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Family Meal Time Is A Good Investment

Here are some tips to include in establishing or improving family meal time.

Nashville, Ark. – School is starting and with all the back-to-school activities you may find it difficult to sit down together as a family and eat a meal together. You may have never thought of it, but spending quality time with the family during meal time is really a great investment. Research shows meal times helps establish strong relationships, builds confidence in children, helps prevent problem behaviors, improves success at school, and improves your family’s health/nutrition. Family meal time is an investment in your family’s well-being, success, and health. Here are some tips to include in establishing or improving family meal time.

            Aim for 3 or more meals a week. Children and teenagers who eat with their family three times or more a week do better in school. If you do not eat together now or not as you’d like, look at your schedules to see if family meals can replace other activities. Start with just one meal a week and add more later. Children value meal times with their family. Families usually enjoy eating together after they try it.

            Make family meals a priority. Adults can make family meals a priority and expect children, teenagers, and adults to eat together. They may complain at first, but if meals are pleasant, children and teenagers will begin to value the time together.

            Keep a sense of humor and laugh a lot. It’s not “what,” but “how” you feed your family that counts. Simple foods served with love and laughter will outshine gourmet food. Make it part of the family dinner conversation by asking what happened during the day that made you laugh or made you smile. Focusing on the good things builds relationship and sense of well-being.

            Cook it quick, but eat it slow. Though you may hurry when preparing a meal, allow ample time to enjoy the meal and talk with each other.

            Work toward happy, relaxing conversations at meals. Allow time for everyone to talk – children as well as adults. Save arguments for later. If everyone in your family wants to talk at once, borrow the “talking stick” idea from Native Americans. Only the person holding the stick can talk.

            If time is an issue, make meals quick and easy. Food does not have to be hot to be nourishing and healthful. Tuna sandwiches, an apple, and milk can be just as healthful as hot food you worked for hours to prepare. Make and freeze extra food on the weekend for quick microwave meals that are ready in a flash. For quick meal ideas check out the website for recipes that use ingredients you have on hand, low cost meals, plus much more.

            Plan meals around your calendar. Create a calendar that includes scheduled activities or late meetings. Then plan your meals around these events. If you know you’ll be spending Monday evenings picking up and dropping off the kids at activities, create fix-and-go or picnic meals to save money and time.

            Shop for food and cook together. Grocery shopping and cooking together can be fun and promote family togetherness. Younger children are proud and excited to eat meals they helped prepare.

            Take telephone calls and texts later. How often does the phone interrupt your meal? Make it a rule that all members of the family put their cell phones in a basket that is placed in a different room.

            Turn the TV off. The TV is not a family member. Encourage family members to star in their own lives and relate to each other rather than an image on the TV screen. If there is an “absolutely must see” show that occurs during dinnertime, record it for later viewing.

            Respect each individual’s right to decide how much to eat. Forcing children to eat food they do not like makes them dislike the food or learn to ignore feelings of hunger and satiety.

            A parent’s role is to offer a child safe, healthful food. A child’s role is to decide to eat the food or not and how much to eat. If a child does not eat the food in a reasonable amount of time, take the food away. Healthy, active children eat about the same amount of food everyday – enough to meet the needs for growth and play.

            Remember, pausing for family meals is a good investment for healthy families, children, and teenagers.

            For more information, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.

Recipe of the Week

            This is one of my all-time quick-to-fix favorite meals. Add a garden salad or steamed broccoli. Your family will love it!

Easy Lasagna

½ pound ground beef

8 ounces egg noodles, uncooked (try whole grain)

12 ounces fat free cottage cheese

12 ounces reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 (26-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Non-stick cooking spray

Brown ground beef. Drain and return to skillet. Stir in spaghetti sauce and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil. Add 1 cup water and uncooked pasta. Cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.

Stir in cottage cheese. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes to melt cheese

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving: 450 calories, 15 g fat, 1080 mg sodium, 46 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 35 g protein. Excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, and iron, Good source of vitamin C

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

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