We first met the Nelsons, a military family, at a Community Dinner event for Blue Star Families at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. They are now living abroad and sharing their family dinner wisdom and challenges from halfway around the world!
Eric and Heather Nelson and kids Ethan (9), Kailey (8), Cade (6) and Sienna (2). The Nelsons currently live in Yokosuka, Japan.
As a military family, the Nelsons can appreciate the value of time spent together. They’ve lived abroad for 6.5 out of the last 7.5 years, meaning that their strength as a family unit is a top priority. For Heather and Eric, keeping the bonds strong means sitting down together for a meal every night.
“We move every 2-3 years and live far away from extended family, and because of that it is so important that we do family dinners so that we have that closeness as a family, because we have to rely on each other so much.”
Even thought they live abroad, the challenges for this family are very similar to those of families here in the States! Heather says that structuring the family schedule to allow them all to sit down to dinner together each night can be tricky, and additionally, getting a healthy dinner on the table on the busiest evenings is a continual work in progress. However, as a military family, the Nelsons also face an additional challenge:
“My husband occasionally deploys — for example next year he will be out to sea for 5-6 months and it will be difficult for me (and has been in the past when he has been gone) to be motivated to cook dinner and not just make the kids mac n cheese, but realize more than ever how we will need family dinners to deal with the stress of my husband being gone.”
Heather says that when it comes to making sure they eat dinner together, she simply has to make time — either structuring the kids’ activities and schedules so they don’t interfere with the dinner hour, or if that’s not possible, adjusting the family’s dinnertime so that everyone is available to sit down and eat. She also enlists the kids’ help to make dinners happen. “I want my kids to eat healthy and enjoy trying new foods, so each week, they take turns planning out a meal for dinner and then helping me prepare it,” she says. Heather notes that being involved in the planning and cooking has taught each of her children valuable lessons about nutrition and life skills.
“They are more willing to try new foods when they’re the ones cooking it. They have also learned about balancing our meals…they have become excited about cooking and always want to look on Pinterest or in cookbooks for new recipes.”
Because of the family’s international lifestyle, the Nelson kids have been exposed to a wide variety of foods and enjoy lots of Spanish and Japanese dishes that they’ve tried while living in those countries. Their list of favorite meals includes the Spanish cold soup gazpacho and Japanese specialty katsudon, along with more typically American choices like pancakes, clam chowder and steak rolls. Heather also shares that living abroad often means that they have to challenge themselves to cook certain cuisines at home — for example, the Nelson family loves Mexican food, but finds it hard to source in Yokosuka. “When we’re really craving Mexican, we just make it ourselves!”
Try the Nelson family’s favorite dinner: Katsudon
The Nelsons say that their experience with The Family Dinner Project taught them to get their kids more involved in the meal preparation, which has had many benefits.
“My children are much more engaged in what we eat, more curious about what is for dinner, and are always asking to help me in the kitchen.”
The Best Part:
For this family, food is a big part of what makes family dinner enjoyable — the kids rate “Sitting down and eating” and “Trying new foods” as some of their favorite things about dinnertime. The whole family also agrees that the conversation, especially when Heather and Eric share stories from their own childhoods, makes the dinner table a special place for all six family members.
“Eating dinner together is something we really look forward to and enjoy — one of the best parts of the day!!!”
Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us? We’d love to hear from you and consider featuring your family! Contact Us.