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Dining in for healthy families

Families are overbooked these days, both parents and children have schedules that keep members on the go and it has turned the family dinner time into a thing of the past. Many families just run through the drive up window and order fast food to eat in the car as they pick kids up and try to make the next scheduled appointment. In an effort to give children a full social life, we have forgotten what it is like to sit down to a meal together. Parents don’t realize the positive impact the family meal has on a child’s development. According to Larry Forthun, Extension Specialist at the University of Florida, research shows that having dinner together as a family is linked to a lower risk of obesity and substance abuse while improving behavior and school performance.

To encourage family meals, the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences is sponsoring the 3rd annual Dining In campaign on December 3. ( I’m letting you know about this event a few weeks ahead of time, so you can mark your calendars and make a plan!) Eating dinner together as a family provides the opportunity for conversation. This lets family members communicate without distraction from phones, television and computers. By engaging your children in conversation, they learn to listen as well as provide a chance to speak and express their own opinions. As a result, children learn they have an active voice within the family. Preparing meals at home leads to more nutritious food for the family. You control the fat, sodium and sugar content and can serve a wide variety of food. Meals prepared at home give the opportunity to serve more fruits, vegetables and dairy foods which provide much needed nutrients that are lacking in a restaurant meal.

Meal preparation doesn’t have to be elaborate, there are many dishes that take as little as 30 minutes to prepare. Great resources for quick, nutritious recipes are the National Dairy Council, More Matters (National Fruit and Vegetable Association), National Beef Council, MyPlate and Snap Ed recipes. Go to a search engine on your computer and key in any of these organizations to get to their websites where recipes are easy to download. Conservation at the dinner table helps expand a child’s language skills. Family dinners allow every member of the family to discuss his or her day and share any exciting news. If you aren’t sure how to start, try these suggestions: Ask about your child’s day, it shows interest in their daily life away from home. Talk about current events. Bring up news appropriate to the age of your child. Let all family members talk. Be an active listener and be sure your child learns to listen as well.

Encourage your child to participant in mealtime talk. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to hold a conversation, they have amazing things to say if you will just listen. The benefits of dining together are tremendous. Family meals create a sense of security and togetherness for children. Frequent family dinners have a positive impact on children’s internal qualities such as values, motivation, personal identity, self-esteem and outlook on the future. If you would like to make a pledge to Dining In, go to and follow the steps. Be sure to mark your calendar for December 3rd and make plans to dine in and connect with your family one meal at a time. Family meals provide better nutrition for your children while cultivating stronger relationships and better success at school. For more information on the power of family meals, call the Extension office and ask for your copy of Family Nutrition: The Truth about Family Meals, authored by Dr. Larry Forthun. The University of Florida Extension/IFAS – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.

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