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Real Family Dinner Projects: The Lehman Family

Posted on: July 24th, 2023 by Bri DeRosa

Where Are They Now?

In 2021, we first introduced the Lehman family. Their original Real Family Dinner Projects feature is posted below. We recently had the opportunity to reconnect with KaLea around the publication of the MSOFC book The Warrior’s Table, and we checked in on how things are going at family dinner!

Since our original interview, the Lehmans have completed their move to West Point, NY. Joshua left his tactical unit for an instructional role, so while they’re still a military family, the Lehmans’ lifestyle has changed somewhat. KaLea reports that they’ve experienced a few years without any deployments, which is a huge shift for a special operations family.

With that shift, Joshua has been able to spend more time at home with their five (soon to be six!) children, and has taken a more active role in cooking family meals. The changes have also meant the family can be slightly less structured about mealtimes. “Our dinners have really evolved since leaving our last tactical unit,” KaLea reports. “We eat late often and experiment with recipes a lot, but we love our family dinner time. If we don’t gather at the table, my kids don’t think I actually fed them.”

Reflecting on her journey with family dinner and the writing of The Warrior’s Table, KaLea says, “When we started the research that led us to The Family Dinner Project, and ultimately our book, my eldest was in third grade. She is homeschooled online now and hears all of my meetings, and she has become a super dinner advocate! My kids have grown up talking about family dinner and why we do it. It’s not just the dinner. It becomes the facilitator of tradition and how you live and socialize.”

Read on for the original 2021 story of the Lehman family and their real family dinners!

We’re pleased to introduce the Lehman family! KaLea Lehman leads the Military Special Operations Family Collaborative, and she and her team are currently working with The Family Dinner Project on a special project. Read on to learn more!

The Family:

Joshua and KaLea Lehman, plus kids E (11), Mia (8), Pip (7), Lil’ J (4) and EG (7 months). The Lehmans currently live in Medfield, MA, but are anticipating a move to West Point, NY for Joshua’s work in the military.

The Goals:

KaLea’s work with the Military Special Operations Family Collaborative led to a surprising discovery that connected her to The Family Dinner Project. “In our research, we found that one of the early signs of family stress (for Special Ops families) was when a family actually avoided dinner time because of tension,” she explains. Recognizing that this finding could be a key to helping families, KaLea started researching ways to promote family mealtimes, and found The Family Dinner Project. Now her team has a goal of working with TFDP to produce a book for military special operations families, based on our book Eat, Laugh, Talk! but adapted to specifically align with the “trials and triumphs of a special operations family’s journey.”

On the home front, KaLea and Joshua have less lofty goals for their family dinners. Like most parents, they’re dealing with day-to-day mealtime struggles like proper utensil usage and picky eating. Describing her kids as a “high-energy pack,” KaLea says her goal is to get them to use their forks as requested, and to more consistently eat their protein at dinner.

The Strategies:

“I’m all ears to tips!” KaLea admits. “Currently, our only tactic is constantly reminding them to use their fork. I do try to cut the protein item up in tiny pieces and offer a sauce or cheese to make it less of a struggle. It sometimes works.” 11-year-old E. chimes in with another tip: “Always having a good dessert is key, because everyone will eat better for a sweet!”

We asked TFDP co-founder and Executive Director Dr. Anne Fishel whether she had any input to share with the Lehmans. She says, “With such a lively, engaged group of kids, getting their input around picking a recipe, choosing a new vegetable to try, or enlisting the older kids to make a course, could lead to more adventurous eating.”

The Food:

The Lehman family eats and enjoys a wide variety of foods, and the members of the household have different favorites. The kids choose spaghetti and Brazilian cheese bread as their top picks, while Joshua likes a traditional roast with potatoes. KaLea prefers “anything with curry or an ethnic twist.”

The Takeaway:

“We have a family of young kids and have moved many times with the military. I feel like our family dinners change shape every few months, but being deliberate and aware that they are important has been motivating. It’s become one of the things that we plan around instead of just check the box or squeeze into the day,” KaLea shares.

Through her work, KaLea has gained a deeper understanding of how important family dinners are to preserving the bonds in a special operations family. One of the dinnertime habits the Lehmans have developed that’s meaningful to them is a nightly read-aloud at the table. “We are Catholic, and we decided to periodically read from The Rule of St. Benedict. It made for some really memorable table talk,” KaLea says. Josh adds that it’s important for families to make sure that all members of the family get a chance to talk at dinner, “Because even the quiet one has something to say.”

The Best Part:

“I really enjoy watching the kids light up telling a story about their day,” KaLea says. “They know dinner is family time and they communicate uniquely at dinner time. It is really interesting to watch the dynamics, storytelling and how it evolves week to week. It’s become a beautiful sharing opportunity that even our 7-month old is excited to watch.”

Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us, or would you like to learn more about how to involve The Family Dinner Project in your community group? We’d love to hear from you! Contact Us.