AgriLife Extension experts: Family mealtimes help children’s health, grades

CORPUS CHRISTI — Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service personnel throughout South Texas will be touting the many benefits of sharing family mealtimes in the coming months, they say.

Family mealtimes Sept

AgriLife Extension programs will focus on the benefits of family mealtimes between Sept. 21 and Sept. 27. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

“Between Sept. 21 and Sept. 27, 31 counties with AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences programs in the agency’s Southeast Region will host some type of educational event promoting family mealtime,” said Elaine Fries, the AgriLife Extension regional program leader for family and consumer sciences in Corpus Christi.

In addition to improved communication with family, studies show that children who sit in on family meals eat healthier diets and perform better in school, according to Amanda Scott, an AgriLife Extension program specialist in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program.

“Research shows that compared to children who seldom participate in family meals, children who sit down to regular family meals consume more fruits, vegetables and fiber, consume less soda and fried foods, and eat less heart-damaging saturated and trans fats,” she said. “Families who eat together also have more time and opportunities to communicate and build relationships, and these children tend to perform better academically.”

Scott said families can experience the positive benefits of family meals by eating together at least four to five times per week.

“If possible, start eating meals together as a family when your kids are young. This way, it becomes a habit,” she said. “Plan when you will eat together as a family by writing it down on a calendar. Turn off the television and cell phones, and focus on each other. Talk about fun and happy things, and make mealtime stress-free.”

Children should be encouraged to try new foods, but not be lectured or forced to eat them, she said.

Sharon Robinson, an AgriLife Extension nutrition specialist, said that because they like to imitate their parents, a good way to get young children excited about healthy foods is to eat healthy food themselves. Make sure healthy foods are available for snacking.

“Get your kids to help set the table and clean up after the meal to help make it a family event,” she said. “Involve them in selecting fruits and vegetables for the meal. Then get them to help rinse the produce, snap the green beans, stir the pancake batter or help assemble a pizza or sandwiches.”

Parents, though, should remember safety tips when children are in the kitchen, Robinson said.

“Cook with pots and pans on the back burners. Keep hot dishes where children cannot touch or pull them down on themselves. Don’t have them remove food from the microwave, and keep knives and other sharp objects out of their reach.”

Fries said AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences agents will have various programs to promote family mealtimes in their counties, depending on local preferences and requests for information.

For more information, contact Fries at 361-265-9203.

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