by Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

With families spending more time together at home, family meals are a great way to make the most of that time together! According to The Family Dinner Project, “As long as there are two family members eating together, talking, and enjoying one another, that is a family dinner. It could also be with an uncle or a grandma!”

Family meals provide benefits for children and families. Sharing family meals is associated with increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, grain and other healthy choices. Family meals also provide an opportunity for parents to role model healthy behaviors such as tasting new foods, portion sizes, stopping when full, and table manners. Research shows there are many notable benefits for children such as better academic performance, higher self-esteem, lower risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, and greater sense of resilience. Parents can create a supportive environment that allows for open communication. Family meals allow families to have conversations, carry on family traditions and provide a sense of unity.

Right now is a great time to start the routine of family meals. Family meals begin before sitting at the dinner table. Get your children involved by letting them choose the menu, dinner theme or letting them help in the kitchen. Now is a great time to teach them about where food comes from by selecting foods from local farms or shopping in open air farmers markets. Even preschoolers can help with food preparation by mixing together ingredients. Older children can help with measuring ingredients, using a can opener and chopping vegetables. Remember to practice food safety while cooking by always washing hands, preventing cross contamination and washing all surfaces food touches.

At the dinner table, keep conversation positive. You can try meal time conversation cards to stimulate conversations. With younger children, talk about the foods you’re eating by describing colors, texture and flavor. Avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad” or making negative comments. Limit distractions at the table by turning off electronics to engage each family member in conversation. Having fun at the dinner table is important!

Every meal doesn’t have to be a formal occasion. The goal is to make them frequent, fun and family-oriented. For more information about family meals or other topics related to food, nutrition and families, contact Mary Parker Draper at the extension office at 615-735-2900.

Check out this week’s “Food for Thought” recipe for Grilled Teriyaki Chicken!

Grilled Teriyaki Chicken 

4 to 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ cup pineapple juice

½ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

6 oz. can pineapple slices

Combine all ingredients (except pineapple slices) and pour over chicken. Marinate several hours. Grill with pineapple slices until tender. Serve with rice.