NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Family Meals Matter

family, family meals. family health

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Eating together as a family has many benefits. Among the most lasting and powerful traditions in family life is one that seems to have more influence than almost any other – the family meal. Recalling your favorite family experiences usually leads to thinking of such times as the weekly Sunday meal, family mealtimes during Thanksgiving or other holidays, or a Saturday morning breakfast with Mom or Dad. Why are family meals so powerful? Sharing a family meal provides an experience that touches all of our senses - sight, touch, taste, smell and listening to warm laughter or good conversation.

It is often easiest for families to eat dinner together, but other mealtimes work as well. Meals can be simple with shared mealtime responsibility among family members. Teaching children the enjoyment of cooking and having them involved in mealtime preparation develops skills they can use for a lifetime. Shared meals can also be extended to friends and neighbors to build a stronger sense of community and help with meal preparation.

Meals eaten as a family tend to be more healthful. They also give families an opportunity to communicate and strengthen relationships. Plus, teens who eat with their family regularly are less likely to get involved in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service is launching “The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect,” a program to provide families with tips, meal plans, recipes and conversation starters to help make family meals happen. The team that developed this program includes Extension food and nutrition and family science specialists.

“Research shows meals eaten with family members include less fat, less soda pop and more fruits and vegetables, and they tend to be higher in calcium, fiber and other essential nutrients,” says NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, who helped create the program.

“Children who eat regular meals with family members are better able to pay attention in school and learn,” says NDSU Extension family science specialist Sean Brotherson, another contributor to the program. “When they eat with their families, young children also learn new words and expand their vocabularies. By the time they are teens, children who eat regularly with their families do better academically than their peers who do not.”

Eating meals as a family at home also can save money, according to NDSU Extension personal and family finance specialist Carrie Johnson, who worked on the program.  

“The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect” website (ndsu.ag/familytable) will provide information on monthly topics, such as meal planning, making mealtime fun, cooking basics, buying nutritious food on a limited budget, getting kids involved in meal preparation and family fitness. The site also will have links to related events in counties throughout the state.

You’ll be able to sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips, and follow the program on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ndfamilytable for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.

Visit ndsu.ag/familytable to learn more about The Family Table.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Extension food and nutrition specialist

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