pleasurable eating to name a few, when you’re so worried about what’s in your food. If you feel good about your choices, that’s what matters. They are your choices after all. Don’t say things that might make others think you are judging them for their choices.

Live a Little

Different foods make us feel certain ways. Our emotions get uplifted when we have new experiences, when we are adventurous, and when we feel things like wonder and awe. I have truly had some amazing food that made me say “awesome”. Awe can come up whether we are staring down at the Grand Canyon for the first time, or hitting our palates with an explosion of new flavors for the first time.

TIP: Be adventurous! Try something that you’ve never had before or wouldn’t likely make for yourself. No matter what you try, it’s important to realize that food isn’t good or bad, it’s nourishment above all else. You will eat thousands of meals in your lifetime. Trying and learning new things is part of what makes us happy.

Let Me Do Me

So what if you’re like me, and feel like other people’s healthy eating habits are influencing your ability to enjoy food? When met with this situation, it’s important to consider the phrase: “to each their own.” In other words, “let me do me.”

Order exactly what you want, and don’t let other people’s beliefs or behaviors take away from you enjoying your meal and having a good time doing so.

In the end, we make the least healthy decisions by being overly rigid and full of judgment. Why do we have to go to extremes with food to the point where we take all the fun out of an experience that has the potential to be so pleasurable?

A little empathy can go a long way here. (I know, I know, it’s frustrating. She’s the one making you feel like you’re “being bad”.) Consider the fact that in many ways, someone else’s judgments are a reflection of how they see themselves. They are outwardly expressing an inner struggle, even when they aren’t really aware of the conflicts. They are there. I remember a friend asked me “how could you order that?” I responded “Yeah, what’s the nutritionist doing ordering chili cheese nachos.” She said, “no, really, how can you do that?” I got it. She truly wanted to know how I go about doing whatever I want when it comes to food. We met up later for coffee and I told her how. She’s working on it.

Take a Shot

If you think you may be the one putting a damper on other people’s dining experiences, it’s time to relinquish control and take a risk! What do you have to lose? Eating something you’ve regularly forbid yourself from enjoying could be one of the most exhilarating decisions you make.

Life is more fun with people who like to eat and have a good time, so dig in – to food and to life! Most importantly, remember that It’s okay. You can be a healthy person and eat foods that bring your pleasure. Chefs call it the “x-factor”. It’s the component of flavor that can’t be defined wrapped up in emotion, passion, and love.

I wholeheartedly believe everyone can reconnect to feeling good about their food choices no matter what is on their plate. Now, where are those “carb bombs,” I’m hungry!

You Tell Me…

Do you have any food “horror stories”? Or did you overcome food rules? Let me know in the comments below.

What Should We Do About #DearFatPeople?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, by now you’ve have heard of, read about, or watched the offensive and shaming #DearFatPeople video Nicole Arbour created in the name of “comedy”. You may have even seen one of the responses, which at least this awful video gets people talking and saying “this sh*t ain’t right.”

There is a lot of chatter going on about the idea of fat shaming, summed up to “it’s bullying” and “it’s never OK.” I agree. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been supporting Association for Size Diversity and Health (I’m a member) Health at Every Size and their collaboration with Women’s Health Magazine in their #StopTheShame campaign on Twitter.

The Gasoline for Weight Stigma

In thinking about what I could possibly contribute that would add to the “this is not OK” conversation, I was immediately drawn to exploring what fuels weight stigma in the first place. The first thing that comes to mind, is the idea of dieting. In our desperation to conform to societal thin ideals, we diet. Instead of exercising and eating well because we love our bodies, it’s because we hate them. We compare. We despair.

It’s Not Just Adults Who Diet. It starts Early.

I have been working on a blog and infographic on teens and dieting. The fact that I’m even having to do this is sad. It sucks. As a mom of two, I dread my girls feeling the pull of dieting like I did by 12 years old.
What I want to know is, what should we do about it? Let me know in the comments below.

A 10-year study looked at dieting, unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors, and binge eating to determine if engaging in these behaviors during adolescence increased the risk for continuing them into young adulthood.  The study involved 2,287 adolescents and young adults that were about half female and half non-white and divided participants into a younger group (average age ~13) and an older group (average age ~16).

At the beginning of the study approximately 50% females and 25% of males reported dieting in the past year. For females and younger males, this number stayed consistent through young adulthood.  The number of dieters in the older male group actually increased as the study progressed.

Over 50% of females and 33% of males engaged in unhealthy weight control behaviors at the start of the study.  Particularly alarming was that extreme weight control behaviors including diet pill use in all groups, and laxative use in young females increased significantly over the 10 year period.

Overall, those who reported dieting at the beginning of the study were more likely to continue this behavior.  The same result was seen in regards to unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors and binge eating.

Other studies have linked dieting to weight gain, binge eating, disordered eating, and eating disorders.  One study of 17,000 kids found that those who dieted were 8-12 times more likely to engage in binge eating than those who never dieted.  Researchers from this study actually suggested that dieting may be at the root of the current obesity epidemic!  These results were echoed in a twin study which showed that the weight gain associated with dieting is independent of genetic predisposition to weight gain.

This video provides more details on these studies.



These findings, suggest that we need to prevent these behaviors before they start.


Young people with weight concerns need to be guided towards healthy behaviors, including intuitive eating and physical activity and away from destructive dieting.

Healthy behaviors can start at home.  Practice intuitive and mindful eating as a family.  Focus on eating for physical hunger as opposed to emotional hunger. Also make fitness a family activity.  Everyone can benefit from healthful eating and exercise, get the whole family involved in the healthy lifestyle and DITCH the DIET!

For more information from Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and her work with Intuitive Eating click here

Source: Neumark-Sztainer, D; Wall, M; Larson, NI; Eisenberg, ME; Loth, K. Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Jul;111(7):1004-11.

So… what should we do about #DearFatPeople?

I think one thing we need to do is loudly say that no amount of fat shaming is OK (and we need to listen to people who have been shamed!) They will tell you that family, friends, and medical professionals make them feel shame when they push and push and push for weight loss over healthy lifestyle as the goal. (At least that is what I hear time and again.) It’s as if their love is conditional. That’s just sad. What if someone makes the changes they want and don’t weigh what you think they should. Are you OK with that? I think we need to realize it’s not up for judgement. If we care about weight shaming, we need to also care about healthism, the idea that you can’t push health on people. Read what I have to say about it.

What Do You Think?

What do you think we should do about weight shame, stigma, dieting etc.? What were some of the best response articles and videos you found? Do you have a fat shame story? Share in the comments below.

Try These Zucchini Bread Pancakes

Zucchini Bread Pancakes

Unfortunately summer is beginning to come to an end. In order to celebrate the slow transition into fall, try making these zucchini bread pancakes! It’s a great way to use up those leftover zucchinis you might have in your garden before the weather gets a bit cooler. We love this recipe for it’s subtle sweetness, warm-spiced flavors and loads of fresh shredded zucchini! These cakes reheat wonderfully, so if you have more than your share of zucchini growing in your garden, why not put ’em to good use? We promise these cakes will have everyone jumping out of bed in the morning.

Tips for Making it Work

  • Top with butter and maple syrup for a delightful breakfast treat, or top with nut butter and sliced banana for an afternoon pick-me-up or post-workout snack.
  • No buttermilk on hand? Make your own by combining 2 tablespoons each of milk and plain yogurt, and whisk until smooth.
  • More than enough zucchinis on hand? Whip up a few extra batches and freeze to enjoy later.

Summer Produce Picks

With summer in full swing, there are so many garden treats to choose from! What seasonal creations have you been making in your kitchen this week? Please share your inspiration by leaving a comment below.

Zucchini Bread Pancakes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Recipe type: Breakfast, Brunch, Snack
Serves: 10-12 pancakes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons light brown, dark brown or granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (from about 9 ounces whole, or 1½ medium zucchini), heaping cups are fine
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax meal (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • Butter or oil, for coating skillet
  1. In a large bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in zucchini shreds. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
  2. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once hot, melt a pat of butter in pan and swirl it around until it sizzles. Scoop ¼-cup dollops of batter and form into cakes in pan. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two, until golden underneath. Transfer pancakes to a warming plate keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve warm. Repeat next weekend.