Create Family Mealtime // 4 Tips for Success

Create Family Mealtime

We know eating together as a family is important, but sometimes it can be tough. Try these tips to make your family meals a success, and make an effort to eat together as a family during National Family Mealtime month in September.

With school starting, it may feel like your family is getting pulled in all directions.  Piano practice, football games, swim team tryouts, school projects, and study groups may be filling up your family’s schedule.  An important way to keep your family connected in busy times is having meals together.  Family meals have been associated with improved diets, academic performance and vocabularies. They also decrease the risk of children experiencing depression, eating disorders, and drug/alcohol use.

This may be why September has been declared National Family Mealtime month, and Healthy Family Meals month in Utah. Here are some tips that can help make family mealtime a habit.

  1. Plan and prioritize. Make family mealtime a priority by planning it in your day.  Plan when, where, and what you will be eating.  Let your family know that it is important for everyone to be present.  Take time each month (or a few times a month) to plan your meals.  This can help you save time and money throughout the month.
  2. Make it work for your family.  Is family dinnertime not working?  Try family breakfast, lunch, or afterschool snack time.  Just take time to sit together, share a healthy meal (or snack), and connect as a family.
  3. Ditch the electronics.   With so much socializing happening online, we can lose touch with the art of conversation.  Help your family spend time together undistracted by turning off or putting away cell phones and other electronic devices.  Parents, this includes your devices too!
  4. Keep it simple and fun.  Family mealtime doesn’t need to be a source of stress.  By planning your meal and involving the whole family in the prep and cleanup, you can keep it from being a burden.  Also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself that it has to be a certain way (see tip # 2).  Use this time to talk about your days and fun memories.  Avoid discussing topics that may lead to contention: discipline, etc.

Equipped with these tips, we invite you to take the pledge to start the habit of more family mealtimes this September.

For more family mealtime tips, check out our resources at CreateBetterHealth.usu.edu.

This article was written by LaCee Jimenez, Food $ense (SNAP-Ed) Coordinator with Utah State University Extension

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong

Keep Your Relationship Strong

Keep your relationship strong by removing these three blocks, and replacing them with things that will build your relationship.



Fun and Games to Make Grocery Shopping Easier

Fun and GamesMaking shopping fun for your kids will make shopping more fun and easier for you too! Check out these 11 entertaining and educational activities to keep kids busy at the grocery store!

In our last article, “10 Tips for Surviving Grocery Shopping with Kids,” one of our tips was to give children age-appropriate activities to do during shopping trips. To help you do this, I’ve collected a variety of of parent-proven activities for all age ranges. While some of these take a little planning and preparation, it is worth laying the groundwork to transform shopping with your family from dreaded and stressful to enjoyable and painless!

(Although the activities are grouped in specific age categories, many can be used for a wide range of ages.)


Shopping with little ones

  1. When young children get to help pick out produce and other items, it makes them feel like part of the team, and they are more likely to eat what they pick out, too! Make sure you give them choices you can live with, such as, “Broccoli or cauliflower?” You can also combine this activity with the matching game (#7 below) to make it more exciting.
  2. You can help your children feel important by asking them to help carry things, either while walking or while riding in the cart. They can have items they are in charge of until checkout.
  3. If you feel crafty, you might enjoy making a “grocery game” for your child to take on each shopping trip. This can be used with toddlers as well as preschoolers, or pictures can be replaced with words for beginning readers. You can find the tutorial here.


Shopping with preschoolers

  1. Play “I Spy.” Before entering the store, let children pick out a specific color, shape, number or letter and see how many of the object they can find while shopping. Compare from trip to trip to see what things are most common in the store.
  2. Play alphabet or letter scavenger hunt. Write out letters of the alphabet (or draw shapes or colors for younger children) on a paper, and let children cross off each one they find. If this doesn’t last long enough, you can have each letter, shape or color listed multiple times.
  3. Play a matching game. Put pictures of products your family often uses on cards (you may want to laminate these for use on other shopping trips). Good sources for pictures are store ads and coupons. Let children match these cards to the products at the store. Each time they find a match, they turn the card into you. It’s fun to see how many they can match each time.
  4. Play a guessing game. Give hints about what you are going to get next and see if the kids can guess what it is before you get it off the shelf.


Shopping with school-aged kids

  1. Put them in charge of the shopping list. Make a shopping list on your tablet, phone or on paper, and put your child in charge of crossing items off as they are put in the cart. For younger kids you can use pictures for the shopping list instead of words.
  2. Have your child sort the groceries as you put them in the cart. They can sort by category, such as by food group (fruits and veggies, grains, protein, dairy/calcium), by color or by size. Let them choose categories to put things into.
  3.  If you have multiple kids to wrangle, play grocery bingo! Each child gets a board and they mark off items they see as you walk around the grocery store. The first to mark off five in a row wins! Below are several options to make your own bingo cards or download free cards to print.

If you laminate the cards or put them in sheet protectors, you can use dry erase markers to mark off items and they can be used again and again.


Middle school and above

  1.  This is a great time to guide your children in learning to shop for the best deals at the grocery store. Have them help create your shopping list, using store ads and coupons if possible. Teach them how to look for unit pricing on the shelf tags at the store, as well as how to figure it out for themselves so they can do the calculations if unit pricing is missing on the shelf or not shown in equivalent units. Find a simple child-friendly explanation of how to figure out unit pricing here


These activities, along with ideas from our previous article, can make your trips to the supermarket more pleasurable for the whole family. Have fun, and maybe enjoy singing a song in the car on the way! 

This article was written by Alissa Weller, Healthy Family Fun Box Elder County Coordinator, and Carrie Durward, PhD, RD, Assistant Professor and Extension Nutrition Specialist

Five Factors that Determine Your Sense of Well-being

Well Being.jpg

Achieving a happy life full of meaning takes conscious effort. Choose and implement some, or all, of these factors to positively affect your sense of well-being and that of your children.

If someone asks how you are doing, do you respond with the typical fine or pretty good? Or are you tempted to give a list of complaints? John Paul Murphy, former Utah State University Extension 4-H specialist, had a standard answer to that question, whether he was dealing with a personal health issue or was actually having a good day. His response? “I’m terrific! But things are looking up!”

Martin Seligman, a leading professor and pioneer in the world of positive psychology, explains that our well-being, or how we are doing, is heavily influenced by five factors. These factors are outlined in, “Strong Parents, Stable Children: Building Protective Factors to Strengthen Families,” a curriculum sponsored, in part, by USU Extension.

  1. Positive Emotion. This includes feelings of happiness, peace, love, connectedness, hope and gratitude. The important part is to enjoy yourself in the moment, such as when reading a good book, spending time with family and friends or eating a bowl of your favorite ice cream. Doing fun and enjoyable things is important in life and it makes us feel better inside.
  2. Engagement. Has time ever slipped away while doing something you love? Seligman refers to this as “flow.” Doing something that brings you to a state of flow can enhance your well-being. These are activities that make you feel fulfilled like playing with your children, playing a musical instrument or using your talents to create something.
  3. Relationships. Positive relationships are at the core of our well-being. People who have positive, meaningful relationships with others are happier than those who do not have these close bonds. Keep in mind that such relationships take time and effort to maintain.
  4. Meaning. Meaning comes from belonging to or participating in a cause that is higher than ourselves. Most of us want to believe we are living and working for a greater purpose. For some, the greater purpose may be tied to spirituality or religion; for others, it is raising a family, involvement in a charity, participating in humanitarian efforts or mentoring a young person.
  5. Accomplishment/Achievement. Setting our sights on something and dedicating time and attention to bettering ourselves is good for us. This includes working hard at a skill, achieving a goal or winning a game or competition. Well-being is tied to the steps taken to achieve the goal, not just on the end goal alone.

To foster this sense of well-being in your children, consider applying “Make Time for 9!” in your relationships with them, also taken from the “Strong Parents, Stable Children” curriculum.

  • 9 Meaningful – and Safe – Touches. Children need physical contact every day to feel connected to their parents or other caring adults. Physical contact between parents and children helps create strong attachment, builds trust and is calming.
  • 9 Minutes Matter. Children need quality time, not just quantity time. Busy families will especially need to make each available minute count. Some important times parents can impact their child are:
    • The first three minutes after children wake up and see you.
    • The first three minutes after coming home from school or an activity.
    • The last three minutes of the day before they go to bed (reading time, debriefing, snuggling, etc.).

No single interaction requires much time, but it is important to slow down, look children in the eyes and talk or ask each other questions.

  • 9 Minutes of Conversation. Depending on age, this could be 9 straight minutes or a minute here and there. Babies need a lot of contact with their parents, including face-to-face time and talking. It is no less important to interact with teens and keep communication lines open.


This article was written by Kathleen Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, Iron County, 435-586-8132, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu



Ask the Experts // Family Reunion Tips

Family Reunion TIpsDraw the short straw on family reunion assignments and are suddenly faced with preparing food for the multitudes? Here are some tips from USU Extension family and consumer sciences faculty to help ease the pain.

Keep Food Safe!

Be cautious and observant. Whether at a buffet-style luncheon, a family, community or church dinner or a picnic, just be cautious up front. Do a cursory review of what food is available and how it is being kept hot or cold. Ask yourself, “Does the food look fresh?” “Do I trust that the person preparing the food had clean hands and avoided cross-contamination with raw meats or juices?” “Has the food been held at a safe temperature?”

–Kathleen Riggs, Iron County

I make sure all food is well chilled and packed in a cooler if I’m traveling. Rather than mixing everything together and trying to keep a large container cold, I keep individual ingredients for a salad packaged separately to keep them cold. I pack the dressing separately, then combine it all in a large bowl when I arrive. I make desserts that are not temperature sensitive, such as brownies without frosting (I just sprinkle powdered sugar on top), Rice Krispy treats, cookies or fresh fruit with a fun dip. With meat to be served cold, I keep it well chilled. If keeping it hot, I use a crockpot or a casserole container that can be placed in an insulated bag. Dutch oven meat, vegetables and desserts are a favorite, and since they are generally cooked on site, there is no worry about the food sitting in the danger zone too long.

–Marilyn Albertson, Salt Lake County

Make sure hot food stays hot and cold food stays cold. Place bowls of ice or ice water under salads, etc., and use heat packs or slow cookers for the hot stuff. Make sure food gets put away quickly. That’s a thing in my family that worries me–we all wander away and leave the food out. When making food ahead of time, don’t put super-hot foods in the fridge to cool when they are in very large bowls or pots. Separate for faster and consistent cooling.

–Melanie Jewkes, Salt Lake County

Don’t use home-canned potatoes in your potato salad, or in your funeral potatoes, for that matter, unless you want them to live up to their name

Even if you’re boiling or (otherwise cooking) whole potatoes the night before and plan to finish prep the next day, make sure they’re properly cooled and then refrigerated until you use them. When we talk about C. bot requiring an anaerobic environment, remember that includes microenvironments.

–Karin Allen, USU Extension Food Quality and Entrepreneurship Specialist

One last food safety tip from the USDA: Use a Meat Thermometer!

Food Planning Ideas

Meal-in-a-bag — Pre-bag the entire meal for each person, and they can eat right out of the bag with no fuss or mess. This works well for something like taco salad. You can also put raw ingredients, like omelet fixings, in a bag and then cook the bag in boiling water. The meal is already served out and people just need to pick a bag.  

–Ginger Hack, Juab County

You have to have homemade root beer with dry ice.

If serving homemade ice cream, let family members twist the hand crank ice cream freezer or roll the ice cream in a can or bag. You will need a #10 can with a tight-fitting lid.  Inside that, place a smaller can with a tight-fitting lid filled with the ice cream mixture. Add ice and rock salt and put the lid on and tape it with duct tape. Then roll it on the cement if it is in a shady place (sunny, hot concrete will slow freezing) or in the grass for about 15 minutes. Take lid off, take off lid of small can and stir down ice crystals and repeat the process until ice cream is firm.

–Marilyn Albertson, Salt Lake County

Buy food in amounts that are easy to handle. It may be cheaper to buy a 20-pound chub of ground beef, but have you ever tried to defrost 20 pounds of ground beef in order to use 5 pounds for the taco salad that night?

Have a sign-up sheet — everyone eats so everyone helps! You make the menus, you buy the food, you provide the recipes, but the point-of-contact labor force is the whole reunion population.

Keep the menus very, very simple. It doesn’t mean it has to taste bad, just that it has to have universal appeal. Meals like Hawaiian haystacks where people have an array of topping choices to put on rice make life easy. Rice will feed everyone, and people can choose what they would like to add to it.

–Cathy Merrill, Utah County

From a health perspective–do less salads that are mayo based. They often separate in the summer heat, anyway, and there are way too many delicious veggie dishes to try out (my favorite is a black bean, corn, avocado salsa made with more tomatoes and peppers and raw tomatillos…yummy!). I don’t have a recipe typed up–I change it up each time I make it based on what I have from my garden. This one is very similar to what I start with, But l always add more tomatoes, more peppers, and usually tomatillos and avocados if I have them:

Food $ense Black Bean and Corn Salsa


  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can whole corn, drained
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper


Mix olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside. Combine all other ingredients and pour liquid mixture over and stir. Chill or serve immediately.

–Melanie Jewkes, Salt Lake County

There you have it, folks! Tips from family and consumer sciences faculty from around the state. Obviously, what worries us most is KEEP YOUR FOOD SAFE!  Don’t let a reunion memory of a fantastic family meal be spoiled by a food-borne illness report to the Centers for Disease Control afterward!

This article was compiled and edited by Cathy Merrill, FCS Utah County

Get Ready, Get Set, Play!

get ready get set play

Take time to play together as a family this summer. Try these tips to make sure everyone has fun.

You’ve probably heard that a family that plays together stays together. It’s true! Here’s a glimpse of what research tells us about why playing together is not only fun, but good for our relationships:

  •      Play teaches us about ourselves and each other.
  •      Play can be therapeutic.
  •      Shared laughter creates a bond.
  •      Humor breaks down walls.
  •      Play can build trust.


Since there are so many things you can do this summer, consider a few basic tips when planning to make sure everyone has fun.

Use a calendar. Be sure to schedule the fun in advance or the summer might just unintentionally slip by.

Get everyone involved. Have every family member suggest ideas for activities and take turns choosing what to do. Be open minded and try new things.

Keep it light. Too much competition can create hurt feelings. Try playing a new game that no one has skills for. Play just for fun and don’t keep score.

Get active. Be sure to include outside activities that get you moving so you can enjoy the great outdoors together.

Focus on each other. Set boundaries for electronic use so you can focus on connecting with each other.

Keep it simple. Having fun together doesn’t need to take a lot of planning or money. For a list of fun ideas, click here .

This Article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor

4 Reasons Date Nights Matter

Date Nights MatterNeed an excuse for a date night? We’ve got four— that is, four ways date nights can strengthen your relationship.

Make Date Night a Priority

Summertime is a great time to build memories as a family, but don’t forget to also take time for a one-on-one date with your sweetheart too! While it can be a challenge to make arrangements or take the time to get away together, research has shown that having date nights can strengthen your relationship in the following ways:

  1. Increasing communication. Time to talk can provide opportunities to reconnect and discover your partner’s newest interests and dreams.
  2. Having fun together. Date nights provide an opportunity to get out of the routine, build happy memories and rekindle the spark that can help sustain couples through the tough times.
  3. Strengthening commitment. Setting aside time to go on a date demonstrates your commitment to each other and sets an important example to children and others that you value your relationship.
  4. Providing stress relief. Date nights allow couples to enjoy time together apart from the pressing concerns of ordinary life.


Make Date Night a Success

In order to make the most of your time together, consider the following tips:

  • Make an effort to plan your date, and if needed, budget so you can put money toward nice evenings out. For date ideas, check out 10 Tips for Romance on a Budget.
  • Make an effort to look your best by wearing something special for your date (cologne, jewelry, special clothes, etc.).
  • Get ready to music that pumps you up!  When you’re listening to music you enjoy, you’ll begin to feel good and radiate positive energy.
  • Give compliments. Compliment yourself and your spouse to build self-esteem.
  • Make the car ride special. Use the time driving to get to know your partner better and discover their current hopes, dreams and interests.

Join us for a Date Night

Looking for a fun date night? Come to the Take a Hike! Reaching New Heights in Your Marriage Date Night on June 23, where you will explore the great outdoors as you hike together in the beautiful mountains near Salt Lake City. Reach new heights as you participate in additional relationship enhancement activities along the way to the top. Click here for more information.

This Article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor

For more information, see “The Date Night Opportunity” by Brad Wilcox and Jeff Dew found at http://nationalmarriageproject.org/resources/the-date-night-opportunity/


Three Tips to Win Your Relationship

win your relationshipWin your relationship by finding small ways to connect with the person you love. Learn how in this video from Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor.



Ask an Expert // Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables



Storing FruitHave you been to a farmers market yet this year? Whether it’s from a farmers market or a grocery store, don’t let that fresh produce spoil on your counter. Here are some tips on how to store fruits and vegetables so they last longer. 

One of the benefits of shopping at farmers markets is the fruits and vegetables are often fresher than those at most grocery stores. Much of the produce was picked within a couple of days, or even hours of the market. Fresher fruits and vegetables will last a little longer before they begin to spoil. But, there are also some additional things you can do at home to help your produce last even longer. Follow these fruit and vegetable storage recommendations to reduce the amount of produce that spoils before you can use it.  Use this chart to identify fruits and vegetables that spoil the quickest and be sure to use those first.

Storing Fruits and Veggies

This article was written by Heidi LeBlanc, Food $ense State Director, and Casey Coombs, RD, CD; Policy, Systems, and Environments Coordinator, Utah State University Food $ense


Ask an Expert // RV Camping Tips

RV Tips

Watch USU Extension expert Teresa Hunker share some great RV Camping tips with KSL’s Studio 5. 

RV Expert Tips