The Long Lost Family Dinner

As a kid, I almost always had to make it home for our family dinner. This time was sacred family time for us.

It was important to be at dinner on time, cleaned up and ready to eat.This was our family dinner, where we all came together, and it was a mostly daily occurrence.

We always said ‘Grace’ together, my dad dished up our dinners, and we waited patiently until everyone was served before we could dig in.

Table manners were important– no elbows on the table, napkin goes on the lap, bread is broken in half before buttering, ask to have things passed to us, ask "please" for seconds (but don't interrupt), and never leave the table until everyone was finished eating and we were excused.

We all talked, took turns, and had polite, and not-so-polite conversations. Sometimes there were arguments, sometimes lectures, sometimes scoldings, forgiveness, or words of wisdom passed on. There was a lot of love in that circle around our table. Sometimes hilarity ensued and we laughed until we cried. Sometimes there were tears and pouting. Sometimes there was little conversation, but most of all, we were all together, sharing our meal.

All in all, I remember those times well, and I realize now how incredibly important it was to keep the family together and functioning as a unit, instead of isolating ourselves, coming and going in our own little worlds as we pleased.

Today, I have three teens. When they aren’t away at college, they often seem to be working during dinner time, and catching up with them and their busy lives is a tough proposition. A family dinner these days is often a struggle to get everyone to coordinate schedules and social obligations.

I really miss our own family dinners when the kids were younger.

Too often now, it’s sports practices, after school activities, work, homework, friends, and college that take this precious time away.

The family dinner concept still runs very strong and deep within our culture and its importance goes way beyond simply providing a meal.  

There is something totally sacred and special about a shared meal—not the big holiday gathering, but the simple, regular meal that anchors families, even on nights when preparation is quick, talk is light, and everyone has someplace else they need to be.

Some evenings, the mood is right and the whole family shows up and you can get a glimpse the power of this communal gathering, and why social scientists say such communion acts as a special barrier for kids, protecting them from some of the more harmful aspects of our society.

It is a healing balm for families and children.

As hard as it is, it is during the teen years that this family time pays off the biggest. The more often families eat together, the less likely the kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, be depressed, or have eating disorders.

Kids who come from homes where there is a regular family meal get better grades in school, eat a healthier diet, get along with others better and have better social skills and manners.

Researchers from the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that the family dinner improves with practice. In other words, if a family rarely eats together, the food is less healthy, the talk is meager, and the experience is not so great. Over time, the conversation improves, the food improves and the whole dinner atmosphere gets better.

Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to get A's and B's in school than kids who have less than two family dinners a week. Foreign-born kids are much more likely to eat with their parents. When researchers looked at ethnic and racial breakdowns, they found that more than half of Hispanic teens ate with a parent at least six times a week, in contrast to 40% of black teens and 39% of whites.

The most noticeable effect was among the kids who rarely ate with their families. Girls, especially, fared poorly. They ate fewer fruits, vegetables, and calcium, and consumed more soft drinks and snack foods. Girls who dined alone were also more likely to have some type of eating disorder. Boys, too ate less healthy foods when not eating with their families.

The statistics are clear: Kids who dine with the family are healthier, happier and better adjusted in life.

Being together for dinner really counts. Whether it’s the social interaction, the good examples it provides, or the fact that family dinners usually consist of better food choices is unclear. Most likely it’s the combination of those things.

Mealtime is often the only chance parents have to actually take a good look at their teens, carry on a conversation, catch up on their lives and assess any physical or emotional issues that may be going on.

This is where a family builds identity, culture and memories.

Wisdom is passed down, family jokes are cultivated, and the rest of the world is looked at through the reinforced family values. The harshness of life seems far away.

If work schedules or extracurricular activities keep your family from eating dinner together, make it another meal.

The key here is togetherness, not just the meal.

Perhaps you can work on a few breakfasts together, or even a lunch or two. One of my friends has a family meal, but if everyone cannot make the mealtime, they get together to play cards or a game after dinner and spend time together that way.

Even if you can't do it every night, once or twice a week family meals is better than not at all. It doesn't have to be a fancy meal–it can even be a pizza from the local take-out joint.

Turn off the TV and the put the cell phones away for a while. Pull up some chairs. Invite conversation. Look at each other. Make eye contact. Interact. And please, pass the potatoes.

Till next time, stay healthy, lean and happy!


Catherine (Cat) Ebeling RN BSN, is a back to basics diet and nutrition specialist. In addition to her advanced degree in nursing from a major medical school, she has spent the last 30 years intensely studying diet, health and nutrition. She also has a book titled "The Fat Burning Kitchen, Your 24 Hour Diet Transformation" that has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide, and has helped thousands of people transform their lives, lose weight and improve their health.  

Her mission is to help others prevent disease and live their best life ever.    

Nutrition made Easy. Simple.Smart.Nutrition.



Nancy Gibbs Time magazine, June 4, 2006
Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, October 2007

Essential Steps For ‘Gluten Free-dom’

Ok, so you found out you are sensitive to gluten. Now what? It can seem like an overwhelming task to figure out what to eat, what not to eat, how to make meals, snacks, etc.

Don’t be upset–there is still a way to enjoy many of your favorite foods! I’m here to help walk you through the maze of gluten free.

I have had problems with wheat and gluten for about 25 years. Going wheat and gluten free was not near as easy back then and the easy to find substitutes that are available now, did not exist 10-20 years ago.

Over the years I found easy ways to cook without gluten, and how to avoid it when going out to eat, so I am here to help you find ways to enjoy most all of your favorite foods without feeling deprived.

First of all, let me point out that gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are all one and the same. While some doctors may distinguish between the two, both are essentially the same disease, just a difference in the severity of the reaction.

And it’s important to know, gluten sensitivity is inherited, so if someone in your family has it, the chances of someone else having some degree of gluten problem is about 1 out of 4. And sometimes it takes time to develop noticeable symptoms. Many people don’t realize they have problems with gluten until they are adults, or even middle-aged or beyond. Often it’s easier and healthier for everyone in the family to adopt the gluten-free lifestyle, rather than having the tempting off-limits foods around the house, making it hard for the gluten sensitive person to avoid.

Ok, so first of all, how the heck do ya’ cook gluten free?

Well, you CAN make most of your favorite recipes. The easiest solution that I have found is Brown rice flour, which you can substitute for most everything. Rice flour does not have the gluey-ness that regular wheat flour has, so some things may tend to crumble more easily (like cookies) but it does work. I use brown rice flour for everything from breading and coating meat, thickening sauces and gravies, to pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, muffins and more. Often nobody can even tell the difference between the brown rice flour and regular flour.

There are plenty of different gluten free baking mixes out there, but I generally prefer not to use them. Many of them use a lot of refined tapioca starch, corn starch and other refined starchy additives, so really you are just trading in one bad food for another. Check out your favorite health food store, Whole Foods, your local grocery store or online for flour, baking mixes and prepared foods.

There are many other flours out there worth experimenting with–one of the newest is coconut flour. This has a much heavier texture than rice flour but it is low glycemic, lower in carbs and can be mixed with rice flour for extra fiber. I have used coconut flour in several recipes with great results. Generally you need to use a ratio of about 1 part coconut flour to about 4 parts rice flour. And coconut flour requires you add a little bit more liquid as it tends to absorb liquids more readily.

Sometimes cooking your own favorite recipes may take a little bit of ‘tweaking’ to get them perfectly right, but I have found I can eat most all of my favorite goodies that I once ate with a little bit of experimenting.

So, where to start…

-Learn to read and recognize ingredients that contain gluten. Many prepared sauces, gravies, soups, and other foods will contain wheat, wheat flour, barley, barley malt, or modified food starch (usually ‘iffy’ since you can never be of the food source).

-Shop the gluten-free section of your food aisles carefully. Many of the gluten free substitutes may taste good but they are of little value as food, since the ingredients may be highly refined grains and starches.

-Learn to make your own gluten free food. Obviously the safest place for gluten free foods is in your own kitchen, since you have control over both the ingredients and the method of preparation.

-Move towards eating WHOLE foods with one ingredient. There is no mistaking the ingredients in an apple, a handful of raw nuts, a slice of cheese, or a fresh, healthy salad. (Watch out for the dressing though!) has one of the most informative websites on gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.

And stay tuned to as I will continually be adding more recipes all the time. Check the ‘Recipes’ section on the menubar for new gluten free recipes added frequently.

Watch for my new book, The Fat Burning Kitchen Superfoods Recipes, full of delicious, healthy, easy to fix recipes that are gluten, dairy, corn and soy free. Healthy simple foods for your health and enjoyment.

And feel free to email me with any questions you may have about gluten, dairy, corn or soy allergies. I’m happy to help!


Catherine (Cat) Ebeling RN BSN,is a back to basics diet and nutrition specialist. In addition to her advanced degree in nursing from a major medical school, she has spent the last 30 years intensely studying diet, health, food allergies, and nutrition. She also has a book titled “The Fat Burning Kitchen, Your 24 Hour Diet Transformation” that has sold over 60,000 copies worldwide, and has helped thousands of people transform their lives, lose weight and improve their health.

 Her mission is to help others prevent disease and live their best life ever.
                             Nutrition made Easy. Simple.Smart.Nutrition.