GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Between work, school and afterschool activities, finding time for a homemade meal can be a challenge for many families. But mealtime is more than just a chance to hear about one another’s day.
According to University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences experts, sharing food around the dinner table also helps us feel more connected, make healthier choices and save money along the way.
UF/IFAS Extension is encouraging families, friends and coworkers to experience the benefits of “dining in” by sharing a meal together on Dec. 3 for National Dine In Day, an initiative started four years ago by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS).
“Family and consumer sciences is all about helping people live more healthful lives through the relationships we nurture, the food we eat, and the money we spend and save,” said Michael Gutter, associate dean for UF/IFAS Extension and 4-H youth development, families and communities program leader. “The family meal is at the center of all of these choices.”
“There are several excellent benefits of family meals,” said Victor Harris, Extension specialist and associate professor of family, youth and community sciences. “When parents set aside time for family meals, this sends a message to children that these meals are important. Eating together is also an opportunity for parents to model healthy eating habits. Research has shown that eating family meals is linked not just to decreased likelihood of obesity and eating disorders, but also to better academic performance, and less anxiety, depression and behavioral problems in children.”
In addition to helping parents model healthy eating, family meals give families more control over what they eat, said Natasha Parks, family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Duval County. “Eating home-cooked meals allows one to control the ingredients of the dish, such as decreasing the amount of sodium and fat,” she said.
Family meals can also help families eat with the seasons, saving money in the process. “Planning the meals around the season can reduce the overall costs due to the abundance of the harvest,” Parks added. For example, root vegetables, which are packed with vitamins and minerals, are harvested in late fall and winter are less expensive during that time.
Since Dine In Day is about both eating together and eating healthy foods, parents of picky eaters may be wondering how their family can participate without causing a dinner table revolt.
Simply telling kids to eat their vegetables won’t do the trick, said Terry DelValle, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Duval County, who oversees several school garden programs in the Jacksonville area.
“One of the reasons why we began school gardens here is because we have an urban population with kids who may not know that a carrot or a potato grows underground. Seeing that whole process of growing and harvesting the food helps them appreciate the taste of fresh vegetables,” DelValle said.
While gardening with your kids is a great way to get them interested in eating fruits and vegetables, just taking kids to the grocery store and letting them help pick out what the family is going to eat can make them more open to trying new things, DelValle added.
Families and individuals can also participate online by pledging to dine in on Dec. 3 at http://www.aafcs.org/fcsday/ or sharing their experiences on social media using the hashtag #FCSdayFL.
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