Public Health Community Advisory – Families in Omaha are answering a call to action: cook and eat more meals at home together. Sponsored through community collaborations, The Family Dining Challenge aims to support families to be healthier together through shared meals.
Why Family Dining?
As described by Marino and Butkus, family meals benefit children even beyond healthy eating. Children who eat more family meals have:
Better Nutrition: This includes higher intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and key nutrients (e.g., fiber), less intake of high-fat foods and sodas, and healthier eating habits outside of those meals.
Improved Learning: Middle and high school students who regularly eat family meals may perform higher on tests. Language skills in preschoolers may also improve.
Improved Well-Being: Teenagers may show reduced risky behaviors (e.g., drug use) and less depression, while children may have more positive family interactions.
Therefore, family dining has important implications for the health and well-being of our community, especially considering the serious health issues we face, including overweight/obesity and the associated chronic diseases.
Health professionals in Omaha consistently receive questions about how to get kids to eat healthier. The answer is “good role modeling.” Family dining provides an optimal opportunity to role model and offer healthy foods. Considering the added benefits, promoting family dining became a priority community health initiative.
The Family Dining Pledge.
1,020 families have taken the Pledge, which is sponsored by Live Well Omaha Kids (LWOK), which is a partnership of over 40 organizations that work to support children in practicing healthy habits. Partners, advisors (including two UNMC COPH professors, among others), and volunteers help shape and disseminate the campaign. Families can take the pledge online (livewellomahakids.org/pledge/ ), or in the community (e.g., Open Streets Omaha, Healthy Neighborhood Stores.)
Of course, succeeding with family dining can be challenging. Marino and Butkus describe many of these challenges, including conflicting schedules, limited time to cook, lack of cooking skills, and preferences for activities like watching television.
LWOK aims to support families in overcoming these challenges by providing education and resources through various channels. Amy Houser, a UNMC MPH student and LWOK intern, says “This communication tool [newsletter] is crucial for follow-up with families who take the Pledge. These emails and Facebook posts provide recipes, tips, and information to help create and sustain behavior change.”
Plan Ahead: Cut up fruits/vegetables on Sunday or cook whole grain rice to use throughout the week.
Involve Kids: Allow kids to help shop or prep. They’ll be more likely to try something new.
Keep it Simple: Add vegetables to an omelet or serve a PB&J sandwich with an apple and low-fat milk.
Even 15 minutes together at the table counts.
Stay Positive: Enjoy the time together and role model positive behaviors.
TV Off: A major benefit is the time to build relationships. Turn off technology and focus on each other.
Marino & Butkus http://nutrition.wsu.edu/eteb/
 Cullen, KW and T Baranowski. “Influence of family dinner on food intake of 4th to 6th grade students.” Paper presented at The American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference, October 2000.
 Stanek K, D Abbot and S Cramer. “Diet quality and the eating environment of preschool children.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 90(11):1582-1584, November 1996.
 “Learning by example: How family meal times could make ‘good eating’ easier to swallow.”www.mori.com/polls/1999/crcjan99.shtml. Posted February 10, 1999.
 Wildavsky, R. “What’s behind success in school?” Reader’s Digest. October 1994. Pages 49-55.
 Sanford, Carolyn. “Using ‘rare’ words at mealtime can enlarge children’s vocabulary.”
 Bowden BS and JM Zeisz. “Supper’s on! Adolescent adjustment and frequency of family mealtimes.” Paper presented at 105th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, 1997, Chicago, Illinois.
This article was co-written by Denise H. Britigan, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health; Kelly Bouxsein, MPH, MS, CPH, Live Well Omaha Kids Healthier Communities Administrator; and Amy Houser, COPH student and LWOK intern.