Healthy Habits: Starting Family Food Traditions

Source: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers

Growing up our Mom and Dad were big on food traditions, especially during this time of the year. Every year around the holiday season, Mom would make her famous rum cakes as a gift for all of Dad’s big clients. We always looked forward to homemade spiced cider and a big plate of shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve while we opened our gifts, and every year since we can remember we have eaten goose for Christmas dinner. We could go on with so many more examples.

It’s nice to have food traditions; they make for fond memories, lasting impressions, and great stories. Sometimes even funny stories, like the year Joanie proudly took over Christmas dinner responsibility from Mom, and forgot to put the goose in the oven. Let’s just say, we had a very late Christmas dinner that year (and many laughs about it).

Whether you carry on the traditions of your family, or invent new ones (Joanie has ditched the goose and now serves cheeseburgers for Christmas Dinner), they provide your family with something to talk about, something to look forward to, and something to remember.

Outside of the serving traditional meals during your holiday feast, here are a few ideas for starting a tradition that may remain with your family for years:

Pot Luck Dinner Party: These are great family fun, easy to put together, and you won’t spend the night in the kitchen. Here is how they work: each family you invite to the dinner brings a dish. When you do your inviting specify what type of dish (i.e. pasta side dish, veggie appetizer, main dish, etc.) you want each family to bring. Let them know how many people it needs to serve. Also, ask everyone to bring recipe cards for the dish they are bringing. Keep it simple by setting the dinner up buffet style. Collect all the recipe cards and send each family home with a “mini” cookbook of the evening.

Make homemade gifts: Preserves, salsa, relishes and candies make thoughtful gifts. Find one of your grandmother’s famous recipes and bring it back in her honor. The kids can help cook, and they can also help decorate the packaging. If the thought of more cooking during the holidays does not sit well with you, a fruit basket makes a wonderful holiday gift. Decorating the basket or hand making cards adds a great personal touch.

Volunteer during the Holiday: The holidays can be very lonely for folks without family. Family volunteering is quite common, and can involve children of all ages. Whether it’s Christmas caroling in a hospital, helping at a soup kitchen for Chanukah, or visiting the elderly during Kwanzaa, it will leave a great impression on you and your children.

Winter fun: After a snowstorm, take the whole family sledding. Bring along a Thermos of thick, creamy hot chocolate with plenty of whipped cream. When you get home make a nice pot of the warm soup and relax. Or have a new jigsaw puzzle, firewood, plenty of hot spiced apple cider and cheese fondue on hand to celebrate the first snowstorm of the year.

We asked our Mom to share her hot spiced cider with all of you. She has been making this recipe for as long as we can remember. It conjures up awesome family memories for us; we hope you can create some of your own around it.

Charlotte’s Hot Spiced Cider

1/2 gallon apple cider
1 quart cranberry apple juice
1/2 cup orange juice
Juice of a lemon
8-10 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar, to taste

It is best to make the cider a day ahead. Heat all of ingredients in a large pan and stir it until the sugar melts. Refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, Reheat and ladle into cups. Avoid getting the cloves and cinnamon sticks into the cups.

About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby, creators or products such as homemade baby food kits, baby food cookbooks, baby food and breast milk storage trays, breastfeeding reminders, and child development diaries ( Raised by parents who love fresh foods and entertaining, their mom, a gourmet cook, ensured that they were well-equipped with extraordinary skills in the kitchen. Both with long track records of business success, they decided to combine their skills in the kitchen with their knowledge of healthy foods and children to create Fresh Baby. Cheryl and Joan put a modern twist on the conventional wisdom that when you make it yourself, you know it’s better. Their goal at Fresh Baby is to make the task of raising a healthy eater a little bit easier for all parents. Visit them online at and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter to get monthly ideas, tips and activities for developing your family’s healthy eating habits!