Did you grow up gathering around the family table for meals? In my house, dinnertime meant no TV, no magazines and everyone gathered. If the phone rang, it wasn’t answered. We didn’t have cell phones, tablets or even answering machines back then.
If you ate with your family, count yourself as very fortunate. Eating together as a family has many benefits.
Meals eaten as a family tend to be more healthful. They also give families an opportunity to communicate and strengthen relationships. Plus, teens who eat with their family regularly are less likely to get involved in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs.
The North Dakota State University Extension Service has launched “The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect,” a statewide program to provide families with tips, meal plans, recipes and conversation starters to help make family meals happen. The team that developed this program includes Extension food and nutrition and family science specialists.
Research shows meals eaten with family members include less fat, less soda pop and more fruits and vegetables, and they tend to be higher in calcium, fiber and other essential nutrients. Eating meals as a family at home also can save money.
Children who eat regular meals with family members are better able to pay attention in school and learn. When they eat with their families, young children also learn new words and expand their vocabularies. By the time they are teens, children who eat regularly with their families do better academically than their peers who do not.
The Family Table: Eat, Savor, Connect” website provides information on monthly topics, such as meal planning, making mealtime fun, cooking basics, buying nutritious food on a limited budget, getting kids involved in meal preparation and family fitness. The site also will have links to related events in counties throughout the state.
You’ll be able to sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips, and follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals. Join the challenges for a chance to win prizes.
Come join us around “The Family Table” at www.ag.ndsu.edu/familytable
Here’s a tasty recipe that will warm a wintry day.
Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 pound chicken breast, boneless and skinless
1 (16-ounce) jar salsa
3 c. chicken broth, reduced sodium
2 Tbsp. “Mexican blend” seasoning or low-sodium taco seasoning
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn
Optional toppings (shredded cheese, plain Greek yogurt, tortilla chips)
Place chicken in slow cooker. Top with remaining ingredients. Cook on low for six to seven hours or high for four hours. Remove chicken, shred and combine back into slow cooker. If desired, top with shredded cheese, a dollop of yogurt and tortilla chips.
Makes 10 servings. Each one-cup serving has 210 calories, 2.5 grams (g) fat, 19 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber and 530 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)