Reflective listening
Compromise and cooperation
"I" Messages


Communication influences the way a family selects, purchases, prepares, and eats meals together or apart. Poor communication can lead to disagreements or misunderstandings about the foods they buy, who prepares and cleans up after meals, and when and where family meals take place. The acronym "RECIPE" covers some basic components necessary for healthy communication related to family food decisions.

There are three parts to the RECIPE communication skills building series:

  • PART 1: Introduction
  • PART 2: Barriers to Effective Communication:
    Understanding Why Miscommunication Happens
  • PART 3: String Together

PART 1: Introduction

Time: 20-30 minutes


General Objective

Participants will identify basic communication skills necessary for healthy communication about family food decisions.

Specific Objectives

Participant will be able to:

  • List 3 out of 6 RECIPE ingredients or components necessary for healthy communication about family food decisions.
  • Label which RECIPE ingredients are personally the most pleasant and the most difficult for them.
  • Select one RECIPE ingredient that their family is willing to improve upon by the next workshop session.


  • 1 ball of string/yarn per family unit
    (used in part 3)
  • Moveable chairs
  • Chalkboard, overhead or poster paper
  • "RECIPE for Good Communication" handout
    (used in part 1)
  • "Communication challenge" cards
    (used in part 2)
  • "Getting Practice Communicating about Food" handout
    (used in part 2)


Write "RECIPE" acronym down the left side of a large piece of poster paper, chalkboard or overhead slide. Next, write the meaning next to each letter.

Option: Pass out the RECIPE handout to each participant/family so they can follow along. [Copying this handout in a different color will signal to participants that it is an important reference/resource, one that they could put to good use throughout the program.]

Handout 1-2 (1): RECIPE for Good Communication

Illustrate the meaning of RECIPE terms as follows: Next to the written definition/ meaning of each letter in RECIPE, share an example. Then draw a stick figure or picture to describe the meaning of each letter. For example, for the letter "R" you could draw two stick figures facing each other with big eyes and big ears to reflect the need to look at and hear what the other person is saying.

Once the facilitator has demonstrated drawing a "stick figure or picture" for the letter "R," he/she can ask the audience for ideas of what picture to draw for the rest of the letters. The purpose of drawing a picture (even stick figures) is that a picture is worth a thousand words and the participants will better remember the components of RECIPE if there are pictures associated with it.

After the facilitator has gone through all of the letters, ask participants to identify with a smiley face which ingredient is the most pleasant or easiest for them and to identify with a sad face which ingredient is the most difficult. Ask for a few volunteers to briefly share their comments about either the pleasant or most difficult ingredients in the RECIPE.

Then have a discussion of what other families have tried in regards to improving communication.

PART 2: Barriers to Effective Communication: Understanding Why Miscommunication Happens

Time: 20-30 minutes


Engagement -- think about it. How often do we communicate with each other about food issues or behaviors while many other things are going on, such as the TV, computer or physically being in separate rooms while holding a conversation? Experts call these things going on around us "noise." "Noise" can also come from the minds of the communicators, such as when a person is in a conversation, but thinking about something else that has nothing to do with that conversation.


General Objective

  • Participants will discuss why miscommunication happens.

Specific Objective

Participant will be able to:

  • Explain 2-3 consequences of communicating in the midst of distractions.


  1. Show or pass around the picture in the "Barriers to Effective Communication" handout and share the definition of noise:

    Handout 1-2 (2): Barriers to Effective Communication

    Anything that is not directly a part of the communication cycle and interferes with the successful sending and receiving of a message is called "noise." Noise may be found in the environment (e.g., sounds from passing vehicles), or it may be internal to the communicating parties (e.g., thinking about something else). If not addressed, noise can render communication efforts ineffective.

  2. Instructions for communication challenge:

    This is a role-play activity that uses "communication challenge cards." These are pairs of cards that reflect contradictory goals and behaviors. Make enough copies of the "communication challenge cards" sheet so that there is at least one card per participant.

    Handout 1-2 (3): Communication Challenge Cards

    Cut out the cards.
  3. Break the group of participants into pairs (can be monogenerational or intergenerational) and set aside one pair of cards for each pair of people.
  4. Have each participant select one card, and then simultaneously communicate with their partner in ways that reflect the personal instructions listed on their cards. Give participants one minute discussion periods to achieve their goals. [This can be done with participants seeing or not seeing other's cards before the role play.]
  5. Following the activity, the group should discuss the issues which made this situation difficult. Members should list issues that made the communication difficult, such as different agendas and lack of time to listen to each other.

    If time permits, try other communication challenges, e.g., planning the menu for a family meal while one person whistles, or when both parties are facing opposite directions. Among the factors that make such situations difficult is that it is hard for communicators to clarify answers, get and give feedback, and pay attention to subtle changes in each other's tones of voice.

PART 3: String Together

Time: 15-20 minutes


General Objective

Participants will develop an appreciation of other family members' personally held values and preferences for food selection, food preparation and eating practices.

Specific Objective

Participants will be able to:

  • Describe their family members' opinions and beliefs regarding a controversial or problematic food issue in their family and the impact that belief or opinion has on the individual and on the family.


  1. Give out the handout "Getting Practice Communicating about Food" to help participants follow the directions for this activity.

    Handout 1-2 (4): Getting Practice Communicating about Food

  2. Instructions for families: Set up a controversial or problematic food-related topic for discussion. Choose only ONE topic that each member must discuss. The family could choose their own topic, or they could choose from the following list:
    • What to choose for snacks.
    • Limiting junk food in the house.
    • Cooking at home versus getting take out or eating out.
    • Eating dinner together as a family or eating on their own.
    • Family members who are picky eaters or when a child goes on food jags (A food jag is when a child will only eat one food item meal after meal.)
    • A family member chooses to be a vegetarian.
    • A family member goes on a "fad diet."
  3. Divide the group into individual families. Lay the ground rules -- the person with the ball of string should state their problem and how it impacts them.
  4. As the discussion proceeds, each person can talk only when he or she is in possession of the ball of string. The person should speak as long as necessary to make their point.
  5. When the next person speaks, have them:
    • Start by briefly stating what the previous family member said (this is to practice their reflective/active listening skills).
    • Say how the point(s) that were made affect the individual who made the point as well as the other family members. [Note: Some 10-11 year olds may find this step difficult. Skip if necessary.]
    • Share their views or experiences about the topic at hand.
  6. Have participants continue to pass the ball of string around until all parties feel that all of their ideas and concerns have been expressed.
  7. Facilitator should float among family groups to assist when necessary and encourage family members to support each other in expressing their respective points of view.

Topics of discussion to follow this activity include:

  • What happened as the conversation continued?
  • How good a job did participants do in listening to what each other had to say?
  • How did family members feel during the conversation?
  • How are family members "interdependent" when it comes to food? In other words, how does what one family member says or does affect what other family members say or do?


The RECIPE series provides a valuable set of lessons that need follow up. Once people have aired their opinions about a food topic and all members of the family have commented on that topic and given their opinions, it would be good to recap the similarities and differences and to see if the group could build a consensus of action. The activities in Section 3 ("Working as a Team to Improve Family Eating Practices") will serve to further extend learning and practice regarding family communication and cooperation.

The facilitator(s) should expect some resistance to the new communication skills. Always encourage discussion but remind families that change can be uncomfortable and difficult. Ask the families to honestly try the skills for a week and report back at the next meeting.

If participating families request more information on certain food-related topics, check with your local nutrition educator for relevant referral handouts and other resources that may inform family members about specific issues related to food and nutrition.

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging