Like many moms, Aviva Goldfarb struggled to get healthy meals on the table for her family while navigating the chaos of a busy life. What I love so much about Aviva is that she did something about it—and she’s helping us along the way! Today on our #52NewFoods Tastemaker series, she’s here to share tips to take the stress out of dinner, and truly connect around the family table. Could family dinner be the key to a happy family? You bet!
Aviva’s Six O’Clock Scramble is a meal planning service that delivers a game plan for your dinners each week. Her cookbooks (yes, more than one!) are packed with delicious, easy recipes that take the scramble out of your dinner routine. If you’re like me, it’s really helpful to have that kind of sanity saver on your bookshelf! In addition to keeping us nourished each week, you’ll regularly find her cooking up fun on the Today Show and PBS Parents.
I am honored to have Aviva aboard team #52NewFoods! To celebrate the launch of The 52 New Foods Challenge, Aviva will be sharing some new recipes to get your whole family out of your food rut. Be sure to check out her delicious slow cooker Indian dal recipe, perfect for #meatlessmonday! Bonus, she’s hosting a giveaway of my new book! So not only do you get a delicious new recipe, you get a chance to win a copy of The 52 New Foods Challenge too. Get in on the party!
Q. How would you describe your family food philosophy?
A: I’m passionate about family dinners. What is most important to me is that the whole family looks forward to dinnertime together and that we have a chance to unplug from our days and connect with each other. The food is really secondary to the time together.
In terms of food, I like to be adventurous and try new foods and flavors. Fortunately as my kids have gotten older, they’ve become much more adventurous too. My ideal is to create a healthy, flavorful meal with simple ingredients, whole grains, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and/or vegetables. Because I test a lot of recipes, every meal isn’t necessarily our favorite, but we always enjoy the time together, and often we eat great food, too.
Q: What inspired you to create The Six O’Clock Scramble?
A: When I had kids, I knew I wanted family dinner to be a big part of our lives as it was for both my husband and me when we were growing up, but when I actually tried to make it happen, it wasn’t nearly as easy as my mom had made it look. I set out to find a way to make it easier for busy moms like me to get healthy dinners on the table. I found that weekly meal planning and shopping with a list was the key to getting dinner on the table with a lot less time, money and stress, but simple, clearly written recipes that were practical for people who didn’t have a ton of excess time and energy were also important. Once I developed something that worked, I wanted to share it with other parents, so I created The Six O’Clock Scramble as a resource to help families share more dinners together by giving them weekly plans, recipes and grocery lists.
Q: What are your top tips for getting kids to eat wholesome foods?
A: Start as early as you can by feeding your baby a wide variety of fruits and vegetables so they develop an adventurous palate from an early age. Try to avoid giving kids food with a lot of salt or sugar or artificial ingredients so they can mostly develop a taste for real food and flavors. Get your kids involved early with gardening (even if it’s just some herbs or tomatoes on the deck), if possible, shopping, preferably at the farmers’ market once in a while, tasting and smelling lots of foods, and cooking. Try to make healthy foods something they start to associate with a lot of positive feelings like fun, flavor, and family.
Once the inevitable picky eater phase kicks in when your child is a toddler, then the key is patience and persistence, with a healthy dose of humor and creativity. As the mom of a formerly extremely picky eater, I know how stressful it can be when you put good food on the table and your kid refuses to eat it, but try to stay positive, remember that mealtime is also about connecting, and keep serving the good, healthy foods instead of resorting to the typical kid foods that so many kids seem to live on. It’s an investment in their health, but sometimes it’s a long-term investment.
Q: What is the most important piece of advice you give to parents trying to change the way their families eat?
A: Talk to your family about why it’s important to you, ask them why it might be important to them, and try to do it together whenever possible. Get your kids to help you pick new healthy foods or recipes to try, and cook together whenever you can. Be kind to yourself and appreciate small steps forward.
Q: I know you are passionate about bringing families back to the table for dinner. From your perspective, why has the family dinner become such a struggle for many families?
When I was growing up, a lot of moms didn’t work outside the home, so making dinner was just part of what they did, whether they enjoyed it or not, and many didn’t, although my mom really did. Now so many families have two working parents, or even if they don’t, kids have so many activities that keep us busy in the late afternoons and evenings, so that evenings can feel very compressed and hectic. That’s why it’s more important than ever, though, to plan ahead on the weekends for at least a few meals and to grocery shop with a list and a plan, so you don’t have to run back to the store a couple of times during the week, making dinner later and everything more stressful (and expensive!), or waste precious time trying to just decide what to make with the ingredients you may or may not have.
Q: Your Family Dinner Challenge inspired thousands of families to get back to the dinner table—together. Can you share a few tips for how to make family dinner a regular part of our routine. How can we get our kids to stay at the table longer?
A: First, I like to remind families that family dinner doesn’t have to mean every single family member is present every time, and it doesn’t have to happen every single night. Don’t aim for perfection, just try to do a little better. If your family is only eating together one night a week, shoot for two next week.
If you feel overwhelmed by the process, look for help, whether it’s trading off cooking nights with your spouse, if you have one, signing up for a family dinner planner (such as The Six O’Clock Scramble) to help you make all the decisions in advance, or getting your kids to help more with the process, like cooking or setting the table or washing the dishes.
Don’t give yourself a hard time if you only have time to make the main course and you serve a frozen side dish—just tonight I served sweet potato fries that I had purchased frozen with our homemade lamb burgers. Even ordering a pizza once in a while and serving it with fresh fruit or a salad is a decent option.
I think the best way to keep kids at the table longer is to make mealtime fun and positive for them. Instead of asking them how many bites of broccoli they took, ask their opinion about a problem you had today or their perspective on an issue in the news, like kids crossing the border illegally from Mexico to be reunited with their families.
Now that our kids are teenagers, we’ll often linger for 30 minutes or more talking about what’s on our minds, but when they were younger, sometimes we kept them engaged by playing silly games or telling stories. Work toward making family dinner time your family’s favorite time of day, and the dinner table their favorite place to gather. I believe this time that we invest in our families pays off tenfold in healthier relationships with each other, great conversation and critical thinking skills, and a healthy attitude toward food and family. Happy Scrambling!
Q: What did your family get out of The 52 New Foods Challenge?
A: My kids were most excited about trying out some of the recipes in The 52 New Foods Challenge. My son wants me to make the Easy Oven Green Beans and my daughter wants to try making the Chocolate Rocket because she loves chocolate and avocado but has never tried them together. I look forward to making the wild rice with pomegranate and pistachios!
A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the author of The 52 New Foods Challenge (Penguin Random House/Avery 2014) and the creator of the award-winning series of healthy eating games, Crunch a Color®. Her family cooking adventures have been featured by Jamie Oliver, Rachael Ray, Laurie David, Pottery Barn Kids, and Whole Foods. She is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a regular contributor to the James Beard Award-Winning magazine, Edible.