NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Sharing the Family Meal


Sharing the Family Meal


                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. Family meals help provide a regular, consistent opportunity to create a shared experience that is meaningful and offers a sense of belonging to all.

                Changes in family life, such as the increase in dual-earner families and the rise in single-parent families make eating together frequently more difficult for families.  A concern, however, is that 30 percent to 35 percent of families often eat less than three meals a week together, which means less time for connecting and communicating.

                 Fun is part of the recipe for a happy family mealtime. Parents and other adults should try to avoid making mealtime a disciplinary occasion when children are reprimanded or given lectures.

Instead, save such conversations for a time away from the dinner table, and focus instead on being together in a positive way. A family-centered mealtime also means limiting distractions and working to engage each family member in conversation.

                A few of the many benefits that research has documented that occur for families through sharing family meals are:

                • Family meals provide a sense of family unity and identity. Family meals become a vehicle for carrying on valued family traditions, such as having a particularly favorite dish on someone’s birthday or going to a favorite place to eat together on special occasions.

                Family meals give the opportunity to transmit the values and attitudes of a family from one generation to the next. Children can learn from parents and grandparents about what values are important to the family.

                Family meals are a wonderful way to link family members with their cultural and ethnic heritage, as differing foods may reflect the unique cultural traditions or ethnic tastes of a particular family’s background.

                • Family meals furnish a means for daily communication and strengthening family connections.

Conversation around the dinner table allows give and take among family members and the chance to cultivate attitudes of patience and respect in communication.

                • Family meals allow parents an opportunity to be aware of and monitor their children’s moods, behaviors and activities with friends. Family meals are an important “protective factor” in the lives of children and teenagers. Family meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes that improve child well-being. These include a decreased risk of substance use or delinquency, heightened personal and social well-being, and better academic performance.

                • Family meals give regular structure and routine to a child’s day. If a child knows that he or she can expect a reliable schedule, it increases his or her sense of security.

                • Family meals make a positive impact on young children’s language acquisition and literacy development.

                • Family meals are associated with improved dietary intake among family members. For example, several large studies have shown that regular family meals are strongly associated with increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grains and other healthy food choices while also linked with lesser consumption of fried or fatty foods, soft drinks or other less healthy food choices.

                Earlier this month, the NDSU Extension Service launched “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 Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect” website at: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/familytable provides 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.              You are able to sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips, and follow the program on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ndfamilytablefor more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.

                A recently featured recipe from the website follows:


Holiday Antipasti Skewers


This colorful recipe is courtesy the Midwest Dairy Council



1 (9-oz.) package cheese-filled tortellini, cooked and cooled

1/2 c. fat-free Italian dressing

1 (8-oz.) block of reduced-fat Swiss cheese (or other white cheese, such as mozzarella)

2 c. baby spinach leaves

32 pieces of turkey pepperoni

3 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes

16 (9-inch) wooden skewers

                Cook tortellini to the "al dente" stage (slightly firm). Cool. Place cooled tortellini in a bowl. Add dressing and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Cut cheese into small chunks. To assemble the skewers, place tortellini, followed by spinach leaves, pepperoni slice and tomato on the skewer. Repeat the pattern to make 16 skewers. Refrigerate until serving. 

                Makes 16 servings. Per Serving: about 140 calories, 7 grams (g) of fat, 13 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein and 330 mg sodium

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