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Dining … family style

Truth be told, 10 years ago we owned a “splat mat.” Yes, a splat mat! It was meant to save our floors from those messy toddler spills. Now, here we are years later, we are busy family; always on the go. We may have the occasional glass of spilled milk, but what’s more important is that we are able to share family meals together. The following is an excerpt from the Child Trends Blog and the Early Childhood Iowa Newsletter from Nov. 14:

Research shows that children who regularly eat meals with their parents tend to eat more fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, and are less likely to be overweight. A positive family atmosphere during regular meal times also reduces the occurrence of eating disorders. Watching parents eat healthily, day in and day out, can positively influence children’s own behavior and nutritional choices as they grow.

The benefits go beyond nutrition, too. Eating together can improve parent-child relationships, and give kids a sense of stability. Mealtime conversations have been tied to improved literacy. Children often exhibit fewer behavioral problem and are face few problems in their teen years.

Dinner at home is a much more accessible experience, especially for families of limited economic means. That may explain why low-income families are more likely to eat meals together more often than higher-income ones. In 2011 and 2012, the most recent data available, 51 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in households at or below the poverty level ate family meals at least six days a week. For comparison, only 36 percent of similar-aged young people eat that many family meals if their household income is at least double the poverty level. This should serve as an important reminder to help keep the shelves of your local food pantry full.

The Family Dinner Project, a nonprofit organization from Harvard University, offers some helpful resources (including recipes and conversation-starters) for families who need a push to get started. There are few easier or more effective ways to improve family closeness and children’s well-being. For more information, visit http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/. The website includes tips for families, games to play, recipes and more!

Enjoy a little extra time with family around the dinner table this Thanksgiving holiday.

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Carrie Kube is a director for Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board. All thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the author and not the board and/or its community partners.