The holidays are coming! Celebrate by hosting a Farm to Preschool family dinner
Burlington Children's Space (BCS) in Burlington, Vermont began hosting family dinners in 2010 as a way to involve parents and families in their effort to serve more local foods. This Farm to Preschool activity is perfect for the holiday season, or any time of year! Lunch Lady Erinn Simon tells us how it’s done:
“Our food program was growing and changing and Sarah, our Director, and I had a vision forming. We knew we wanted families to really benefit from the food program as well as the kids. We realized that food is a powerful way to bring people together, so why not make a meal we serve the kids for lunch and invite families to come and share it? It would be free for everyone, no strings attached. We just wanted people to come, eat, and be together in our space.
We held our first Family Dinner in September 2010. We scheduled the dinner to begin informally at 5:00pm, half an hour before closing time, in an effort to catch lots of families during pick up so no one would have to leave and make a trip back to the center. We asked parents to come as early as 4:30pm if they wanted to help with preparations. We have a tight budget, like everyone else, so we called our local grocery and asked for a donation. They gave us a $100 gift card which funded the whole dinner. We made a BCS favorite: macaroni and Vermont cheddar cheese, and served homemade bread and local apples. About 30 people attended, and several showed up early and helped chop apples, slice bread, and set tables. The kids were obviously thrilled to share the experience with their families. Everyone relaxed and talked and had fun, and the food disappeared. We knew we were on to something, and we started planning another one right away.
We needed help with an on-going budget for the meals since our first and most important goal was to have them be free events. We were lucky to partner with our local food co-op, City Market, who agreed to fund 6 dinners over the year, so we were able to schedule one every other month. Our second family dinner was a Thanksgiving feast attended by 60 people, and our attendance has kept growing since then. At our 2011 Thanksgiving dinner we served 120 people including kids, parents, extended families, community friends and staff!
We think the keys to the success of family dinners are simple: we schedule them at a time when parents are picking kids up, and everyone's hungry. They are always free for everyone, and families need not bring anything but themselves. We keep it informal and relaxed. We serve one or two seasonal dishes straight from our lunch program, using as many local ingredients as we can, like always. We hand out recipes to anyone who wants them, and we keep lots of containers on hand to send leftovers home!”