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Prairie Fare: Put Family Meals on Your Calendar

As families close out the summer and gear up for the busy fall, there’s one thing that should have priority on your calendar: making time for family meals.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I noticed a few sure signs of fall this past week. Yesterday, I saw a group of young guys suited up in football uniforms doing their warm-up exercises at 7:30 a.m.

I wonder if they look that bright-eyed for classes.

My kids’ school supply lists arrived in the mail. I hope we’ll find the specific items in one or two stores instead of the five we visited last year on our “school supply scavenger hunt.”

My daughter’s dance class brochure showed up a couple of days ago. Looks like Monday nights are busy. We scheduled our monthly 4-H meetings for Tuesdays. Early morning orchestra and choir will begin soon. End-of-the-summer picnics punctuate our family calendar.

My husband and I have a few other responsibilities, too.

As families close out the summer and gear up for the busy fall, there’s one thing that should have priority on your calendar: making time for family meals. In the hustle and bustle of family life, we may forgo eating together in favor of spending potential family time on extracurricular activities designed to improve minds and bodies and keep kids out of “trouble.”

As numerous studies have shown, eating more meals as a family has numerous benefits, probably more benefits than some extracurricular activities.

Researchers have shown that children who eat more meals with their families are more likely to earn mostly A's and B’s, compared with kids who eat fewer times with their families. Children who eat with their families improve their communication skills and build their vocabularies. Even the occasional bickering session among siblings builds communication skills.

Family meals provide structure, stability and feelings of belonging. As a result, children who eat meals more often with their families are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or drug abuse. They’re also less likely to be depressed and less likely to have eating disorders.

A family that eats together enjoys more nutritious meals, too. Kids who eat more often with their families eat more fruits and vegetables, more calcium-rich foods and less high-fat, highly sweetened foods. They’re more likely to meet their needs for fiber, iron, vitamin E and folate, too. That’s good news for health.

  • Set a goal to eat together more often as a family. Aim for at least five family meals per week. Schedule them on the family calendar.
  • Be creative. Family meals can be at any time or place. How about Saturday morning brunch or family breakfasts?
  • Be a role model. Don’t just tell kids to eat their vegetables. Have seconds of broccoli.
  • Involve children in the planning, shopping, preparation and cleanup for meals. They’ll learn valuable skills for a lifetime and have some fun, too.
  • Turn off the TV, radio and other distractions. Chat with each other.

Do the best thing for your kids by adding more family meals to your family schedule. If you’re short on time, consider assembling dinner at breakfast time. Try this slow cooker recipe from the Montana State University Extension Service:

Slow Cooker Ground Beef Stew

1 pound ground beef

1/2 c. chopped onions

1 c. chopped carrots

2 c. chopped potatoes

1 c. chopped celery

1 can (15-ounce) tomatoes

4 c. water

1/2 tsp. oregano, basil or other herb (optional)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Brown the ground beef in a medium frying pan. Drain fat. Place beef, chopped vegetables, tomatoes and water in slow cooker. Cook on low eight to 10 hours or on high for four to six hours.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 300 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 23 g of carbohydrate, a full day’s supply of vitamin A and 60 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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