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Eat Smart for a Great Start Challenge

Make the Most of Meals Together

Hi, I’m Cory Vicens from, and I’ll be joining you every Thursday for the next four weeks to talk about cooking and eating together as a family. Earlier this year, surveyed parents about their own family’s food and nutrition habits, and we found that nearly 85 percent of families will eat dinners together four or more times each week. That’s great! We know from scientific studies that there are many benefits from family meals, including improved nutrition and overall physical and emotional health.

You can make the most of your time by planning to both cook and eat together. Here are some ideas to make everyone a part of the action during mealtime:

Family eating dinnerIf your kids are helping you cook, review your recipes or cooking plans before you start so that you can identify how your kids can be a part of the cooking. In particular:

  • Find activities that are age appropriate. Younger kids can help locate and identify ingredients; then hand them a spoon and let them stir away. Medium-aged kids are ready to read the recipes, measure, wash, peel and/or mix together ingredients at the stove top. Older kids are likely okay using a knife (after guided instructions and practice with an adult) or cooking at the stove top or in an oven on their own.
  • Make sure that your children are working in a space that fits their size and where you can monitor their progress.
  • Use cooking-together time to help educate your kids on safe food practices like washing hands and surfaces, as well as the correct use of knives and kitchen appliances.
  • You can also assign meal preparation activities like setting the table. Make sure to help your child safely reach the items they will need to complete the task. Kids can also have fun creating colorful place cards for family members.

Mealtime is a great time to get to know one another and encourage your kids to open up about what’s going on in their lives. But to get the conversation going, you may need a few shortcuts. Here are some ideas:

  • Do sit down at the table together. Don’t forget to mix it up. Change where everyone sits to allow for different dynamics and conversation flow.
  • Encourage different members of the family to start conversations. Have your kids ask you questions about what you did during the day.
  • Put the extras on the table, so everyone can serve themselves seconds without getting up and down. This will also allow older kids to assist younger kids at mealtime.
  • Use mealtime to talk about the future. What will your family be doing this weekend? Are there any fun new activities you each want to try or do? Places you’re curious to see?
  • Keep a bowl with general questions that can help spur discussions: What was the silliest thing you saw today? Did you learn a new joke recently? What was the most interesting thing you heard today? What do you think is the most disgusting smell? What was (or is) your favorite bedtime story? Kids are interested in what mom and dad were like as kids so be sure to chime in with stories.
  • Make sure everyone stays at the table until everyone is done; don’t let kids rush through meals. Teach them to slow down and maintain portion control.
  • Make your meal time together a family priority so eliminate any external distractions; no TV-watching, texting, emailing, or talking on the phone for both parents and kids.

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