NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Make Family Meals Happen

family meals, "The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect", National Nutrition Month

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

March is National Nutrition Month, and what better way to start being healthy than to do it as a family?

Sharing a family meal has many benefits in addition to everyone enjoying a satisfying meal. Shared family meals tend to be more nutritious, and kids are less likely to snack on unhealthful foods and more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Plus, kids are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs, and more likely to get better grades in school.

According to NDCompass.org, 76.5 percent of adults (16-64) in Mercer County are employed. This means getting the family together in the same place at the same time can be difficult. With work schedules, after-school activities and errands, families seem to have less and less time. Here are some ways to make family meals happen:

  • Keep it simple - Having a meal as a family doesn’t have to be a formal event. Choose simple, colorful foods, and make sure to include ingredients that you know your family loves.
  • Start slow - If family meals are lacking in your home, do not bite off more than you can chew. Make a goal of having one family meal per week. Once you get the hang of one, you can try for two family meals per week, and increase as you see fit. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a family meal every day. Try a lunch or breakfast if it fits better with everyone’s schedule.
  • Get everyone involved - Find a task for every family member to do. Use family meals as teachable moments for the younger ones. Tasks can be as simple as putting plates on the table, tossing the salad, or folding napkins. Older kids may be able to do more, such as gathering ingredients, washing fruits and vegetables, mixing and cutting ingredients, and serving. You even could consider assigning nights for the older kids to cook a meal with you as their helper.
  • Remove distractions - Keep the televisions turned off and the cellphones away from the dinner table. Family meals are a time to talk to each other without worrying about who is on the news or who needs to talk to you. The family table should be a place of respect, safety, support and interest in what everyone has to say.
  • Have a picnic or eat out - Kids and teens can get busy with after-school activities and sports. Grab some take-out before you pick the kids up or go out as a family after practice or a game. Family meals do not always have to happen in your house. All that matters is that everyone is together, sharing a meal.

Make March the start of your family meals. The North Dakota State University Extension Service just launched a program called “The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect.” Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/familytable for more tips, benefits and recipes for family meals.

Sources: Allie Benson, NDSU Extension program assistant; Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist

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