We recently received the following note in our email: ” I am an RDN at Mayo Clinic working in family medicine and pediatrics. I see so many families that struggle with childhood obesity. Several years ago a Family Dinner Project team ventured to Mayo to share your work. I so enjoyed working with the team and share your resources/recommend your site/information to so many of my patients/families.” The kind message was from Michaeleen Burroughs, who we remember very well from that Mayo Clinic collaboration back in 2012! We’re catching up with Michaeleen and her family now to see where they — and their dinners — are five years later.
Michaeleen and Tracy Burroughs of Byron, MN. Their grown children are Brian, 23, and Regina, 21; Brian was recently married, adding Mariah to the family.
As empty-nesters, Michaeleen and Tracy have found that their family dinners have become a bit more casual — maybe too casual for their liking. When they found themselves constantly gravitating to the kitchen counter for meals rather than sitting at the table, Michaeleen noted that it was impacting the quality of their time together. “We find we take more time with each other if we are actually at the table,” she says. “Plus at the table we are further away from the computer, which sits on the kitchen counter.” They’re now trying to intentionally set the table for dinner, enticing them to sit down and make the time to connect.
When the kids were living at home, Michaeleen says the challenges were probably familiar to many families: Trying to work around sports schedules and other extracurricular activities to make dinner happen. Now that Brian and Regina have moved out, Michaeleen and Tracy are facing a new type of scheduling challenge: Making sure they both get home from work at a reasonable hour and still have time to make dinner for the two of them.
Drawing on many years of experience with family dinners, Michaeleen and Tracy advise meal planning as one of the top ways to make sure that everyone gets together for regular meals. Planning and posting a menu each week helps to make family dinner part of the household organizational system, and can help eliminate the dreaded “What to cook” challenge at the end of a long day. Also, Michaeleen says her top piece of advice for families just starting out with dinners is to make sure to prioritize sitting down together for as many meals as possible from infancy onward, pulling the littlest ones up to the table in high chairs and boosters at breakfast, lunch and dinner so that eating together becomes a lifelong learned habit.
The Burroughs family has always relied on simple dinners that get everyone fed with a minimum of fuss. Favorites include tuna noodle casserole, a mixture of beef Rice a Roni and ground beef, crock pot meals like chili and pot roast, and pizza. Michaeleen says they always serve a fruit, vegetable and cottage cheese as dinnertime sides — “an unusual family favorite!”
Michaeleen says she’s always appreciated the resources provided by The Family Dinner Project and enjoys providing them to patients at the Mayo Clinic to help them improve their family dinner habits. However, recently she’s found new meaning in sharing our tips and tools, as son Brian and his new wife moved 900 miles away from home to pursue new job opportunities. “They send us snaps of their dinners and text with recipe requests and ideas,” she says. To help the couple get settled into their new life, Michaeleen sent them links to the Family Starts With Two section of The Family Dinner Project. “I was excited to see this,” she says, “because family dinner as a routine BEFORE kids makes it much more likely it will happen once kiddos enter the scene!”