Family meal times are a fantastic chance to enjoy spending time with our kids. But so often they're full of stress and anxiety.
Dr Orlena chats to Linda Lederman about how we can create fun, enjoyable and memorable family meal times.
Dr Orlena: Thank you so much for being here with us today. I am excited to dive in.
Before we started with recording, we were talking a little bit about the exciting things that you do. It made me go, "Oh, I want to find out more."
So tell me a little bit. We've sort of touched on meal planning and teaching kids and table talk. The thing that jumps out to me is table talk. Also, how we can make our mealtimes with our family, a fabulous and enjoyable time.
Linda: I'd love to talk about that. It's so important to have conversation with your family at dinnertime. You spend time with them for socialisation, communication and for venting sometimes.
There's so much benefit to having good conversations.
It's a waste of your dinner time to just say to your kids, "how was school today?" They'll say "fine." "What'd you do? "nothing." Nobody learns anything. So you want to make it fun.
Linda: There's many, many ways you can look at things to engage in a conversation with your family. One thing that you can do is to find what creative holiday is happening that day or that month.
For instance, April, I believe is poetry month. You're not going to spend every dinner in April talking about poetry. Your family will disown you.
One thing that I did with my family last year was I said, "okay, today we're going to celebrate poetry."
Now I have the time, a high school son and a high school daughter. And they just groaned and they said, forget about it. This is not happening at dinner time. I said we'll give it a shot because poetry takes so many different forms.
Linda: Find a rap song. You need some lyrics to that. Invent a rap song. You can find poetry everywhere. I said, "when you come down to dinner tonight, bring me something you can create. You can find it and then you just have to read it. It's up to you how easy or difficult you want it to make this lesson be.
My husband actually came to dinner with a rap song that he wrote. It was horrible, but it was hysterical and we laughed forever. So that was really a good thing.
My son wrote a poem that said "I hate poetry," which was also equally enjoyable. My daughter came up with something. It gets you laughing. It gets you talking. It got everybody talking and that's a really important thing.
Linda: You can find crazy month themes. You can find crazy day themes to get your family talking about.
You can find another thing I've done with my meal planning. My meal planning it's to time my meal into something that's happening in the world.
Linda: Depending on the age of your kids, if they're a little older. We were having talks about the United States is having towards North Korea during the Trump era.
I made a Korean dinner and then we talked about world politics. So that's another way you can tie in your meal to dinner time.
Linda: Another thing I do is take games that you have around the house. Maybe your kids have gotten too old to play, or they're not in rotation anymore. You could still use them in different ways.
If you have a trivial pursuit game, you can take the cards at dinner time and you can say, okay, let's ask the questions. We don't need a board. We don't need fancy rules, but we'll just ask the questions and see what comes up.
That's a really great way of having conversation because you can educate your kids. They can educate themselves about their answers. Maybe it ties into something. God forbid they were learning in school.
So there's many ways that you can inspire conversation without having to come up with something on your own every day.
Dr Orlena: That sounds absolutely fabulous. I'm going to backtrack a little bit because I didn't introduce you.
What we were talking about was the concept of creating a home. That is a place where children want to be. So could you talk to us a little bit about that? That's what I wanted to do.
Linda: Right. You want to have a warm home where not only are your kids comfortable. You want their friends to be comfortable.
As a parent, it's nice to have your house to be the central house. You can keep an eye on and monitor what's going on in your kid's life. You know what's going on in your kids' friends' lives without being in their face, but they're still around. You know, what's happening.
Linda: I think that's an important thing for a parent to do in general. Have a welcoming home, whether it's with food or it's playdate invitations. It’s really crucial to a child's development. Those are skills that they will learn to pass on to their family as they get older.
Dr Orlena: Fabulous. I think as well, just opening up that habit of listening to our children, they are feeling comfortable. Joining in part of a conversation that they're interested in, even if it's about poetry. It can be about anything.
Linda: Another thing in terms of listening to your kids, in non-COVID days, we'd like to entertain a lot. I grew up in a family that liked to have people over entertaining a lot.
My parents always included us in the conversation with their friends. Their friend included us in conversations and they showed interest in what we had to say.
Linda: That's also a really important thing to learn. I mean, yes, you may have a big family gathering. You may need the kitty table because sometimes those gatherings can be overwhelming.
On a smaller scale, adults need to talk to kids and kids need to know how to have conversations with adults.
Dr Orlena: Yes, absolutely. This conjures up for me. Those sort of Mediterranean style dinners where everybody's outside. Particularly thinking of Italy, where they have that pastor plate first.
I always think they probably do that so that they can fill their kids up. Then the kids can runoff. They go and play while the adults are actually doing the cooking fish or the meat or vegetables. Whatever it is that they're dealing with starving, hungry children.
It's all about a big family event rather than adults on one side and children on the other.
Dr Orlena: Let's change, track a little bit now. I know that you do meal planning and thinking about ways to make it easy for busy moms who are juggling everything. For those moms who also want to be able to cook healthy and nutritious food without it being to hard work.
Linda: Right. Before you think of meal planning, don't think of it as I've got to devote my Sundays for hours on end making things for the week. It doesn't have to be that way.
I think for a meal plan to be successful you have to evaluate your own lifestyle. What's going on with your family. What's going on with your time.
Linda: My first suggestion is always to look at your calendar. What's happening during that week. There are days that you have to work late or your kids are spending a lot of time in after-school activities.
You'll have very little time to make dinner. So play on what you want to make according to what time your schedule allows.
Linda: Another suggestion is to try to do some batch cooking. You don't have to cook every single meal from scratch every day, so you can make a big pot of quinoa.
Linda: Whatever you want to make and make it differently on different nights. You're not always just eating leftovers. You're actually cooking something differently.
Let's say you made a big pot of brown rice because you want something nutritional. You have that as a side dish for day one.
Day two, you can take your leftover rice. Turn it into fried rice. Add something simple like grilled shrimp or grilled chicken or leftover chicken.
Now they're eating a totally different dish with their leftovers. It doesn't look like you're boring them with eating the same thing day after day.
Linda: Think ahead of how you can make a larger batch of your food and then cook it separately on different nights. So your meals are very different.
Linda: Another thing you can do is change the seasoning on your proteins. If you're making chicken one way, you can use totally different seasons the next night.
You're slicing up your chicken and you're making lemon chicken one night.
Another night, you can use sliced chicken and put it in an indian simmer sauce. It’s going to be done in 15 minutes. And it's going to be delicious.
You could use leftover rice for that dish. Now you have a beautiful dish that you haven't had to spend hours on. It's very different from the same ingredients you use the night before.
Dr Orlena: I love it. I would like to share with you that Sunday's my market day. I go to market loads and loads and loads of vegetables.
This week I went to the market and there's one store that I go to. She sells off the stuff that she had from the week before.
She knows that I eat lots of vegetables and I have four children. So she said, “Do you want all of these aubergines which view like eggplant? I said, Okay. It’s one Euro like it’s basically free.
I think it must have been 15 or 20 kilograms of aubergines. I had to cut some bits out of them but I have now a freezer full and a fridge full of cooked aubergines.
I'm thinking of all the different, amazing, exciting things I can do with it. Unfortunately, my kids don't eat them.
Linda: Try different sauces on them. I mean, in addition to an Italian sauce, you can do a Thai sauce. There's a million things that you can do. Make them into little pizzas. You know, if your kids like pizza.
Dr Orlena: I like pizza, but they won't eat them, but I cooked a whole load of them. It just took them in half and grilled them or baked them. They're really good in place of bread.
At lunchtime we had bread. The children had a bit of bread and peanut butter. I had the aubergines with the peanut butter on. You can just use it as a conduit for whatever exciting flavour you have, which may be, or a spread.
Fabulous tips. I hundred per cent agree that it's individual to each person. You need to think of your own routine.
Dr Orlena: The other thing that we were talking about was teaching kids and getting them into the kitchen. What are your big tips on that?
Linda: Start early. They're never too young to learn how to cook. You can do basic things.
If you're making breakfast in the morning, let them scramble the eggs. Let them get used to using a fork in the bowl and doing that.
My kids make their own breakfast. They'll make themselves omelettes. They've been doing this for years because why shouldn't they.
Linda: If you can get them comfortable, it's some nice life skills at a young age. Supervise, you're not gonna just give them a knife.
You're going to teach them how to hold it properly. And you're going to make sure where your knives are sharp. So it's going to be safe to use.
If you can teach them how to cut and how to saute.
Linda: One of the things I love to do with my kids when I'm cooking something new. I'll say, okay, is this a thumbs up or thumbs down the recipe? And if it's a thumbs down, I'll say, “well, what was wrong with it?”
Get them thinking about tastes. They like this or they don't like it. What they would have liked to have in it to make it flavorful for them.
If you can get them thinking in those terms, they'll start learning how to cook in those terms as well. They'll become very creative and confident instead of always giving them dinner.
Dr Orlena: I think it's so important. It reminds me of a story. I have twins who are now eight. I remember when they were two. They're like chalk and cheese.
These twins, and my son, Sebastian, I was sitting in the kitchen. I turned around and he'd picked up a sharp knife. He was carefully cutting the strawberry. I watched him, thinking, Oh, he's doing this so well.
It was amazing that a two-year-old was doing this. However, his twin sister was never allowed anywhere. You can just see that if she'd be waving it around and everyone would, I have to duck.
So again, it just shows that children are different. You have to think about your own child, but yes, I totally agree that they can start young.
He was always very interested in cooking. He would sit whilst I was stirring things and run off and get a wooden spoon from his collection of wooden boons. I get them involved young.
Dr Orlena: Another tip I have is I don't tend to buy cakes and biscuits or any treats like that. My house policy is, If you wouldn't eat, you can cook it. I love that.
Dr Orlena: My oldest son is 12 and he loves cooking and he loves to make treats. I did get to the stage where I was a little bit fed up. He'll always choose the recipes with loads and loads of sugar and loads and loads of flour.
I've bought a fabulous book called Clean Treats by my friend, Laura Fuentes. It's got lots of nuts and seeds and slightly different things.
They're still treat foods but he loves it and now he can just make pretty much any recipe. I'm like, yes, you can. I have to go get that brilliance for him.
Linda: One of the things that I like kids do very young. We'd make kale chips. You don't always need to eat fried potato chips. You can make kettle chips. We have a dehydrator. If you don't have a dehydrator, you can just put it on a very low temperature in your oven.
You can season it however you want to season it. The great and healthy to munch on. So yes, there's alternative snacks. You can make that. They can easily learn how to cook that are healthy and nutritious for them.
Dr Orlena: We can't get kale that often, but I can occasionally, so I will have to go and get some kale.
Linda: You can do it. If you don't have kale chips, we made zucchini chips. You can make carrot chips. You can use any vegetable. If you have a mandolin, so you can make it thinly sliced. That's all you need to do. You can even make your own potato chips.
Dr Orlena: Do you have to have a dehydrator to do it?
Linda: If you have an oven that you can set at a very low temperature below 200 degrees, you'll be fine.
Dr Orlena: Oh, I will try that. I will get back to you on the success of it, or
Linda: You can do also make sweet potato chips. It's most vegetables you can dehydrate. Many grocery stores sell them fancily packaged for a lot of money. It's much better if you make it on your own,
Dr Orlena: They do. Sweet potatoes is another thing that I sometimes get huge rate bulk of sweet potatoes. Again, another thing my children don't like, but very good for them. They might do. I will try. Next time.
Dr Orlena: Do you have any last words of wisdom for us?
Linda: Make your meals memorable and it doesn't have to be difficult. You can take an ordinary meal. Make it extraordinary with very little effort and a tremendous payoff.
You go around once. Make everything wonderful for you and your family. Make life delicious. That's the key to happiness.
Dr Orlena: Fabulous. So when you say wonderful, do you mean wonderful for the food or the experience?
Linda: I think if the experience is good or wonderful, the food tastes better. I agree. That's also even with picky eaters.
If you engage them at mealtime, doing something that they enjoy something that's fun. It's almost a distraction.
They'll start eating their food and not focusing on why they don't like it.
There's so many other things to focus on happiness.
Dr Orlena: Linda. When can people find more about you?
Linda: I have a website called bell booth, the secret, which is https://balaboostassecret.com.
I have a Facebook page. And if anybody has any questions, feel free to write to me at [email protected]
Dr Orlena: Fabulous. You did say that you had a free gift that you offered to people.
Linda: A PDF called Quick Sanity Saving Dinnertime Secrets. In it, you'll get a chunk full of information of what you can keep in your pantry.
You can easily throw meals together in a pinch. Easy ways to have dinner conversation with your kids, all the things that drive your inner demons.
Dr Orlena: Fabulous. Thank you so much for being here with us today.
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Dr Orlena Kerek (MBChB from the University of Bristol, UK) trained as a pediatric doctor. She is now a family health coach. She helps busy mums who want to feel amazing by eating healthy food. So they can enjoy a healthy life, get back into their honeymoon shorts and teach their kids healthy habits. All without thinking about it.
If you want a healthy family and healthy lifestyle without having to think about it. And you'd like help, book a 30-minute "Healthy Life Roadmap" call here.