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Put Family Meal Time Into Practice

Put Family Meal Time Into Practice

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By Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D.
Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist and Associate Professor,
Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

Promote Eating Smart With These Tips

◗ Discuss healthy nutrition and good food choices during the family meal.

◗ Talk about – and model – the kind of eating patterns you would like to encourage as a family.

◗ Pay attention to the foods you make available. Provide a variety of nutritious food choices and encourage children to try them (but do not force them).

Mark the answer that best applies to you.

Before grocery shopping, how often do you...AlwaysSometimesNever
plan your meals for the week?
read your recipes and menus to see what you need?
write down all of your meal plans?
check your shelves and refrigerator for items you already have?
look in the newspaper or magazines for slaves or coupons but use coupons only for foods that you plan to use?
keep a grocery list on your refrigerator and add items to the list as you need them?

How did you do? If you “never” plan your meals and shopping trips, you could be making more impulse buys and not getting as much nutrition for your dollar.

Most people recognize the value of eating together as a family. For example, children who eat with their families tend to do better in school, engage in less risky behavior such as smoking and drinking alcohol, eat a healthier diet and are less likely to be overweight. Despite all these benefits, busy schedules can make putting family meal times into practice a challenge. Remember that family meals can occur at any time of the day or any place. Try having breakfast together more often, or enjoy a snack together. To make family meal times work, get your family involved with planning, preparation and cleanup.

Try this meal-planning activity:

1. Pick up a copy of the weekly sale ads for a local grocery store. Refer to the ads as you continue the activity. Divide a piece of paper into three columns using a ruler/pencil or fold it in thirds.

2. In one column, list seven or more of your family’s favorite main dish items.

3. In the second column, list several vegetables and fruits your family consistently enjoys.

4. In the third column, list the types of grains (breads, rice, pasta) your family enjoys. Include whole-grain options, such as whole-wheat bread and pasta.

5. Look at the items in your columns and list seven menus on the back of the piece of paper. For example, for a dinner menu, include a main dish, vegetable, fruit, bread and milk.

Do You Know What the Dates Mean?

Sell-by date: Stores should pull items from the shelves if they are not sold by this date. The products are still good for a while if they're stored properly at home.

Use-by date: Food is guaranteed to be at high quality until this date. Although the foods are still safe to consume after the date, these items may have lower quality.

Expiration date: Consume food or beverage by this date or throw it.

Before you go shopping:

Check what foods you have on hand. Plan menus according to your “inventory” in your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer.

Read the sales ads. Seasonal fruits and vegetables often are featured and can be at their best quality and price.

Write a grocery list. When you write down the food items you need, you can cut down on trips to the grocery store. This saves you time and could save you money on gas, too. When you buy only foods on your list, you will be able to estimate the amount of money you spend and avoid impulse buys.

At the Store

Use coupons wisely. Using coupons can save you money. Use coupons only to purchase foods you were planning to buy anyway. Sort coupons by food category and be aware of the expiration dates on the coupons.

Keep food safety in mind.

Produce: Inspect fruits and vegetables and avoid those that are bruised or damaged.

Meats: Avoid cross-contamination. Put meat packages in a plastic bag (where available) in your cart. Keep meat packages separate from ready-to-eat foods to avoid crosscontamination.

Milk, dairy, meat and frozen items: Shop for these items last so they are not in room temperature for an extended amount of time. If you travel a distance for groceries, bring a cooler filled with ice to transport perishable foods (such as milk, meat) on warm days.

Eggs: Open the carton. Be sure the eggs are not cracked

At home:

Be sure to write the date of purchase on the foods you buy and arrange your cupboards "first in, first out.” In other words, place the oldest foods in the front so you use them first. Group similar foods together.

More Information:

For five weeks of menu plans, recipes and other information, visit and click on “For Parents/Caregivers,” then “Now Serving Handout Series.” Check out the food safety information at

For example, publication FN-579 is a food storage.

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