Tag Archives: family meals

Veggie Pizza

In my post on eating dinner with my teens I owned up to sometimes cutting corners by ordering pizza for dinner. During a recent interview with the group Thriving Schools I also referred to surviving the work-kid juggle by ordering pizza. I was asked about the wisdom of these admissions. Perhaps @KPKiddoc should be putting a healthier face on her slice of life?

Let’s face it – pizza is everywhere. Hard to raise kids without pizza. Schools serve it often. Every soccer team party features pizza. And yes, tired working moms depend on it. Pizza can indeed be a nutritional nightmare. Given this and its ubiquitous nature, it is not surprising that I might be warned to appear more health conscious.

We want to feed our kids well. We are looking out for tips on how to do so; a google search of “is pizza healthy?” generates 132,000,000 responses. My answer is yes – it can be.  Here’s how:

Have just one or two pieces. One piece is more than enough for a small child; consider cutting it in half. Two pieces are sufficient, even for my athletic teens. At the dinner table discuss the concept of moderation with your kids.

Fill the rest of their plate with salad. 

Have a whole wheat crust. And definitely don’t “stuff” it.

Order or use less cheese. You can order extra cheese right? (don’t do it!) Turns out you can order less cheese also.

Skip the meat. Your kids will be happy with pizza – they don’t need to pepperoni to bribe them into eating it… just say no.

Add veggies. Same concept – kids like pizza enough that they usually will choke down some veggies with it. If not – that’s what the salad is for.

Skip the fast food restaurant version.

Make your own. Ok, not for a night when you are tired but – definitely a fun family project. Try this healthy recipe from 9-year-old Kayla Wayman of Montana.

Given that 93% of Americans eat pizza once a month, 3 billion pizzas are sold annually in the U.S. and 350 slices of pizza are eaten each second – it seems that our love affair with this meal is here to stay. Let’s just work to make it a healthier message for our kids.

In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl
Here’s what they sing

When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore

– Jack Brooks

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Confessions of a Closet TV Diner

As we stood at my kitchen counter today my friend said

You ought to write about it. Makes you seem human, you know?

So in the spirit of self disclosure inspired by two recent articles by parents who admit their shortcomings, here I am doing the same. First John Sarrouf director of The Family Dinner Project, wrote about missing too many dinners with his family. Then fellow pediatrician Kathleen Berchelmann wrote about what happened when her daughter went to bed with an iPad.

Sometimes my kids and I eat dinner in front of the TV.

When I was a kid I watched very little TV. Except when I enjoyed summers with my grandparents. Then after spending the days outside, I spent the evenings watching TV. My grandmother was a well-educated, cultured Southern woman who believed in table manners and personal style (I spend a lot of time walking around with a book on my head for her.) So in retrospect, it surprises me that during those summer vacations we ate nearly every evening in front of the television. On a TV tray, with china and silver but while watching TV.

Hogan’s Heroes. Mash. Hee Haw (seriously.) The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Lawrence Welk (they were my grandparents after all.) The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Watergate.

Was it wasted time? Dinners without conversation made therefore a loss? I think perhaps, not. Instead I remember that what we watched together united us around shared references. We had plenty to talk about after the shows were done.

So perhaps my friend was right when she told me to stop worrying. The occasional dinner in front of the television without attention to table manners and conversation won’t damage the kids.

As a pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media I am passionate about helping parents navigate their families’ use of media in a healthy way. I support the AAP’s recommendations that we turn off our screens as much as possible – especially at the dinner table. Dinners eaten together are important to me. Conversation a priority.

However, parenting is a messy business and we are indeed human. Parents need to forgive themselves errors – be they missing meals, giving kids iPads or eating dinners in front of a screen. TV dinners are certainly not ideal but perhaps my kids will benefit from my bending the rules occasionally. Perhaps we will have some incredible dinner conversations about what we watched. Goodness knows, How I Met Your Mother provides loads of teachable moments.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Teens and Table Talk

Before kids and when they were very small, I used to fear the teen years. Visions of my sweet cuddling tots turned goth, rude teens hiding in their rooms with ear-buds in danced through my brain. Now, with 2, nearly three teens at home I no longer fear. Their reality is a thing of wonder to me. They are not rude. Quiet at times but, not rude. I have to pull out the ear buds all too often but, they do not sulk behind closed doors. And most reassuring, they are still quite cuddly – when they want to be.
Given this reassuring state, I can be taken aback when they momentarily act like “real” teens.
I have held family dinnertime sacred in my house. Even through change, upheaval and redefinition of family itself, dinners together come first. Last night at dinner I asked the kids why they thought dinners together were so important. My middle child said with a snarky tone, “because they keep us connected at the heart.” Her hands acted this out with fingers first intertwined and then in the shape of a heart. Eyes rolled. But then, thankfully there came a smile.
The evidence continues to pour in. Eating meals with family is good for kids.  In 2010 a study of nearly 9,000 4 year-old children published in the journal Pediatrics concluded (in part) that young children who regularly ate the evening meal as a family had a significantly lower prevalence of obesity. Other studies recently published in the journal Obesity have supported the idea that teenagers who eat with their family are less likely to be obese at baseline. Then last month yet another group of researchers published data showing that teens who eat with their families have higher well-being, lower depression and fewer risk-taking behaviors. More work has shown frequent family meals were significantly associated with a lower likelihood of adolescent alcohol and tobacco use. In the May 2010 issue of Journal of Health Psychology teens’ experience at the mealtimes was found to be connected with this decreased rate of substance use.
Looking at all of this evidence makes it very clear. We need to eat dinner with our kids for the sake of their health. We need to cultivate ways to make our dinnertime conversations meaningful, interesting, thought-provoking. Sure, some of the research shows a benefit to simply sitting around the table together but, you might as well have fun while you sit there. Around my table we have through the years talked about almost everything. Any topic is acceptable if brought up with good intention and true curiosity. Politics, sex, religion? We have covered them all. We have played games. I have been repeatedly accused of being a pain about their manners. There have been giggles, anger and tears. We rate the meals so I know whether to cook the recipes again. Lots of meals have been rejected. And instead of cooking, many pizzas have been ordered.
Now with so many sports teams, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and social engagements that my head spins keeping it all straight, we don’t all sit together every night. But, whomever is at home sits and talks. Sometimes I wait up and eat with the late-after-practice arrivers. Sundays we all meet – even if other invitations have to be turned down. I’d like to think this commitment has paid off through the years.
My eldest can be a bit quiet. I generalize this into fitting his teen boy status – they all keep to them selves a bit don’t they? Once not too long ago, I challenged him on his laconic nature. I asked if he would talk to me when it really mattered? He stopped, looked at me and said yes. I asked why? How could I be sure? He explained that he knew I could handle talking about anything. After all, we do just that on any given Sunday around the table.

Water to Wine

After spending an afternoon writing a brief article for work about how to discuss and prevent alcohol use in preteens I brought the topic up at dinner. The responses from the two preteens present were gratifying (whew!). I asked them why they think some kids try alcohol. The 11 y/o said simply “stupid peer pressure”. The 9 y/o said simply and emphatically “ew!”. The 14 y/o was not there but, the discussion reminded me of a similar chat we had with him years ago.

We were sitting around the dinner table with another couple and their child. The two boys were probably about 7. Somehow the topic of drinking alcohol came up and my son asked why grownups were allowed to drink but kids weren’t. This is a good question that your preteen may ask you if you open this topic up at the table tonight. The societal messages around drinking can be confusing for kids. We tell them they can’t drink until 21. However, many people seem to think that alcohol use in teens is better than drug use (this despite the scary statistics to the contrary). TV shows, movies and video games can make it look like everyone drinks. That night we explained to the kids that one reason kids are not allowed to drink is that young bodies do not metabolize alcohol the same way as adults. That it is much more dangerous for  a young child. The next morning, my son used this information to point out another mixed message in his world.

It was Sunday and although not always faithful church-goers, we went that morning. Early on in the service there was “discovery time” when the young children come forward for a brief lesson directed at their level from the minister. That morning it happened to be a talk about turning water to wine. The kids were captivated and fascinated when the minister poured plain water ceremoniously into a pitcher (with some powdered purple drink mix hidden on the bottom) and then poured out the “wine” into cups to share with the kids. My child gasped and gave me a mortified look from the front of the church. He then proceeded to run down the aisle, jump into my lap and rather loudly exclaim “He’s trying to kill me Mom”!

Indeed, society promotes alcohol to our children and they find many mixed messages around them but, ministers are usually not in the business of scaring small boys! Your preteen though, is still at an age where he believes in you and your abilities to teach him are miraculous; start talking tonight!

Minimalist Art Provoking Maximum Discussion

An article by Carol Vogel in yesterday’s New York Times brings me to focus here on item number one in The List. The article was a review of Glenn Ligon’s upcoming retrospective at the Whitney museum in NYC. Glenn Ligon is a modern painter and conceptual artist whose work focuses on his view and exploration of American history. There is much here to use as fodder for a dinnertime discussion with your kids.

First a bit of art history to set the stage with. His work seems to fall well into the broad category of Conceptual Art. This movement followed Abstract Expressionism (think Rothko and Pollock) and Pop Art (think Warhol). Ligon’s work seems heavily influenced by a Neo-Dadaist artist: Jasper Johns (think American flags and numbers), …and if all this is making your head spin either skip on through or, see the bottom of this post for examples of work by these artists. Conceptual Art is a cool ah, concept to talk with your kids about. It very simply put, is art that focuses on ideas rather than aesthetics. The Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp was amongst those setting the stage for conceptual art by leading us to question what art is exactly and to stretch our expectations of what art should be.

The work of art is always based on the two poles of the onlooker and the maker. Marcel Duchamp

Years later, Conceptual art began to look at the context and perception of words, objects and ideas. In Ligon’s work he often uses words or phrases from other people and reproduces them in ways that urge the viewer to look longer and harder at what has been said. Taking these words into a new frame or focus pushes us to contemplate their ideas as those outside our own experience bringing us possibly, to a new understanding.  As Ligon himself said:

You have to be a bit outside of something to see it

The New York Times article about his work is well titled: The Inside Story on Outsiderness. Look with your children at his art; doing so may move them towards that first item on our List: to widen their perspective and encourage cross-experience understanding. Glenn Ligon’s art is about important and challenging concepts developed in large part by his experience as an African-American gay man  and yet, is presented in ways that are approachable. Challenging but not crushing of a child’s interest. My friend described them as “minimalist art provoking maximum discussion”.

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Representative works discussed above:

Glenn Ligon "All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence" (inspired by words from The book "Black Like Me")
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko
Jasper Johns
Andy Warhol

The List

Here revisited, are the reasons I have gathered from family and friends for why children should be exposed to, taught about and encouraged to experiment with art. Art, in all its forms is of enormous value but, is being given short exposure by schools and parents often struggle with how to promote arts education at home. The list is a work in progress; please add to it on your own or, in the comments.

  1. Art exposure widens a child’s perspective, encourages acceptance of generational, cultural, social and geographic diversity. Art promotes cross-experience understanding.
  2. Knowing about art allows for a more enjoyable life-experience; allows you to feel socially connected and able to talk with people. This is an interesting point. It brings to mind the value of a liberal arts education being in part to generate well-rounded, broadly. exposed young adults who can interact with others on many levels.
  3. Art helps us remember history. Indeed, this was my point about art preserving our cultural heritage and collective memory. It preserves the past both in the physical sense but also in the ephemera of our thoughts and knowledge base.
  4. Art makes the world less plain. Yes certainly, there is this – the obvious but important view that art education allows an emphasis on the beauty that surrounds us. It helps us raise children who see that in life there is value in the simple moments.
  5. This ties into the next idea: “art makes me feel good”. Time spent learning about what makes us individually feel calm and “good” is increasingly important in this pressured world.
  6. Art can make “me feel different”. Yes, art can challenge us to stretch beyond feeling good. Kids can explore, confront and process the more difficult sides of life through art.
  7. Arts education sharpens critical thinking skills. Cassandra Whyte is credited with early work showing that artistic experiences develop creative and independent thought processes that are important throughout an individual’s lifetime.
  8. It teaches innovative thought
  9. And, teaches empathy and sensitivity to other’s experiences by exposing them to other world views, brings about a deeper understanding of the world.
  10. Teaching the arts nurtures skills (empathy, innovation, tolerance) that improve our kid’s future ability to work successfully in the global marketplace
  11. Art calms the soul and brings beauty to daily life.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Pablo Picasso

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Preserve Arts Education; Preserve a Sense of Wonder.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. – Albert Einstein

My eldest is almost fifteen and is beginning the process of planning his high school and college “careers”. This proves to be a rather stress-inducing experience; apparently very different from the casual way I approached high school. Late the other night he admitted he was worried about choosing classes for the upcoming years. So, in the spirit of facing our fears we curled up together right then and went the through the high school graduation/college entrance requirements. The school had provided worksheets and lists which we dove into. Amongst scads of science, math, and language requirements I learned that of the 230 units required to graduate only 10 of those need to be in arts education.

This made me start thinking again about the lack of value we place on arts education and the consequence of this devaluing. This is evident in the currently proposed national budget; some members of the House of Representatives have proposed deep cuts or even total elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. This represents a huge loss nationally. On a more local level our school systems face severe budget crises and are viewing arts education as expendable – Leaving it acceptable to require only 10 units out of 230 for a young person to graduate from high school and enter college.

What is the cost of this devaluing? Put differently – what is the value in teaching kids arts? We teach art and teach about art because doing so:

  • sharpens critical thinking skills. Cassandra Whyte is credited with early work showing that artistic experiences develop creative and independent thought processes that are important throughout an individual’s lifetime
  • teaches innovative thought
  • widens perspective, encourages acceptance of generational, cultural, social and geographic diversity
  • teaches empathy and sensitivity to other’s experiences by exposing them to other world views, brings about a deeper understanding of the world
  • Therefore, teaching the arts nurtures skills that improve our kid’s future ability to work successfully in the global marketplace
  • calm the soul and brings beauty to daily life

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Pablo Picasso

  • preserves our cultural history and heritage; preserves our collective memory

My son and I filled in the worksheet with lots of science, language and math. And art? Well, not so much. He moaned at my suggestion of various art classes let alone art history. His groaning made me realize that I had before me, fodder for another great dinnertime conversation. Tonight I am going to ask them why I talk so much about the arts. Why I drag them to museums? Why we have lots of paint, pastels and paper? Why are our walls covered with art? They may generate some new ideas from my list above. I’ll get back to you with them.

If you want to help promote arts education yes, of course generate your own dinner table conversation. You can also look at the work of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund.

What is in a title? Or, Rapunzel Redux.

This weekend I went with my daughter to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and saw a work named Rapunzel #10. It was breathtaking and moving. Literally moving. It was a computer generated image of hanging flowers swinging in a computerized breeze positioned in a stairwell. As we walked up to begin our afternoon of art-looking, we were both taken by its beauty. So much so that at the end of the day, after lots of great art (and a yummy piece of cake and tea) we went back to Rapunzel. We sat in the stairwell, side by side quietly watching the flowers swing in the breeze.

The night before the two of us had gone to see the movie “Tangled” also a reference to the story of Rapunzel. This coincidence made me pay special attention to the title of our stairwell art and to ask her, when it comes to art, “what is in a name?” This question blossomed with the hanging flowers into a good discussion. My daughter noticed that in another equally notable exhibit we saw that day The Color of Light, that the painter named many of his paintings “Phenomena”-this or “Phenomena”-that. We started asking why? What was he asking us to pay attention to? With the installment Rapunzel #10 a placard asked us to consider the story of Rapunzel and the image’s relevance to addiction and child abduction in contemporary society.

Hmmm…I just wanted to enjoy the emotionally and literally moving flowers. I wanted to meditate on my own response and here was the artist jumping into my experience and demanding that I turn my thoughts elsewhere.

What is in those pesky names? Perhaps ask your kids at dinner tonight. Why do they think an artist leaves a work named “Untitled”. Why would they instead choose a powerful reference like “Rapunzel”? How does that change our experience? Perhaps – turn the question towards a book your child is reading: why did the author choose the title… can you come up with a different title? Or, look together at some art and discuss the names you find. In reference to the name of his work Women and Bird in the Night, Joan Miro in a rather satisfying explanation said:

It might be a dog, a woman, whatever. I don’t really care. Of course, while I am painting I see a woman or a bird in my mind, indeed very tangibly a woman or a bird. Afterward it’s up to you.

A Turkish artist, Ihsan Cemal Karaburçak, explained his very different approach of leaving works untitled:

I essentially do not give titles to my paintings. A landscape could portray any given place. What does it matter! A tree, a house, a mountain, a cloud, a flowerpot or an apple can be found at anytime, anywhere. The important thing is how it is tempered with, how it is interpreted and depicted. The object is only the means through which the artist reflects his inner world on a board or on a canvas. What matters is the inner world of the artist.

Or, create some art of your own and try coming up with names. You may of course end up choosing “Untitled”.

Jennifer Steinkamp‘s website has a video of one installment of Rapunzel.

Paul Jenkins is an abstract expressionist painter. This means that simplistically put his work is in the same general category of other artists I have written about here, Rothko and Pollock. You can see his Phenomena at his website.

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What IS art? Asking to stimulate creative thought in our children.

An article titled The Creativity Crisis published in Newsweek last year brings much to the discussion of why we should teach our children about art.

American creativity scores are falling…It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

The article explains the obvious importance of raising our children to be creative thinkers; the nation’s challenges will be better solved by leaders capable of creative thought. Approaches generated by creative minds and by those willing to listen to and build upon diverse ideas brought forth by others. Raising a generation of creative thinkers who enjoy and appreciate diversity seems an insurance policy for the success of our country.

Why has creativity dropped so significantly in the U.S.?

One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children….American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week.

Focusing on art classes as the place where creativity is taught is certainly a bias.  It would be best to integrate creative thought into all points of learning. As parents, we can do much at home to stimulate and encourage creative thought. When asked a question by your child, pause before answering. Ask one back. Encourage your child to think of as many possible answers as possible. Use dinner time to ask questions of your own. Accepting this as a bias, art understanding and thought is a great place to start when teaching our children creativity and acceptance of diversity. It gives us a good place to begin as parents. I suggest you open a dinner conversation with this question:

What IS art?

I asked my family this about a year ago. We have returned to the discussion throughout during many meals with family and friends. The answers are varied and in themselves form a great discussion; they became more developed as the conversation went on:

  • something you see
  • with color and shape
  • has history
  • ages well and people appreciate it over time
  • evokes feeling
  • created
  • engages your senses
  • makes a statement; the artist is trying to say something
  • something beautiful

We felt that art can include many mediums. When I asked which I was given the following list: paint, sculpture (both stabiles and mobiles), music, film, architecture, TV, nature (both as art and as inspiration), food, clothing (my 9 y/o boy added armor), the human body and literature. The list may be endless.

This discussion brought me to ask next whether they considered specific works of art to be indeed, art. I challenged them with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. Indeed, that in turn brings me to the next blog post idea:

Is THAT art?