Friday, September 30, 2011

ONE SKillet Meal Appeal!

This week we've been talking about the importance and benefits of ROUTINE in family life, and how having routines in place goes a long way to helping make family dinner hour possible. Then yesterday and today, we've returned to more easy ideas for actually getting the meal on the table.

We hope we're sharing things worth reading and your visit to Making Family Dinner Hour Possible is worth your while. IF it is, do take a minute to let us know and please feel free to pass our link on to your friends and family. We're passionate about the need to eat together again and hope we're helping this cause--as we like to say, we're all in it together, and together we can make it happen--one dinner at a time!

Now, another EASY MEALS idea:

Many of our family’s favorite meals can be prepared with the ease of using one pan. We find that using JUST a skillet makes for a trouble-free cleanup. We also like one skillet dinners for another reason: A one-skillet dinner allows you to serve straight from the skillet to the plate—so there’s fewer serving dishes to clean as well.

Serving from the skillet creates a casual setting and gives the warm feeling of a laid-back family dinner. This might be a fun time to light a candle (or kerosene lantern) and eat by candle light. After all, it doesn’t have to be a formal dinner to justify using candles.

Skillet meals are very much like making a casserole, only without having to use as many pans and bowls. Stir Fry and Chicken ‘n Rice are a couple of our favorites—do you have a favorite you could tell us about? Let’s look at the basics to this meal approach:

1. First, you need a large skillet. We prefer a stainless steel or cast- iron pan over aluminum or Teflon-coated. A stainless steel or cast- iron pan will not only conduct the heat better but also has the advantage of outlasting the other skillets.

2. Next you need adaptable recipes. We’ve found most of our casserole recipes adapt well.

One-skillet-dinners are a time-saving, healthy, and easy way to make dinner hour possible when life gets hectic. They really do have meal appeal!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So Much to Do, So Little Time!

Having dinner ready after a crazy-busy day…isn’t that every woman’s dream? The perfect answer to this dream is often a crock-pot dinner! It sure beats stopping for unhealthy fast food and the crock-pot dinner can be much more economical. We love saving money!

And we like that it’s a one pot deal—clean up is a snap! Some people even use a crock-pot liner to keep the pot clean. We just let the pot soak in hot soapy water while we relax and enjoy dinner.

We also appreciate how crock-pot meals accommodate meal time stragglers. For instance, a mother of 8 (and some are teenagers) told us, “Being together as a family for meals is so important to us that we decided we all needed to cut back on individual activities so we could be present and accounted for. But still there are times when it’s impossible to have everyone home for dinner at the same time.

The kids that sometimes miss dinner know that other family members are having dinner together, and that gives our absentees feelings of structure and security. When they return home from activities they know a plate of something homemade is waiting for them.”

And speaking of crock-pot cooking and teenagers, the two really go together, and we love this as well. It’s fairly easy to teach teens how to put a meal together using a crock-pot, so why not let each teen choose one night a week that they would be responsible for—dinner would be their deal on that night. Just make sure they have all the ingredients and they can fix it and forget it! This gives them time to do their activities and still have dinner ready when everyone gathers. Besides making life easier for YOU, it’s a great way to prepare them for going off to college or living on their own—they can continue to eat healthy, no matter how busy they get.

Now that fall is in the air, soon to be followed by winter, it’s time again for warm, nutritious meals. Don’t you love how versatile the crock-pot is? Besides hearty stews, chili’s, soups, pot roast dinners, and casseroles and vegetable dishes, slow cookers also make cobblers or other delicious desserts truly easy.

Between the two of us, we have gone through more than 6 crock-cots since the 70’s, when they first came out. And in the process, we’ve found that not all crock-pots cook the same. Some get hotter than others, so it pays to get to know your crock-pot and how it cooks. Once you understand its individual idiosyncrasies, it will become a treasure you can’t do without.

To get us started, here’s a super easy, low-cost recipe to try, courtesy of Myron Menaker (an ex-Defense Dept. employee who’s moved to Daytona Beach), found on

Beach Boy’s Pot Roast

1 beef roast (chuck, top round, often about $1.69/lb)

1 jar of pepperoncini peppers

Garlic clove slivers, to taste

Cut some slits in roast and insert garlic slivers. Place beef in Crock-Pot. Dump peppers and all of the juice on top. Crock all day on low ... at least 12 hours. This meat is great for sandwiches!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ROUTINE--Smart Parents Put it to Work!

ROUTINE--it really is the secret to productivity and peaceful family life, and smart parents put it to work! Routines don't have to be rigid and they don't imply things are being run by the Gestapo. And the good news is that the best ones are customized--they're as diverse as the families that adopt them.

There’s no rule about how many or what kind of routines you should have. What works well for one family might be too restrictive for another. It can also be easy to over-timetable life, which is what I (Alice) tend to do, so I have to be extra careful about this aspect of the idea.

One thing we especially appreciate about routine is how it can help to solve family problems. For instance, fourteen-year-old Stephen and his younger brother Aaron had been nagging their mom about using the computer as soon as they got home from school every day, and they then spent most of their afternoons arguing over it. So mom came up with a new routine to solve the problem: The computer would be turned on at 4 pm AFTER chores were done; Stephen would go first, then help Aaron with his turn. The boys used a timer set to 30 minutes to time their turns. And mom included the rule that the computer would then be shut off for the evening when it was time for dinner (6 pm-ish). The result: the boys took on more responsibility, mom spent less time refereeing and more time preparing the family dinner, and there was a lot less tension at home.

If you’re feeling you can’t find the time to do the things you want with your children, some new routines might help. Try thinking about the following questions:

  • What do you do regularly with your family? Would life be easier and more enjoyable if these things ran more smoothly?
  • Could children and other family members be involved more? How could you set up routines to include them?
  • Are there activities you would like to do but aren’t doing? Can you include some of them in the family’s regular routine?

All this said, and with answers to these questions in mind, here are some general routines you might want to consider for your family, depending on the ages and stages of your children:


  • Morning routine (getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, helping with simple chores, etc.)
  • Play time (with siblings, with friends, scheduled play-dates, scheduled outside activities, etc.)
  • Mealtime (picking up and putting away of toys, washing hands, helping to set table or with other meal-related tasks, etc.)
  • Play and talk times with a parent each day
  • Quiet time each afternoon and evening
  • Bedtime routine (brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading stories, saying prayers, etc.)
SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN (in addition to many of the above):
  • Hygiene and health – for example, brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Tidying up, looking after toys
  • Caring for pets
  • Regular play-dates
  • Allowance (regular schedule for and handling of)
  • Chores and training in them (setting dinner table, doing dishes, helping with laundry, helping with yard work, etc.)
  • After-school activities
TEENAGERS (in addition to many of the above):
  • Use of family resources (computer, car, home for entertaining friends, etc.)
  • Chores (laundry, scrubbing bathrooms, washing windows, vacuuming and mopping, changing beds and cleaning bedroom, etc.)
  • Homework
  • Hobbies or sport
  • After-school activities
  • Meal preparation, eating together
  • Family days (family activities)
  • Family DVD nights
  • Family meetings
  • Communication with family (taking turns talking about the day, emailing, letter writing, phone calling, etc.)
  • Special one-to-one time with a parent
  • Regular contact with extended family and friends
  • National/state/local celebration days, annual fetes or outings
  • Prayers, church attendance, observing religious events

We can see that once we've created a smooth pattern of operation in the family, with all members contributing to and supporting the family operation and goals, consistently gathering the family to the table for dinner is a lot easier. And that's why we wanted to back up and share this information.

We realized we could give you the greatest recipes on the planet, we could talk about the cutest ways to decorate the table, and we could even give you all the time-saving tips in the world. But it dawned on us that if there isn't a systematic method of operation in place, all this other stuff wouldn't serve you or really matter. It might be like putting the cart before the horse.

So as we move deeper into this new school year, let's get organized and mobilized. Let's get some helpful routines in place where everyone is contributing, cooperating, and growing from the shared experience. We'd love your comments on this business of routine--share your ideas, pass this on to your friends, invite them to share with us. We're all in it together and together we really can make family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ROUTINE--The Secret Weapon for Productivity and a Peaceful Home!

My experience as a private school teacher (grades K-3) and as a mom and grandma has proved to me that families need and thrive in routine. Routine is at the heart and base of all good things that happen in the home—including family dinner hour. So with your indulgence, could we talk about this need for the next couple days? First, routines in general, and then how it applies to making family dinner hour possible?

Regarding families: Routine helps us get through the things that need to be done each day, it can also build family bonds, and a good routine caters to the needs of ALL family members.

While there’s no cut or dried definition to family routine or one way to do things, good routines organize us so we can get things done, spend time together and have fun. They help us know who should do what, when, in what order and how often.

For example, a family might have:

  • daily routines--getting ready in the morning, bath time, mealtime, study time, bedtime
  • weekly routines for house and yard work
  • weekly routine of organizing time and calendaring appointments and commitments for each family member
  • other routines involving holidays and extended family gatherings

Routine does much more than minimize chaos. Routines also let our children know what’s important to us as a family. Highly meaningful routines (sometimes called rituals) help strengthen shared beliefs and values, and build a sense of belonging and cohesion.

And maintaining normal daily routines as much as possible makes it easier for children to deal with stressful events--birth of a new child, divorce, loss of a parent’s employment, illness or death of a family member, or a move to a new city or country.

Now children specifically: Clinical formal, and anecdotal informal (my teaching and parenting experience) prove that routine has solid benefits:

  • The organized and predictable home environment that routines create helps children and young people feel safe and secure. This is one of the strongest reasons for establishing routine—life is hard for children today, so something as simple as creating routine in the home can be a life-saver for them as they struggle to navigate the rugged outside world.
  • Routines facilitate healthy habits in younger children and can make boring tasks, (brushing teeth, getting exercise, or washing hands), automatic.
  • Routines built around fun and spending time together strengthen relationships. Routinely reading a story together before bed or going for a special snack after soccer practice are seemingly small things that make a huge impact over the long run.
  • Daily routines help set body clocks. For example, bedtime routines help children’s bodies ‘know’ when it’s time to sleep. This can be particularly helpful when children reach adolescence and their body clocks start to change.
  • If a child needs to take medicine regularly, a routine for this makes it easier to remember.
  • Having an important job to do in the family routine helps children and teenagers develop a sense of responsibility and esteem.
  • Routines help develop basic work and time management skills.
  • Routines promote a feeling of safety in stressful situations or during difficult stages of development, such as puberty.
  • When children reach adolescence, the familiarity of regular home routines can help them feel looked after. Predictable family routines can be a welcome relief from the changes they’re experiencing.
  • Routines are important for children who find it hard to understand or cope with change, and they make life easier for everyone if a child has special mental or physical needs.

Routines provide health benefits, too. Research shows that children in families with regular routines have fewer respiratory infections than those in routine-free homes. And because routines help reduce stress (which suppresses the immune system), children from routine-managed homes show greater resilience to infections and viruses in general.

Now regarding parents: although routines take some effort to create, once established, they have lots of benefits:

  • They free up time for us to think about other things while we work.
  • If they’re regular and consistent, they can help us feel more confident in our roles.
  • When things are hectic, routines help us feel organized, which lowers our stress.
  • They facilitate productivity and efficiency.
  • They help us “work our way out of a job:” as children get better at following a routine by themselves, we can give fewer instructions—there’s less nagging.
  • They free us from having to constantly resolve disputes and make decisions. If Saturday night is pizza night, for instance, we needn’t argue about what’s for dinner.

Older children and teenagers will eventually outgrow or challenge some routines. Knowing this, we can be flexible and adapt. For example, as they reach milestones (getting their driver’s license or their first part-time job), routines should be evaluated and joint decisions made as to what the best new routine would be.

A peaceful home, strong, healthy and happy children, getting things done in an organized way, accomplishing goals—and so much more—this is what routine can do for us. And you can see how much it relates to making family dinner hour possible. Let’s talk about this tomorrow!

Monday, September 26, 2011

POPCORN--A Party in a Bowl!

FAMILY—isn’t this what life is all about? Whether we’re gathered around the dinner table or flopping together in the family room sharing a treat, time spent together is just the best! And speaking of sharing a treat, let’s talk about one that we never get tired of—popcorn.

Have you noticed that when the smell and sound of popcorn hits the air, the family starts anticipating FUN! A bowl of popcorn gathers people together, whether for a movie, a game night or even for “Let’s sit down and talk time."

As the kids were growing up we often made popcorn on Sunday nights and watched the “Wonderful World of Disney.” On other occasions a bowl of popcorn would lead to conversations about school, friends, or how life was going in general. As we started to munch on the popcorn, they would feel more at ease and talk more freely about what was happening in their world. Since children see the world far differently than adults, these heartfelt conversations were a crucial key to helping us in raising our families—we got insights we likely wouldn’t have gotten, otherwise.

And so we call popcorn a "party in a bowl." We love that there are so many sweet or savory recipes to choose from and it’s always been a family favorite at our houses. And isn’t it great that it’s an inexpensive treat? It’ high in fiber and protein and contains some vitamins and minerals. Popcorn is considered by the American Health Organization to be a healthy, wholegrain snack.

But watch out for those microwaveable popcorns—they all have different levels of fat content, so be sure you are reading the labels. We prefer popcorn that is done on the stove in a whirly pop. The kids love to help crank the handle, which stirs the popcorn. We’ve timed both of them and found the stove top popcorn doesn’t take any longer than the microwave approach, and we prefer the flavor of the stove top method.

If you want seasoned or flavored popcorn, here are a few things to remember:

1. After popping the popcorn and placing it in a bowl, shake down all the un-popped kernels. They will remain in the bottom of the bowl so they can be easily removed. Next, spread the popped corn on a cookie sheet and place in a pre-heated (200 degrees) oven—this will keep it warm while you make the topping. Warm popcorn allows the coating to stick more effectively. Do this step whether you are using wet or dry ingredients to coat the popcorn.

2. If you are using a dry seasoning to coat your popcorn, spray it with a quick spray of butter-flavored nonstick spray. Then put the popcorn and dry seasoning in a paper bag and shake until coated. Return to bowl and enjoy! Try Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, or any seasoning or spices that you think you might like.

Now here's a recipe for a yummy seasoned popcorn you might try for your next family gathering. We found this on the CD Kitchen website:


2 Tbsp garlic-flavored olive oil

3 quarts warmed popped popcorn

1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp butter, melted

1 1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes (optional)

1/4 tsp salt

Pop corn using garlic-flavored olive oil. Drizzle butter over warm popcorn. Combine cheese, basil, and red pepper flakes (if using), and salt. Place popped corn in paper bag, sprinkle in seasoning, shake bag well to evenly coat kernels. Return to serving bowl and enjoy. Makes 8 cups.

So the next time you want an inexpensive, healthy treat that can bring the family together, make a batch of popcorn and LET THE FUN BEGIN! And until we meet again, here’s to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Staples Make Life Easier and Can Save the Day!

It'll be lots easier to get family dinner on if we keep staple ingredients within arm's reach both for everyday and for cooking emergencies. Staples include a variety of dry goods, canned and bottled goods, and frozen foods.

There are baking supplies that we consider absolutely indispensable: baking powder; baking soda; cornstarch; extracts (especially vanilla and almond); flours of all sorts; evaporated milk; honey; molasses; sugar (granulated, brown, and powdered); oils (olive, canola, flaxseed, sesame); butter; dry yeast.

Then there are baking supplies we see as useful: cake and cookie decorations; chocolate products (baking cocoa, chocolate chips, baking chocolate); shredded, unsweetened coconut; corn syrup (light and dark).

And there are even indispensable condiments: ketchup; mayonnaise; mustard; salad dressings; soy sauce (or Bragg's Liquid Aminos); steak sauce; vinegars (cider, white, balsamic, red and white wine); and Worcestershire sauce.

When it comes to freezer staples, here's what we see as indispensable: fruit juice concentrates; pie crusts; stocks and broths; vegetables (Mediterranean Medley, spinach, whole-kernel corn, and peas); and fruits (all berries).

And some useful freezer staples: bread dough; pesto; ground beef; chuck roasts; chicken breasts and bread crumbs.

Grains, pasta, and bread products are indispensable as well: cornmeal; crackers; pasta varieties (especially casserole noodles, macaronis, spaghetti, fettucini, lasagna noodles); rice (white and brown); barley; oatmeal; stuffing mix; and tortillas.

Then there are items that just MUST be on the cupboard shelf: bouillon cubes or granules; broth; canned fruit and applesauce; canned beans, cocoa; soups; dried fruit; dried peas and beans; gelatin; nuts; olives; peanut and almond butter; pie fillings; jams and preserves; salt (table and Kosher); teas; tomato juice; tomato paste and sauce; tomatoes (whole, chopped, crushed); and tuna.

And who could think of going without certain herbs and spices? Indispensables: basil; bay leaves; cinnamon; cloves (ground and whole); curry powder; dill; fennel seed; garlic; ground cumin; marjoram; mustard; oregano;paprika; pepper (black and white); poultry seasoning; rosemary; sage; sesame seeds; tarragon; and thyme.

One last bit of advice: When storing herbs and spices, be sure they are tightly capped and kept in a dark, cool cupboard. They should be replaced when they lose their potency--a hard thing to do because some are so expensive, we know, but this ought to take place every 12 to 14 months. We like to mark our bottles or jars with the date we purchased them, in bold black so we can see at a glance what needs tossing.

Between the two of us, we have over 120 years of life experience (parenting, cooking, cleaning, etc.), and if there's one thing we know, if we keep things easy and simple, they're more likely to happen. This especially includes getting dinner on the table. So let's keep our kitchens well stocked and we're that much closer to making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mom Shouldn't Be a "One-Man Band!"

Today let's talk about the FAMILY making family dinner hour possible. Considering that this blog is dedicated to sharing tips, ideas, techniques, resources, and so on, that can make getting dinner on the table easier (so we do it more often), it's no surprise that we feel strongly that our children ought to be as involved in the process as mom. In other words, mom shouldn't be a "one-man-band!"

Besides making the workload lighter for you, there are many terrific benefits to teaching children to cook:
  • Eating at home is so much less expensive than eating out,
  • it preserves family heritage and fosters memories and traditions,
  • it builds and strengthens relationships (the time working together each day provides the chance to talk and share with each other),
  • besides the actual cooking, it provides them with skills that contribute to their esteem (how to shop, how to plan a process, how to organize and execute, how to experiment and test and revise, how to clean, and even how to do math),
  • it facilitates greater cooperation--there's less conflict over food issues when children help cook,
  • it provides a valuable, fun, and very attractive alternative to playing video games, surfing the Internet, and cell phone texting, and lastly,
  • it gives them a better chance to be a healthy grown-up. *Authors, Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers ( and remind us that enabling your child with the ability to appreciate freshness and to transform ingredients into tasty foods opens their eyes to making wiser choices about what to eat--no small thing in a day of rampant childhood obesity.
And cooking is perfect for children--it matches their inherent curiosity, abundant energy, and desire to please. They enjoy assembling, measuring, and chopping tasks. It offers them an opportunity to be proud of their accomplishments and to share them with others.

Finally, there are so many age-appropriate cooking activities that can get you and your children started (from Tallman and Ahlers)--just look:
  • Activities for 3- to 6-year-olds:
Washing fruits and veggies
Cleaning the table and counters
Rolling doughs, etc. on a baking sheet
Cutting out shapes with cookie cutters
  • Activities for 6- to 10-year-olds:
Reading recipes
Writing the shopping list when told the ingredients
Using measuring cups for dry and liquid ingredients
Stirring ingredients in a bowl
Cracking eggs
Using a dull knife to spread
Prepping fruits and veggies without a knife (snapping beans, husking corn, etc.)
  • Activities for 10- to 13-year-olds:
Following steps and preparing simple recipes with little adult intervention
Using microwave, oven, and stove

Using hand grater

Using a sharp knife with supervision
Operating a hand electric mixer

  • Activities for teens:
Planning a balanced meal, a party menu, or special event
Reading a recipe and creating a shopping list from it

Operating a food processor and blender

Making multiple ingredient recipes without intervention

Finally, we don't want to forget age-appropriate kitchen safety and cleanliness practices. As your children progress in skill level, be sure to introduce new safety and cleanliness concepts--we can never review the basics of safety and cleanliness enough. Most of all, have fun, and watch in awe at how they'll rise to the occasion and your expectations!

Since the benefits of involving the FAMILY in getting dinner on are so abundant, let's go forward through the remainder of this year doing just that. And here's an idea: Take pictures of your family cooking together and send them to us and we'll post them. It will be fun to see what we're all doing with this challenge. And if you have advice or an experience you could share, please do that too. So 'til next time, here's to one of the happiest activities we know--making family dinner hour possible!

* The goal at Fresh Baby is to make the task of raising a healthy eater a little bit easier for all parents. Their motto: When you make it yourself, you know it's better! Visit them online ( to subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter for monthly ideas, tips, and activities for developing your family's healthy eating habits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Irresistible Laundry and "Found" Money As Well!

As Alice and I were griping about the state of our dishes not being as clean as they should be, we started considering a solution to that problem. Eureka! We hit pay dirt (see yesterday's post). Then we approached another dilemma that's been bugging us--fabric softener. Our main complaint was the cost--it's much too expensive for what we're getting--a little chemicalized perfume, a smidge of softening chemical, and lots of chemical fillers. Yukko--do we really need all that junk?

And besides, the more we save on laundry products, the more we have to spend on quality food, which plays a major role in making family dinner hour possible--it's like "found" money.

Now even if you don't care to use fabric softener, you probably know someone who does, so you may want to pass this tip on to them. Read on, then, for how to make a fantastic, easy-on-the-pocketbook fabric softener.

First thing: don't throw out that last empty softener bottle. Recycle it. It'll be perfect for holding your new homemade softener. (You're definitely being eco-friendly!) And if you like dryer sheets instead of liquid softener, we have an option for that as well. Just take an inexpensive, thin wash cloth and put a couple of teaspoons of softener on it and throw it into the dryer with your wet clothes. The washcloth of course, is reusable. You could also dip several cloths in the softener solution and line-dry them. Then they're ready to go to work when you need them.

This could save time in the long run, and Alice is jumping on the idea. In fact, she's even planning to buy lots of inexpensive washcloths for this purpose and tieing them in bundles with pretty ribbons to give as shower gifts.

Now here's the amazing part: The main ingredient in this fabric softener is hair conditioner. Hey! If it's good enough for our hair, it ought to be good enough for our clothes! Buy the cheapest and best smelling conditioner that you can find. Just as you are saving money on laundry soap, you're also going to be saving oodles of money on fabric softener. Don't we all love saving money? And we especially love how this "found" money supports our family dinner hour habit (for not just good food, but table decor, etc.--but more on this in other posts).

We do have one disclaimer however: You can't blame us if people want to give you extra hugs because your clothes are so soft and smell so good! Well, make good use of that "found" money as you enjoy your irresistible laundry, and here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Now the recipe:

2 C hair conditioner (the cheapest you can find)
3 C water
1 C white distilled vinegar
Few drops essential oil (optional, but oh so nice)

In an empty fabric softener bottle, combine all ingredients. Shake well to mix. Ingredients tend to mix better after they sit for a day or two. Essential oil adds an elegant touch--lavender is particularly pleasant. Note: You can see how easy it is to double or quadruple this recipe to accommodate a large bottle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

We're Goin' Green for Clean!

A few days ago Jeanne and I were griping about the problems we're having getting our dishes clean now that the phosphates have been removed from commercial dishwasher detergents. Our drinking glasses are cloudy and gritty, food is still stuck to plates and silverware sometimes, and so on. We both went to our appliance repairmen with our complaints and concerns, wanting to know if our dishwashers were broken. They just chuckled and told us, "Since the phosphates have been eliminated, we are getting LOTS of calls like yours. There's nothing wrong with your dishwasher."

They suggested we put some vinegar in the rinse cycle dispenser to help with the spots. We've tried it and things do look better, but not better-enough! Spots aren't as prevalent, but dang it, the dishes are still cloudy. We were on the verge of closing up shop with the dishwasher deal and just doing dishes by hand, when Jeanne had a cool idea. Because she'd already made her own laundry soap, she decided to try making her own dishwashing detergent.

And here's where the "Go Green" comes in: People are becoming more conscious of the environment and questioning the need for all the fillers and chemicals found in cleaning products. So it's a good thing that phosphates have been taken out of our cleaners, but the question remains--how can we be environmentally sustainable and STILL get our dishes looking clean?

While we sincerely want to be eco-friendly, the price of the variety of "green" cleaners showing up makes us cringe. So all this said, Jeanne was really motivated to find a clean, green, less expensive method of cleaning--clothes, dishes, the house, etc.

There are lot of homemade cleaner recipes in cyberspace today, and as Jeanne looked at the ingredients folks were using for most homemade dishwashing detergents, she realized that they contained many of the same ingredients she was using in her fool-proof homemade laundry soap. There was one ingredient she wasn't seeing in the dishwasher detergent recipes though--Fels Naptha, which is a key ingredient in her laundry soap. Then the idea came: since Fels-Naptha is a great stain treatment, and it doesn't make suds, why not use it in the dishwasher detergent as well?

And as she thought about cleaning properties, she decided only one more ingredient would be needed for super duper dishwashing--citric acid. This is a weak, organic acid, often used in preserving foods and is found in lemons and other citrus foods. Wahoo! The cloudy, gritty look was gone. She shared her detergent with me, and now we have not only sanitized dishes, but glasses that we are proud to serve drinks in.

Since we're guessing you're eco-minded as well, and might also be unhappy with the dishwashing issue, and since we know setting a pretty (and clean-looking) table is all part of making family dinner hour possible, we thought you'd appreciate having her recipes, too. First let's look at the laundry recipe and then the dishwashing product:

Jeanne says: "First a little information on the ingredients and why I like them so much.

Fels-Naptha: I've used it for years to pre-treat stains. It's heavy duty and smells so clean.

Borax: This natural laundry booster is also a multi-purpose household cleaner.

Washing Soda: It acts as a detergent booster as well.

Baking Soda: It's great for deodorizing, but it's optional.

Oxi Clean: This fabric bleach is actually like powdered peroxide. Oxi Clean helps prevent graying, but is also an optional ingredient.

"The beauty of this soap is that it is EASY and inexpensive to make (compared to buying an equal-sized box of TIDE, for instance), has no fillers, and it costs pennies per use. Cleaning power is exceptional, storage is simple, and because it's a powder, it can be used in high efficiency machines. Try this on your towels and whites and you'll see why I'm so excited about it. One thing, don't expect any soap bubbles. Suds aren't part of this package; instead you'll see grime rise to the top immediately. One of the reasons this product is economical is that you only use 1/8 cup per load. That's about 2 tablespoons!"


1 box (76 oz) Borax
1 box (76 oz) washing soda
4 bars Fels-Naptha, grated
1 box (16 oz) baking soda
2 C Oxi Clean

To grate Fels Naptha, use a food processor, hand grater, or a counter mixer (such as Kitchen Aid) with a grating attachment. The finer the grate, the better. Mix all ingredients in a large bucket. We use rubber gloves to protect our hands.


Jeanne says: "Use the same recipe to make dishwashing detergent, but include 1 tsp citric acid for every 2 tablespoons of laundry soap used in the dishwasher. Keep the distilled vinegar in the rinse compartment. Finally, there is a company, Soap Goods, that will sell you citric acid in bulk at a great price, that you might want to check out."

Give this recipe a try and let us know how it works for you. Here's to "going green for clean" as we make family dinner hour possible!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Making Family Dinner Hour Possible--It's Back and Better than Ever!

In the year Family Dinner Hour has been off the radar, I've learned new skills and gathered a boatload of timely and helpful information, and even took early retirement from my teaching so I could devote the best of my time and energy to this very important subject.

And when I say this will be better than ever, it's because of the addition of Jeanne Wolfley--my new co-author and ultimate master on the subject of all things dinner, family, and making great things happen. You're gonna lover her!

Stick with us, tell your friends, and let's move forward together--making family dinner hour possible like never before!