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Family Nutrition: A RECIPE for Good Communication1



FCS-8670, a 5-page fact sheet by Larry Forthun and Matthew Kaplan, uses the “RECIPE” acronym to describe the ingredients for good communication about nutrition in the family: reflective listening, encouragement, compromise and cooperation, “I” messages, practice, and engagement. Includes references. Published by the UF Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences, August 2008.
Family Nutrition: A RECIPE for Good Communication
Larry Forthun and Matthew Kaplan
1. This document is FCS8670, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute
of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 2008. Reviewed June 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://
2. Larry Forthun, assistant professor; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of
Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611; and, Matthew Kaplan, assistant professor; Department of Agricultural and Extension Education; Pennsylvania State
University; State College, PA 16802.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to
individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national
origin, political opinions or aliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative
Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean
One of the most important things that parents can do is
to talk to their children about healthy eating and physical
activity. With the growing media attention on childhood
overweight and obesity, parents are becoming more con-
cerned about their childrens health. is is especially true
for preteens (9–12 year olds) and teens (13–18 year olds).
At this age, children are beginning to assume more control
over their eating habits, deciding what to eat at school, with
friends, and at home. At the same time, preteens and teens
are becoming more self-conscious about their appearance.
Youth development specialists refer to this as the imaginary
audience—that “imaginary” group of peers that judge you
based on how you look and how you act. As preteens and
teenagers become more self-conscious, they may also begin
to change their eating habits as a means to control their
weight and appearance.
Helping a preteen or teen form healthy attitudes about
eating and physical activity requires good communication.
By communicating with others, preteens and teens receive
the feedback necessary to challenge the unrealistic and
critical messages from the “imaginary audience”—for
example, messages that reinforce the American ideal of a
thin or muscular body, or messages that encourage dieting,
weight loss, or steroid use.
Family communication can also inuence the way the
family selects, purchases, prepares, and eats meals. Poor
family communication leads to disagreements or misun-
derstandings about food preferences and the foods that the
family buys. Healthy family communication leads to better
decision-making about the foods family members choose
to eat, as well as the activities that they choose to engage in.
Eective communication is characterized by:
(R)eective listening,
(C)ompromise and Cooperation,
(“I”) Messages,
(P)ractice, and
(E)ngagement (Kaplan, et al., 2007).
R-E-C-I-P-E refers to some of the basic components of
healthy communication that are related to eective family
food decision-making.
The Basics
Before we put the ingredients of the R-E-C-I-P-E together,
let us start with the basics. First, eective communication is
characterized by both the sender (the person talking) and
the receiver (the person listening) working together. e
sender of the message and the receiver of the message both
have the responsibility to ensure that the message is being
understood properly. e sender’s responsibility is to phrase
the message in a way that the receiver can understand. For
example, the parent of young child may say, “Oranges are
good for you.” On the other hand, the parent of a teenager
may say, “Oranges are a good source of vitamin C.” Both
are conveying a similar message, that oranges are healthy,
but are at dierent levels of complexity; one is focusing
on general health (“it’s good for you”), while the other is
focusing on why it is healthy (“it has vitamin C”).
(R)eective Listening
e responsibility of the receiver is to listen. Listening is an
important skill that is referred to in a previous publication
(FCS2151) as “Active Listening.” It is also the rst ingredient
in our R-E-C-I-P-E for eective communication. Reective
Listening (also called Active Listening) involves (a) asking
questions, (b) paraphrasing or restating the message to
make sure that you understand the message correctly, and
(c) empathizing, or putting yourself in the other persons
shoes (Adler, Rosenfeld, & Proctor, 2001).
For example, a child might say, “I dont want to eat that.
e parent could respond:
• With a question such as “Do you want to know what else
were having for dinner?”, or
• With a re-statement by saying, “You dont like what Im
making,” or
• With empathy by saying, “Sometimes it’s hard to try new
On the other hand, a parent might say, “I am making a big
meal for dinner, please be home on time so that we can all
eat together as a family.
A childs response would be to:
• Ask questions, “What time is dinner?”, or
• Restate what they’ve heard, “I’ll be home on time so we
can eat as a family,” or
• Oer an empathic response such as “I know this is
important to you, I’ll be home for dinner.
Each of these Reective Listening statements is eective
because they avoid defensive (or smart aleck) responses.
A defensive response, like a child saying, “I’ll be home
whenever I want,” only leads to disagreements and conict.
Communication breaks down and the conversation is over.
Reective listening encourages the parent and the child to
work together to maintain harmony in the relationship. In
this situation, the parent can act as a role model, calmly re-
state the request, and encourage a more reective response
from their preteen or teenage child (see next section).
e second ingredient, (E)ncouragement, is similar to
empathy. Sometimes people want more than just a reec-
tion of what they have said; they want to know that you
appreciate what they had to say (Adler, et al., 2001). ese
encouraging, or supporting, responses let the person know
that you appreciate them. Encouraging responses can take
the form of praise:
“I’m really glad you told me that you like what I’m planning
to make for dinner tonight. Sometimes its hard for me to
know what you like and don’t like.
It can also take the form of reassurance:
“Don’t be afraid to ask me to buy your favorite food; it’s good
to have a treat every now and then.
Like (R)eective Listening, (E)ncouragement helps keep the
lines of communication open by supporting other family
members in their attempts to communicate eectively.
(C)ompromise and Cooperation
e third ingredient, (C)ompromise and Cooperation,
is one of the most critical ingredients in the RECIPE for
family communication. Without compromise and coopera-
tion, healthy relationships between family members would
be dicult. Either the parent (or children) would exert
sole control over decision-making, or each family member
would compete against each other for just about everything
(food, attention, TV). In both cases, no one is happy.
Although parents oen feel that they compromise (or give
in) too much to their children, it is their role as parents to
teach children how to compromise and cooperate with one
another. It is not an easy task, but the skills of compromise
and cooperation can be taught at home during conversa-
tions about food, meal planning, or family activities.
For example, a parent might say,
“Here are some foods we have in the cupboard. If you give me
a hand cooking, I’ll let you choose what we have for dinner.
On the other hand, a child might say,
“I like what youre making for dinner, but I don’t like onions.
Will you make part of the casserole for me without onions?”
rough compromise and cooperation, family members
are able to nd solutions to most conicts or disagree-
ment, whether it is about family meals or sibling rivalry.
Although it is dicult for parents to avoid imposing their
own solutions, encouraging and modeling compromise and
cooperation will lead to a conversation about solutions that
everyone can agree with.
(“I”) Messages
e fourth ingredient for healthy family communication
is “I” messages. An “I” message is a specic way of telling
others about how you feel, especially if they have said or
done something that is upsetting. In a previous publication,
Winning Ways to Talk with Young Children (FCS2021), the
author discusses the dierence between an “I” message and
a “you” message. An “I” message accepts the individual for
who they are and communicates how his or her behavior
makes you feel or think. A “you” message tells the other
person what they have done wrong and puts the blame for
your thoughts and feelings on them.
“I” statements:
• “I feel badly when I cook a big meal that wont be eaten.
• “I really like it when you make my favorite meal.
“You” statements:
• “YOU make me so mad!”
• “I dont like what youve made for breakfast, so I’ll make
something myself.
By stating your feelings in an “I” message, you avoid
putting other people down or attacking them when they do
something that is upsetting. Rather, “I” statements give the
other person the responsibility to change their behavior. By
expressing how you think and feel the other person has the
opportunity to decide how they respond.
e h ingredient in the recipe for eective family com-
munication is practice...PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRAC-
TICE! Like any new skill, good communication requires
a lot of practice in order to get good at it. It might feel a
little uncomfortable for parents at rst, but if they stick
with it, things will get easier. If this is a parents rst time
using these skills when planning meals, preparing food,
or planning family activities, don’t expect everything to
go smoothly the rst time. Keep the R-E-C-I-P-E for good
communication in mind and allow others the opportunity
to practice. is will require patience, another P that could
be added to the RECIPE. With patience and practice, good
communication can be learned.
e nal ingredient is (E)ngagement. Engagement refers to
each family member’s level of involvement in the commu-
nication process. If two family members are truly “engaged
in a conversation, they will be focusing on one another,
and what each has to say. On the other hand, if two people
are talking, but are not engaged, they will be less likely to
use the RECIPE for eective communication. Engagement
means that if someone is speaking to you, give your whole
Engagement is also the process of tuning out distractions
and tuning in to the person who is speaking. How many
times when talking to family members do we get distracted
by other things that are going on around us? For example,
radio, television or computer. Communication experts call
this “noise” (Adler, et al., 2001). Noise refers to those things
that interfere with eective communication. Noise can be
from the environment (like a TV, radio, or other people), or
it can be mental (like thinking about other things). Noise is
a barrier to eective communication. If we can do things to
reduce the amount of noise in our environment or in our
minds, we are more likely to engage in the communication
A RECIPE for good communication about healthy eating
and physical activity involves:
(R)eective listening
(C)ompromise and cooperation
(“I”) messages
(P)ractice, and
When these ingredients are blended together, and with
patience allowed to rise slowly over time, the family will
have the bread of a healthy family life: eective communi-
cation. Healthy nutrition and physical activity will increase,
conict and disagreements about food and nutrition will
decrease, and the health of all family members will be
improved. Try it for yourself. Blend the ingredients, add
a little sugar (love and support), and the bread of healthy
family life will surely improve the relationships between all
family members.
Adler, R.B., Rosenfeld, L.B., & Proctor II, R.F. (2001).
Interplay: e process of interpersonal communication. Fort
Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers.
Kaplan, M., Crago, N. Herzog, F., James, L., Kiernan, N.,
Middlemiss, W., Nolte, T., & Weinreb-Welch, L. (2007).
FRIDGE (Food-Related Intergenerational Discussion Group
Experiences). University Park, PA: Penn State Cooperative
Additional Resources
Kaplan, M., Kiernan, E., & James, L. (2006). Intergenera-
tional family conversations and decision making about
eating healthfully. Journal of Nutrition Education and
Behavior, 38, 298-306.
Perkins, D.F., & Fogarty, K. (2005). Active listening: A
communication tool. Gainesville, FL: Cooperative Exten-
sion Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida. Publication number: FCS2151.
Schenck, B.R. (2007). Winning ways to talk with young
children. Gainesville, FL: Cooperative Extension Service,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida. Publication number: FCS2021.
Table 1. RECIPE for Good Communication
What is it about? Examples
Reective or active listening. In order to truly
hear what another person is saying, repeat back
what you think they said either exactly or in your
own words. By repeating or rephrasing what the
speaker said, the speaker knows they have been
Example 1 Parent/caregiver: “I am making a big meal for dinner,
please be home on time. It’s important to me that we all eat
together as a family. Child: “So, what you are saying is that it is
important for me to be home on time because you are making a
big meal and really want the family to be together and eat together
as a family.
Example 2 Child: “I don’t want to eat that! What else is there to eat?”
Parent/caregiver: “So, you don’t like what I am making and you
want to know what else you can eat for dinner.
Encourage and empathize with each other.
Express appreciation for other family members’
attempts to communicate properly. Consider
what they are trying to express to you by putting
yourself in their shoes.
Parent/caregiver: “I am really happy you told me that you like what I
am planning to make for dinner tonight. Sometimes its hard for me
to know that there are some foods you really like.
Compromise &
Compromise and cooperation with each other.
Find ways to work together rather than ght.
Parent: “Here are some foods we have in the cupboard. If you give
me a hand cooking, I’ll let you choose what we have for dinner.
“I” Message
“I” messages. Rather than focusing on the
behavior of the other person, express your own
Parent: “I feel badly when I cook a big meal that won’t be eaten.
Grandparent: “It makes me happy when what I cook is
appreciated.Child: “I really like it when you make my favorite meal.
Practice; practice; practice. Good communication
is dicult to learn. It takes practice! It will feel
uncomfortable at rst until you get the hang of it.
Expect to take time to get it right and allow other
family members to get it right as well.
Engagement. If someone is speaking to you, give
them you whole attention. It is dicult to really
hear what someone is saying if you are not paying
Examples of poor engagement”:
A son is telling his mother why he doesn’t like peas, but his mother
is thinking about a television news story she heard about how peas
are good for you (instead of listening to the child).Assuming what a
parent is going to say, a daughter doesn’t bother paying attention
to what a parent is actually saying.
Source: Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension
FCS-8871, a 4-page fact sheet by Larry Forthun, summarizes recent research indicating the importance about family meals, including trends over the last several decades, effects on family togetherness, communication, well-being, and nutrition. Also discussed are family eating practices to avoid, and strategies for getting the whole family together for dinner. Includes references. Published by the UF Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences, September 2008.
To explore how youth, parents, and grandparents discuss issues related to eating healthfully and unhealthfully and to identify intergenerational strategies for educators to improve this communication. In three intergenerational focus groups, each with 4-8 families, a trained moderator asked questions about family practices and conversations for eating healthfully and unhealthfully. Three focus group sites, each with Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Program sites (PANEP) programs serving low-income populations and multigenerational clientele, based in geographically and culturally diverse communities in Pennsylvania. Forty-four individuals (21 pre-teens, 16 parents, and 7 grandparents) from 17 families. How youth, parents, and grandparents discuss and influence each other's healthful and unhealthful eating practices. "Strength" of evidence determined by repetition of ideas across focus groups and from the respondents' quotes providing in-depth information. Families demonstrated a wide range of ways that family communication is associated with the adoption of healthful and unhealthful patterns of eating. Parents and grandparents expressed anguish over their struggle and inability to help their children eat more healthfully. All three generations enumerated strategies for dealing with disagreement. Grandparents, parents and children indicate that they need opportunities to learn together and communicate about ways to improve nutrition behaviors.
Interplay: The process of interpersonal communication
  • R B Adler
  • L B Rosenfeld
  • I I Proctor
Adler, R.B., Rosenfeld, L.B., & Proctor II, R.F. (2001). Interplay: The process of interpersonal communication. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers.
Active listening: A communication tool
  • D F Perkins
  • K Fogarty
Perkins, D.F., & Fogarty, K. (2005). Active listening: A communication tool. Gainesville, FL: Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication number: FCS2151.