Stress and Family

Last week in our series, we looked at how stress affects our sleep. Today we look at how stress impacts family functioning.

In my family, which is made up of my wife and I, our two children, and our dog, I can honestly say stress is never too far away at any given time, even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic era.  

Stress impacts everyone in our family system, my wife and I as a couple, as parents, our children, and even our dog. When one member in the family is stressed, it can easily impact the whole family. For example, when I am stressed, I tend to be crabby with my wife, and then we as parents tend to be harsh with our children. And then our children are stressed, and the cycle continues.

But the good news is that we can help the whole family manage stress better by first taking care of ourselves. I remember every time I have flown on an airplane, flight crew members always remind passengers during an emergency to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping their children or others. At first, this did not make sense to me because in some ways I was brought up with the idea to always put others first before me.  This oxygen example now makes sense to me because if I as a husband and a parent am able to reduce my own stress, then I can deal with my children and others in a calmer way. This can lead to better parenting and happier children and ultimately may lead to a happier family.

So, let’s look at some examples of how we can “put on our own oxygen masks first.” In the previous blogs we have already learned about eating well and sleeping well. Here are some additional ideas:

  1. After a long day at work before coming home, perhaps listen to your favorite song.
  2. Couples can also do joint physical activities, which have been shown to increase greater relationship satisfaction and commitment. Children could also join in regular family physical activities like walking or bicycling. Generally, doctors recommend about 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days per week for adults.
  3. You may have heard “laughter is the best medicine.” Being light-hearted in the midst of a tense conversation can help us calm down. Perhaps watching a comedy movie as a family can help the family be in positive mood.
  4. Another great way to decrease stress in the family is for family members to think positively about their lives. For example, instead of focusing on each other’s wrong doings or mistakes, we can focus on each other’s strengths.

Use one of these ideas, or others that you have found helpful, to take care of yourself so you can take care of your relationships.

Written by Anthony Santiago, College Projects Specialist and Licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Sloppy Joes or Janes or Jimmys

The name of this blog may be silly, but it is meant to show that this recipe is super flexible. It can be used to make traditional Sloppy Joes or something a little different based on what you have and what you like. We chose to feature this recipe this week because it is a wonderful fit for our current circumstance. Some grocery stores have shorter supplies of meat or a smaller variety due to supply chain challenges. As a result, you may find yourself choosing a product that is not as familiar to you. 

This Sloppy Joes recipe will work with ground beef, turkey, pork, chicken, or venison. You can even use cooked lentils in this recipe. It uses ketchup and mustard in the sauce, and the flavor reminds me of a cookout! Check out the video below and cook along with me using whatever protein you have on hand!

sloppy joes

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Shredded, sliced, or string cheese: Which one is a better buy?

Last week I wrote about our new video on unit pricing and how the unit price calculator on our app can help save you money. This week I want to share how I use the unit price calculator to help me determine the best buy on different forms of cheese.

My family loves cheese. Shredded cheese, sliced cheese, string cheese. We like it all. Cheese can be one of the higher priced items on my grocery list so I always try to buy it when it’s on sale. This week I decided to use the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. unit price calculator on my phone to determine the unit price for each of the different forms of cheese I usually buy. This is what I found.


Form Total Price Size Unit Price (price per ounce)
Shredded 1.99 (on sale) 8 ounces 25 cents
Slices 2.89 8 ounces 36 cents
String 3.79 10 ounces 38 cents

Shredded cheese is what we use the most, so I was glad to see that it had the best unit price. Since shredded cheese freezes well and it was a good price, I bought a few extra bags for later use. Often, the whole block of cheese has a lower unit price, but for my needs, I prefer the convenience of the pre-shredded cheese and I am willing to pay a bit more for it. We use sliced cheese for sandwiches and snacks. I planned ham and cheese sandwiches for a quick supper on one of our busy nights this week, so I did buy a packet of the sliced cheese as well. We use string cheese for snacks, but this week I decided to not buy any since we had the sliced cheese that could be used for a snack as well.

Next week Christine will share with you how she uses unit pricing to help her determine the best buy based on package size.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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How much water should you drink?

Written by Kathryn Standing

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics


Welcome to Iowa in August! It’s hot! This time of year, we always go to the Iowa State Fair.

It is easy to over-do it on treats, but I can never resist sharing some funnel cake and lemonade with my family. It can get really hot walking around in the sun. I always make sure we have plenty of sunscreen and water. The recommendation is to drink close to 12 cups of water per day for women and 16 for men. When eating a balanced diet, 20% of you water comes from your food. This means women should drink 9 cups per day and men should drink 12. You need to drink more water when you’re doing activities outside in hot temperatures- such as walking around the Iowa State Fair. You should also try to drink extra in the winter (when there is less moisture in the air), during illness and during exercise.

Try to drink water every 15-20 min when exercising, don’t wait until you are thirsty! When you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. If working really hard or doing exercise lasting more than a couple hours, sports drinks could be helpful to replace water and electrolytes. If you are just doing moderate exercise, sports drinks are not necessary.

Other beverages count toward your daily requirement as well. If not drinking water, drink unsweetened drinks such as 100% fruit juice and milk. Coffee and unsweetened tea count too, though caffeine is mildly dehydrating and should be enjoyed in moderation. Best bet is to stick to water as much as possible. It is a good habit to carry a water bottle when you’re on the go and drink a glass with every meal.

Family Meal Time

It’s not just what you feed your kids, but if you eat with them, that’s important!

Over and over, studies show that families who eat meals together benefit by having decreased risks of their children developing obesity, using alcohol or other drugs. They also perform better in school, tend to be happier, have positive peer relations and a decreased risk of suicide.

How can sitting down together to eat make all the difference? Part of it is that family meals generally promote healthy portions, include more fruits and vegetables and fewer fried foods. And, there is the advantage of having conversation between parent and child without the distractions of phones, TV or computers.

A family meal doesn’t have to be a feast laid out on the dining room table. A meal with food from each food group and the family talking together qualifies. Eating away from home can be a family meal if you are sitting down talking to each other while you eat.

If you want more information on this subject, check out Family meal time blog post on The Science of Parenting site, a new online resource from Iowa State University Extension. The purpose of the blog is to communicate research-based information on current/hot parenting topics.

-pointers from Peggy

Online calculator estimates food cost for your family

Every January I spend some time reviewing my finances and getting things organized. I figure my net worth and see how much I have spent for food, clothes, recreation, etc. and develop a budget. One of the items I watch is how much I am spending on food both at home and eating out.

Are you setting up a spending plan for your family or wondering if what you spend on food is reasonable for a family your size? If so, you can find out what the USDA’s Low-cost Food Plan would estimate for your family on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. web page. Our online calculator will do the math for you. You will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each person. When you get your results, remember that this is just the cost of food. It doesn’t include pet food, personal care, paper goods, etc. that you buy at the grocery store.

If you would like to lower what you spend on food, there are hundreds of tips on how to provide nutritious meals for your family and spend less on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. site. If you have specific questions, just leave a comment and we will get back to you.

-pointers by Peggy

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