Did you know that families who eat dinner together live healthier happier lives? In fact, studies even show that teenagers who eat dinner with their families are less likely to use drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, so many parents don’t realize how important eating dinner together really is. Life gets so busy and schedules so exhausting that family mealtime often falls to the wayside. I talked with my supervisor at the YMCA about trying to encourage and empower families to bring back mealtime and make it special for the whole family. She was as excited as I was and the Families Cooking Together Class was born.
Experts have always said that family dinners are important. A few years ago an article in TIME magazine said “Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. ‘If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube,’ says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, about the mysterious way that family dinner engraves our souls. ‘A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.’ ”
The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that the average American family spends more than $2000 per year on dinners away from home. The worst part is that 10 percent of those dinners come from McDonalds! More than half of the dinners eaten by overweight American children are consumed in front of the television. But meals eaten with family consist of about 50% more fruits and vegetables than meals consumed alone. Family meals are three times more likely to include low-fat choices and 40 percent less soda is consumed at family meals.
There’s more research than I could ever post here about why family meal time is important, but if you’d like to hear some more reasons, check out a great article from Health.com.
-Hands on fun for all ages
-At least two fruits or vegetables in each meal
-Encouraging kids to learn about food and want to help their parents prepare it
The hands on part is often the easiest and most fun planning for the class. I decided on fresh spring rolls for dinner because it’s so easy to pack them full of healthy ingredients and everything is hands on. Kids love the trays of colorful sliced vegetables and herbs that offer a rainbow of crunchy choices. They start by picking out the vegetable that looks most appealing then, stealing a glance at mom or dad to make sure they wouldn’t notice, start munching on a slice of ruby red pepper of translucent white jicama.
The little munchkins really loved playing with the rice wrappers, splashing in the pie tins of water, asking daddy to let them fold his paper in half too. They giggled naughtily at the beginning of class as I let them destroy a few wrappers to demonstrate why we needed to get them wet. As they dipped their rice papers into the warm water, they squealed with glee at the way the papers soften and stick together, and quickly pushed aside the broken shards of dry rice papers that refused to conform. “Look!” exclaimed one little girl, “Mine went from paper to cloth!”
The carrots and jicama were definitely the most popular vegetables among the 4 year olds in the class. Not only are they great to munch on (none of the kids could believe that the apple like jicama sticks came from such a funny looking brown ball) but julienned carrots make awesome orange mustaches. One little boy made his spring roll with just carrots and jicama, no pork, no shrimp, no noodles or green stuff. He knew what he liked and that was just fine!
The interesting thing about teaching a group of kids under five years old to make spring rolls, is that the rice wrappers were both their favorite and least favorite part of the night. Although they loved playing with the wrappers and doing the rolling, the texture threw them for a loop! None of the kids who attended had ever eaten anything like that before. For small children, new foods are often immediately associated with the word “YUCK!” I loved how one father lovingly corrected his 3 year old and said “If we don’t like how something tastes or smells, we say I don’t like that.” He later demonstrated exactly what he taught when I passed the sauces around to smell and he took a whiff of fish sauce. In fact seeing some great parenting techniques were some of my favorite moments in the class. One mom had cute little hand washing song she did with her kids that made sure they washed their hands long enough and got every inch of skin clean.
Although the actual eating of the spring rolls may not have been a huge hit for the under five crowd, learning about the foods, smelling and tasting ingredients, and creating the meal was a great experience. The parents didn’t seem at all discouraged. They were thrilled to bag up leftover ingredients and take home wrappers to make more spring rolls at home. The kids got to pick their favorite vegetables to make their own baggie to snack on in the car, and the parents made sure they each had a copy of my peanut sauce recipe to make their own batch.
One father said, “It’s so great to get them to try new things. They might think they don’t like it at first, but after a few times they realize that it’s actually really good!” I think this was a hugely successful start the the Families Cooking Together classes, and I’m so looking forward to next month when I’ll be teaching my mother in laws five minute pizza dough and showing kids how to make their own healthy personal pizzas. No more pizza from a box!
Below is the vegetarian spring roll recipe (vegan and gluten free too!). Be sure to also check out my two other spring roll posts which contain a couple different peanut sauce recipes.
Spring/Summer Rolls Recipemakes 10
10 circle rice paper wrappers
20 basil leaves
10 mint leaves
1 carrot cut into matchsticks
1/2 red bell pepper cut into matchsticks
1/2 cucumber cut into matchsticks
2 cups torn butter lettuce (or romaine without spines of leaves)
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup rice or bean noodles
1 jicama cut into matchsticks
pie pan of very warm water
Spread your ingredients out to make it easy to work with.
Dip a rice wrapper into the warm water 5 seconds. On a clean dry cutting board, fold it in half. Place your filling a little off the center. Arrange so ingredients will be peeking out of one or both ends.
Starting at the corner your filling is closest to, wrap that corner tightly over filling, (If you only want ingredients showing from one end, fold an inch of the bottom up right now) then begin rolling tightly. If not eating immediately, place on plate (not touching each other) and cover with saran wrap.
Approximate cost/serving: These vegetarian rolls only cost $2 to make. That means just 20 cents a roll! Add peanut sauce and it’s about 30 cents a roll.
Vegetarian/Gluten Free: Totally vegetarian and gluten free.