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Video: Regain family time with dinner

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: This morning on TODAY'S FAMILY , we're talking about the family dinner . How many times a week does your entire family sit down for a meal -- no cell phones, no TV , just time together and a really good meal? Laurie David is an environmental activist, also Academy Award-winning producer and author of the

    new book, "The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids One Meal at a Time ." Laurie , nice to see you. How are you?

    Ms. LAURIE DAVID (Author, "The Family Dinner"): So great to be here.

    LAUER: How do you go from " An Inconvenient Truth " and environmental activism to the family dinner table?

    Ms. DAVID: Uh-huh. Well, the family environment, right? And honestly, the truth is every issue I care about crosses the dinner plate , including raising healthy kids and having a green kitchen. So it all makes sense.

    LAUER: You feel it's very important for families to get together. This should be a ritual.

    Ms. DAVID: Yes.

    LAUER: This should be a tradition.

    Ms. DAVID: Yeah.

    LAUER: Is this based on something that you experienced in your own childhood, or what you're trying to do with your own kids?

    Ms. DAVID: Well, both. OK, my childhood dinners were not so great.

    LAUER: Right.

    Ms. DAVID: Although we sat down every night, it was always about who was going to leave the table crying first. And I wanted to make sure I didn't want to repeat that as an adult.

    LAUER: Right. So what do you do with your -- you have teenaged daughters, right?

    Ms. DAVID: I have two teenaged daughters. And here's the thing. I've been doing this for over a decade. I've insisted on the ritual of family dinner , and I am now reaping the benefits because my kids are teenagers and, guess what, they're still at the table and we're talking and laughing, and I'm so grateful that I did it.

    LAUER: And you -- and you recognize that a lot of parents have struggles just to find the time...

    Ms. DAVID: Yes. Yep.

    LAUER: ...just to put food on the table.

    Ms. DAVID: Yes.

    LAUER: But you want parents to look at this as not just a meal. This is an important opportunity to talk about things with your kids. How free-form? Or do you actually have a structure to it?

    Ms. DAVID: OK, here's the thing. This is a gift every day gives us. And with everything that's tearing apart the family life , including all the screens and the technology, like, we have to grab the rituals, the things that our parents and grandparents knew worked. This is how they raised kids, this is how you civilize children. So here's the thing. Parents who are overwhelmed, and there's a lot of them...

    LAUER: Right.

    Ms. DAVID: ...you know, you -- change your mind about what dinner is. It doesn't have to be three courses and an apple pie in the oven. It can be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The key to dinner really is sitting down and talking.

    LAUER: And when you -- and when you talk with your kids, some families, you know, say things like, 'OK, we're going to play roses and thorns.'

    Ms. DAVID: Right.

    LAUER: 'We're going to talk about the best thing you -- that happened to you today, the worst thing.'

    Ms. DAVID: Highs and lows.

    LAUER: Right. Some people talk about politics, they have a word of the day .

    Ms. DAVID: Right. Right.

    LAUER: Do you like that structure, or do you like it to be more spontaneous?

    Ms. DAVID: Here's the thing. I think people need help having conversation at dinner .

    LAUER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. DAVID: I think that -- you know, I heard from a lot of people that I interviewed for the book where they said, 'Well, we ate dinner at every night, but nobody talked.' And that's -- you know, sometimes talking can be just as challenging as preparing the food.

    LAUER: Which I like because what you've got, you've got this centerpiece over here, and you put things in the centerpiece that spur conversation.

    Ms. DAVID: Uh-huh. OK, this is a great idea if you have little kids, and it's called the treasure bowl. So put the bowl in the center of your table, OK, and all week long your kids get to pull things out of their pockets, things that they find outside, things that are special to them around the house, and they get to put them in the bowl every night. And then at the end of the week you go around the table and they get to pull out what's special to them and they get to say why.

    LAUER: It's like show and tell a little bit. Yeah.

    Ms. DAVID: It's like kind of show and tell at your dinner table.

    LAUER: You also like the idea that kids help in the preparation of the meal.

    Ms. DAVID: Yes.

    LAUER: And so you got to come up with meal ideas that they can help assemble.

    Ms. DAVID: OK, this book is filled with great ideas like this, and I'm totally excited about this. First of all, you can buy one thing for your table, get a lazy Susan because this will make every meal more fun. I mean, you're going to have a lazy Susan abuser and, you know, going to spin it too much, but...

    LAUER: Also, if you sit the kid on this, then you can spin them around, they can talk to everybody at the table.

    Ms. DAVID: But honestly, this makes every meal more fun. So here's -- this is a perfect example of a participation meal, which is that everybody gets to get involved in preparing the dish at the table, and that gets everybody loosened up and having fun . And they get to personalize the meal. So this is -- this is Thai chicken wraps. You get to take your lettuce leaf and put all your toppings on it, your sauce. You get to make it the way you like it . And if kids are involved in making the food, they're going to eat more.

    LAUER: And by the way, just because only have a few seconds left...

    Ms. DAVID: OK.

    LAUER: ...if you don't have time to do a full dinner every night...

    Ms. DAVID: Right.

    LAUER: ...you're -- you encourage people, try snack time .

    Ms. DAVID: And that's the other thing. If you can't do ritual dinner , do ritual lunch. Do a Sunday afternoon. Do tea time before bedtime. Have that be your ritual. And if you do it every night, your kid are going to love it.

    LAUER: Laurie David . We went to college together, folks, college together at Ohio University .

    Ms. DAVID: We did. We did.

    LAUER: Nice to see you again, it really is.

TODAY recipes
updated 11/3/2010 9:04:33 PM ET 2010-11-04T01:04:33

Cell phones. Computers. TV. Homework. How do parents and kids ever find time to talk to each other? Environmental activist and producer Laurie David has an idea: Over dinner. In her new book, “The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect With Your Kids, One Meal at a Time,” David shares easy-to-prepare recipes and ideas for engaging children and teens during the most important hour of the day.

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For example, consider just one recipe from the book, for Thai chicken wraps. David points out that kids can get involved by helping with the following tasks:

—Tearing the mint into little pieces.

—Pinching the tips and tails off the green beans.

—Washing the vegetables.

—Tasting to make sure the chicken is perfect.

Here’s the recipe so you can give David’s ideas a try at home:

Recipe: Thai chicken wraps (on this page)

Recipe: Thai chicken wraps

  • For the chicken filling:
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup water or stock
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sliced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce or to taste
  • 1 sliced Thai chile pepper (very spicy, so optional)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • For the wrappings and toppings:
  • 18 whole large lettuce leaves (about 3 lettuce heads)
  • 1/2 pound young raw green beans, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cucumber, cut into strips with your peeler or mandoline
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • Some fresh mint, cilantro, and basil
  • Cut limes
  • Asian chili sauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
  • For the dipping sauce:
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a little bowl.

In a medium nonstick pan, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the garlic and ginger over medium heat until light brown. Add 1/4 cup water or stock, then add the chicken and stir well, separating the chicken into small bits. This should take you about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain out the water.

Transfer the cooked chicken into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients for the filling and mix well. Taste and season until there is a good balance among the sweet, tart and savory flavors. You might need a bit more fish sauce, another squeeze of lemon, a little more hot sauce ...

On a large platter, mound the vegetables, herbs, and chicken. Serve with little bowls of the dipping sauce, cut limes, fish sauce, chili sauce and chopped peanuts. At the table, fill lettuce leaves with flavorful minced chicken, vegetables and pieces of torn herbs. Add a squeeze of lime or some peanut crunch, and roll it up.

Serve with some steamed brown rice on the side, and you have a perfect summer dinner.

Serving Size

Makes 4-6 servings

Vote: Does your family eat dinner together?

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