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How can we get more American families cooking nutritious dinners?

I have a special connection with my bro-in-law, Brian. Not just because we have the same initials and he makes me laugh. Brian is a chef, a really good chef. He and wife Lisa graduated from the former California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. And he's passionate about getting families and kids back into the kitchen.

Sometimes Brian likes to "rant" (his words) about this. "What's the story on American lack of cooking anyway!? It's not for want of equipment, tools and books, that's for sure. Why don't we cook as much as we used to...?"

Why don't you tell us, Brian?

"Families for the last 40 years have cut the apron strings to their home kitchens in increasing numbers," he says, calling it "a crime of epic cultural consequence. Now we have millions of families that genuinely don't know how to prepare a balanced and nutritious meal," he laments.

So where do we begin?

"Start with fundamentals," he advises.

Here are a few of his recommendations:

— Buy a digital meat thermometer and learn to use it: on-off, Celsius-Fahrenheit, battery replacement. This will take the guess work out of 'doneness."

— Take your children grocery shopping and task them with selecting 2 fresh vegetables and 2 fresh fruits. Let them choose a dessert which will be served one night per week as a special treat. Period. They now have skin in the game.

— Vow to have three distinct components to the meal: carbs, veggies and protein. They can be integrated in a pasta, soup or baked dish. The "Big 3" can be combined on a skewer, rolled in a tortilla or artfully arranged in concentric circles on a dinner plate. Don't flinch on this!

— Look up these words in the dictionary: saute, roast, braise and steam. Take notes on when to apply these techniques. It will prevent you from ruining your meals.

— Surprise your family and cut up a fruit tray to be served at a meal. It's colorful, delicious, healthy and sparks conversation at the table. Left-overs can be recycled for breakfast smoothies.

— Gather at the table each night for dinner, together. Show children how to properly use their utensils. They didn't arrive pre-programmed; therefore, we are tasked with uploading their software. Set a timer for your meal at 30 minutes. No one may leave the table until then. All screens, phones, and TV are off. Music may play quietly in the background.

— Make your kitchen space your Happy Place. Put on some music, pour a glass of wine or a Northwest IPA (Brian lives in Portland). Set up your station with cutting board and favorite knife, grab a bib apron that you like, and start from an immaculately clean work area. Invite family members to assist in some small task. Glance out the kitchen window and take a breath. Think to yourself, "I'm about to have a great time because I'm prepared, and they will love what I cook because I know what I'm doing."

Need more? Check out Brian's blog at


Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of "Quinn-Essential Nutrition" (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to

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