Healthy Summer Snacking

We all know it’s hard to keep kids from snacking on junk food while they’re home during the summer. While running from summer camps to play dates, giving in to the constant “I’m hungry” complaints with whatever treat sounds good at the time may seem like the only option.


However, with a little planning ahead of time, you can be ready to answer those cries of hunger with a nutritious snack instead of a treat from the ice cream man.

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Meeting Non-Talkative Teenagers Where They Are

Stephanie AllenAs they hit the high school years, moms of teens know our once chatty kids can become aloof or too busy to connect. They have irregular work hours, a challenging class load, and are busy with friends and dates.

There are moments though, to capture.

Make a point to greet your teen when they get home, even if it’s an odd time.  My son’s curfew was 11:30PM, so I always stayed up to say, “hello” when he arrived. If he got home from work at 8:30PM and was ravaging through the refrigerator for something to eat, I would sit down with him while he ate.

When my teen did homework, I’d offer to help. Sometimes we’d do foreign language flashcards, study for a test, or read aloud a chapter in his book just to have time with him. We would end up sharing stories and talking about our experiences relating to the material.

  • Does your teen feel like you’re always asking questions? Focus on complimenting them and thanking them instead. Tell them a positive story you remember about them. Show interest in their opinion on a subject.
  • Become an observer of them. Notice and listen to their non-verbal communication: their eyes, mood, heart, tone of voice, and touch. It might totally change your approach when relating to them.
  • Be willing to hear the short answer. If they don’t feel like talking, prying it out of them won’t elicit a different attitude.
  • Also, consider making your point brief. Just because they don’t appear to be taking it in, it doesn’t mean they didn’t hear you. Belaboring your point won’t make it any more helpful the second time around.

Parenting a teenager can be challenging especially when they aren’t very talkative. ‘Being there’ and listening helps them through these transitional years growing up. Although they’ll always be your son or daughter, soon they will be amazing, mature adults who’ve made it through the teen years with your support.

Keeping the door open for conversation,


More on Talking with Teens – Conversation Starters.


Stephanie Allen is Co-founder and President of Dream Dinners and a New York Times best-selling co-author of The Hour that Matters Most. Naturally a visionary and optimist, Stephanie hopes to inspire America through her nurturing voice of encouragement, assuring families…    

“You’re doing a great job!”


Who Eats with Your Kids?

Stephanie Allenthtmm-stephanie-bio-67x100At a signing for our book, The Hour that Matters Most, one mom shared her transforming story about one simple dinnertime change that made all the difference with her daughter. Because her husband worked a late shift, she always fed her toddler dinner early while she bustled about in the kitchen.  Later, when her husband arrived home, she would sit down to eat dinner with him.

This mom was so fun to meet as she excitedly told me about something she’d picked up from the book. She realized she was overlooking the connection opportunity with her daughter at mealtimes and implemented a new habit.  Now, she always sits down at the table with a cup of tea and enjoys her daughter’s company. What a difference it’s made! They chat, face to face, which warms her heart and their relationship!  This mom’s found a valuable opportunity to connect with her daughter while still saving time for dinner with her husband.

4 more tips for making sure to connect with our little ones at meals: Continue reading

Fill up your Summer Season with Fruits and Vegetables

Stephanie Allen

Summer is the perfect time to focus on eating plenty of delicious, ripe seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are loaded with disease defying vitamins, minerals and fiber.  An adequate intake is good for your skin, immune system, digestion, and will help ward off high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Often our lifestyle goals focus on what not to eat; what if we tried the opposite? How about increasing our produce intake? My goal is to increase my vegetable consumption by filling ½ my plate with them at lunch and dinner. I hope you’ll try it too!

Help your family join you in eating healthier; here are a few tips to make it easier: Continue reading

Are you a Tense Host? 10 Tips for Relaxing and Enjoying your Guests

Stephanie AllenWhen I host gatherings, my friends and family often say, “You’re so relaxed; how do you do it?” I didn’t know I was relaxed, but, I guess I am! Through years of practice, both at home and in the catering business, I’ve found a rhythm that works best for me.

My style is informal entertaining. Whether we’re in the yard serving a buffet or at the table eating family-style, my aim is to focus on our guests. I want to enjoy our company instead of fussing over something I could have done earlier.

Guests will pick up on our mood and quickly notice if we’re stressed or relaxed. Our emotions set the tone for everyone else. Relaxed entertaining has everything to do with:

  • Preparation,
  • Being flexible, and
  • Focusing on people.

What typically stresses you? Notice your triggers at your parties and plan a way to alleviate them the next time. For me, we always run out of ice and I don’t like scrambling with my make-up when company is arriving.  So, I always delegate the ice to a willing guest and I’ve formed the habit of getting ready first, followed by touching up the house, and finishing the food prep. 

My top 10 tips for relaxed entertaining:

  1. Do the work ahead of time.  Two to three days before the event, I typically clean the house, shop and prepare food, set the table, and set up the beverage station. Continue reading

Make your Own Salad Dressing

Stephanie Allen

Each week, I pick up my bag of organic produce from our nearby healthy eatery and find renewed inspiration to mix up some fresh picked greens with my homemade salad dressing. I love that my produce is local and sustainably grown and that the ingredients in my salad dressing are natural. I’m not a purist, but, I do appreciate healthy food that doesn’t require learning ingredient names with a dictionary.


Making your own dressing is simple and fun to personalize.  You can almost never mess it up, even if you don’t use a measuring spoon.  Mix it in a cruet or use any small sealed container to shake it up one last time before adding to your salad.

The following is one of my favorite dressing recipes that I keep on hand for the summer.  It’s delicious over chopped greens, spinach, or sliced cucumbers.  Or, for a satisfying summer dinner, I add Continue reading

Celebrating a Graduation this Year? Here’s how to make it Special

If you’re throwing a graduation party, be free to make it unique to your graduate. Here’s the number one tip for making it special:


Celebrate their way.

If they don’t like crowds and shy away from too much attention, make the guest list small and let them open their gifts personally with the giver.

But, if they like to be the center of attention, invite all their friends and let them take center stage! Set up a time to publically praise your graduate and let others have a chance to affirm them too.

Show off their ‘then’ and ‘now.’


Consider what speaks most to your graduate and spend your extra efforts there.

Do they light up with ‘Words of Encouragement?’ Buy a keepsake book for everyone to sign like Dr. Seuss,’ Oh the Places You’ll Go.

Do they love good music? Create a fun playlist of their favorite tunes.

Do they love to be active? Organize some games or rent a dunk tank.




Celebrate their accomplishments.

Set out their trophies, awards, and special projects from over the years. Display their art!



Celebrate their life with pictures.

You can be simple and set out snapshots or go elaborate and make a movie using Movie Maker.

Or, buy a photo frame and upload with your favorite pictures of your graduate, then let it scroll throughout the party.

Everyone will love it and your graduate will feel special!






You can find great party favors at the dollar store.

Turn plain white napkins into ‘diplomas’ by tying them with black, ‘Class of 2014′ ribbon.


Serve your graduate’s favorite food.

Turkey Florentine Burger

Chicken Yakitori

Make it easy on yourself so you can enjoy the party too. Enlist your helpers, make items ahead, and try these Dream Dinners entrées from our June menu: Turkey Florentine Burgers on Pretzel Buns and Chicken Yakitori over Jasmine Rice.

Happy graduation season, and enjoy your special graduate!

For Kindergarten gradation ideas visit this great site.

For a quick visual graduation showcase check this out.


Dinnertime Ground Rules

Stephanie Allen

While visiting from out-of-town, Grandma (my mom), was having breakfast with us when her cell phone rang.  This was a predicament for the kids who turned to me wondering what I’d do (knowing we don’t allow cell phones at the table). Since Grandma has disregarded our house rule before, I thought it a good time to kindly ask, “Do you mind not answering that?”  She looked at me, thought for a ring, and then answered it anyway!  We sat trying to enjoy our meal while she carried on a conversation with someone else at the table. She eventually got up and walked away.  But, by then, everyone was nearly done and our ‘quality time’ felt spoiled.

Now, Grandma LOVES her grandchildren. She didn’t realize what affect her choice had on us. No doubt, we’ve all made decisions that have been detrimental to quality mealtimes together. The point of having dinnertime ground rules is to enjoy one another.  Although unfortunate, this experience taught my kids a little lesson on why we don’t allow cell phones at the table – and I didn’t have to preach.

Since I’m making the effort of prioritizing family meals, it’s important to guard our time from unwelcome interference.  Although some meals feel like ‘eat-and-run,’ I want to make room for more: real discussion and heartwarming laughter.

When eating together, try these mealtime ground rules: Continue reading

Making Time for your Spouse

Stephanie Allen

Men and women are a great mix aren’t we? We fall in love and want to be together every possible chance and then later we notice our differing interests take us apart. Being together often takes a compromise.

Here’s some ways I enjoy time with my spouse:


  •  If he’s doing a project, like working on the boat, I grab a book and just hang out by him.
  •  He loves the news more than I do, yet, we’ve made it a habit to record it on DVR and watch it together when we both get home. It always stirs up interesting conversation.
  • Even if I’m not interested in the sports he prefers, I make it a point to watch the last quarter of a game or the last 20 laps of Nascar. I’m learning to enjoy them too!
  • The best way we connect is by praying together regularly. We’re more vulnerable that way and it helps us feel supported by each other throughout the day.

Making my husband a priority and intentionally spending time with him nourishes our marriage. These little, daily actions make a difference. He’s SO worth it!

Keeping first things first,




Stephanie Allen is Co-founder and President of Dream Dinners and a New York Times best-selling co-author of The Hour that Matters Most.
Naturally a visionary and optimist, Stephanie hopes to inspire America through her nurturing voice of encouragement, assuring families…    

“You’re doing a great job!”



Are you a Skillful Listener? Learn to O.W.L.

Stephanie Allen

Would you like to really know how someone feels or what they’re thinking? We ask the question, “How are you?” all day long, but do we really know how a co-worker, spouse, or even our children are doing? Just Observe, Wait, and Listen (OWL), it’s that easy!

We adapt this approach from Speech Pathologists who began using OWL in language development. It’s a valuable communication tool for us all.

OWL encourages us to notice what has captured other’s interest and to patiently wait as they communicate about it.  Listening shows people their value.  When we aim first to hear what’s on their mind, rather than dominating conversation with our thoughts and opinions, we’ll discover just how much we’ve been missing!

kids-at-table-school-lunchTonight, at your family dinner, I challenge you to OWL.  Instead of asking, “How was your day?”  Try something new.  Observe.  What is your their mood?  Do they look tired, sick or happy?  Watch them for a while before you speak. If they don’t talk first, verbalize what you see, “You look tired; is that how you feel?” Wait for them to answer.  Give them a chance to explain.  Even if they just reply, “no,” show them you’re listening for more.  If they take the lead with, “We all got in trouble at lunch today because Joey shared a habanero pepper with the kids at my table,” let them tell the story. Avoid jumping in to give your opinion.  Become an active listener.

I believe all of our relationships could benefit if we slowed down our conversations and Continue reading

Try Out a Few New Burgers for Memorial Day

In honor of National Burger Month, we want to share how to make some unconventional burgers with some of our favorite May recipes.  Follow these easy-to-follow instructions to create unique burgers that will have your family saying “WOW!”

Grilled Bruschetta Chicken Burger on Garlic Bread

  • Grill chicken and heat marinade as directed.
  • Bake Garlic Bread as directed, and then slice into approximately 3” pieces.
  • Place grilled chicken* on bread, top with bruschetta sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil.

*These flavors would also work great with the Tuscan Steak.

Grill House Steaks

Steak Gorgonzola on Garlic Bread

  • Grill steak as directed. Top with Gorgonzola Butter and allow it to melt.
  • Bake Garlic Bread as directed, and then slice into approximately 3” pieces.
  • Place steak on bread and top with Arugula.


Kentucky Pork Chop Sliders

  • Cook pork chops as directed.
  • Bake Rustic Country Rolls* as directed. Slice baked rolls in half.
  • Slice pork chops in half and stack both halves on a sliced roll.
  • Top with Crispy French Onions.

*Rustic Country Rolls can be used to turn any burger into a slider.


Empowering your Kids to Cook

Stephanie Allen

It’s fun to see a renewed interest in nutrition, cooking, and canning in this generation of  20-somethings.  Yet, many of this age group have been left behind in being taught how to cook.  A generation ago 80% of Baby Boomers could cook from their pantry without a recipe; today 20% of their children can prepare a meal from scratch.

Teaching kids to cook isn’t difficult and provides them with lifelong skills.  As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  You’d be surprised what children can learn at a young age with a bit of coaching. Soon, they’ll have skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

Follow this model for a helpful way to train kids to cook:

  1. You show them, while they watch you
  2. Do it together
  3. They show you, while you watch them

Here’s what your budding chefs can learn:*

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Military Spouse Appreciation Day

Share Some Love, May 9th, with a Military Spouse you Know

When their loved ones are deployed or they are moving to a new place, military spouses can feel isolated, lonely and homesick. Why not widen your circle of friends and reach out?

Fun ideas to make their day:

  • family_dinner_saladInvite, invite, invite…draw them into your social circle and introduce them to your friends. Invite them to play dates, parties, outings, Mothers of Preschooler groups, church, the gym…whatever you do, welcome them!
  • Offer a ride. They may have only one family car and can’t get out a lot.
  • Call and text to offer encouragement and friendship.
  • Bring them a meal! If they are ‘single-parenting’ while their spouse is deployed, they will really appreciate a homemade meal. Dream Dinner’s makes it easy – fill an insulated tote with a frozen dinner along with some sides and sweets from our Finishing Touch Freezer.
  • Offer babysitting. They might not have developed a list of safe child care yet, but, need a break or date night.
  • Throw them a party! Baby showers and birthdays make great opportunities to do something for them that an old friend might have done back home.

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the masses. Reaching out to just one person makes a difference! You don’t have to change the world, but, you could certainly change their world!


Mother’s Day is May 11th

What mom wouldn’t love a freezer full of meals to make dinners nutritious and easy for a whole month?


Here are some fun options to make Mom smile with Dream Dinners:

  • Sit down at the computer together and let Mom select her meals while you pick up the tab.
  • For a fun night out, take Mom to a Dream Dinners’ session and prepare meals together.  Then, put them all in her freezer when you bring her home.
  • Surprise Mom with a bag of homemade meals you deliver to her front door.
  • If mom lives far away, purchase a gift card online and we’ll mail it to her or send her an e-card (your choice). We suggest $75 for our Introductory Offer (for first time guests) or $200 for ~ a month’s supply!

Wow, a freezer full of meals – this will be a gift she’ll remember!

Ending the Picky Eater’s Power Struggle

Stephanie AllenThe Battle’s On
Your child might be winning now, but, losing later to finicky habits and poor nutrition.

Picky eaters can turn rational parents into obsessed, battle-weary, rationalizing, bargaining, pleading, crazy people!  Whew, I’m worn-out just from describing it! We’re afraid our ‘little darlings’ will never eat balanced meals and will become malnourished skeletons, vanishing away like a puddle on a sunny day. I know; I’ve butted up against my share of picky strong-willed wonders. Someone’s cornered, and it feels like me!

Tough Love is not Mean
If you’ve done your due diligence with the family MD and he’s assured you they’re not going to die, then maybe it’s time to heighten your strategy and offer a little tough love. Although very cute, picky eaters are typically masters of the power struggle. If this is your child, read on. Continue reading