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Real Family Dinner Projects: The Begay Family

Posted on: November 1st, 2019 by Bri DeRosa

Tina and some of her family members enjoy a Community Dinner with The Family Dinner Project.

Meet Tina Begay and her large extended family! Tina’s dinner table includes her own children, granddaughter and her nieces and nephews as she’s helping to raise them during a family crisis. We met Tina during our work with tribal communities in Montana, and are pleased to introduce her and her family to our followers!

The Family:

Tina Begay and husband Rick Desjarlais, of Arlee, Montana. Tina and Rick are joined by children Tayla, Nellie and Sage; grandchild Ruby; and nieces and nephews Horizon, Najea and Myles. The younger members of the family range from 2-year-old Ruby all the way up to 24-year-old Tayla, so Tina’s family dinners include just about every age and stage imaginable!

The Goal:

Currently, Tina is most interested in improving the nutritional profile of family dinners in her household. She’s been working making healthier meals for a long time. “When I was first married, I cooked Hamburger Helper and canned corn. Sometimes I would change it up and have canned beans,” she says with a laugh, adding “I have come a LONG way from that person! Now I make most of my meals with fresh food, and 80% unprocessed.” While Tina is proud of how well she’s done, she’s still trying to cut back on take-out meals. At the moment, the family eats takeout about 3 times a month; Tina would like to reduce to once a month or less.

The Challenges:

Time is a big challenge for Tina and Rick, especially living in their rural community. The local schools run on a 4-day schedule, meaning that the days are longer than average, and many parents in the community have to commute more than 30 miles to get to work. That means that Tina can’t even start to think about preparing dinner until anytime between 6 and 8 p.m. most nights.

The Strategies:

“The crockpot is my friend,” Tina jokes. She also tries to keep the family on track by freezing fruits, vegetables and homemade meals when she’s able, and by sticking to a no-sugar rule Sunday through Wednesday. She says she bakes homemade treats for the family’s sweet tooth, but all added sugar is off-limits for those four crucial days when everyone needs to be at their best for the four-day school schedule.

The Food:

The family favorite is tacos, but Tina says they also “can’t give up” a monthly treat of traditional Navajo frybread. They cook predominantly with elk meat and try to limit white flour, except in the homemade cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls and of course, frybread that Tina makes for everyone to enjoy.

The Takeaway:

Since connecting with The Family Dinner Project, Tina and Rick have learned to let the kids participate more in prepping and playing with foods to help them stick to healthy choices. “My kids learned they actually liked red peppers!”

The Best Part:

“Full bellies make me happy,” Tina says, but adds that she enjoys the time to connect with the whole family at the table, which they try to make technology-free as much as possible. In addition, the family sometimes honors their heritage (Tina is enrolled Navajo and Rick is enrolled Assiniboine, while their nieces and nephews are descendants of the CSKT tribe) at the dinner table. To help cultivate a tradition of gratitude at family dinner, they burn sage and sweet grass, and Rick prays in Assiniboine.

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.