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Developing a Culture of Family Meals at Your School

Sep 27, 2017, 10:52 AM

As a registered dietitian with a special interest in child health, I know that children today face higher odds than ever of growing up to be obese or develop a chronic disease related to diet and lifestyle. Parents and teachers know that it’s critical that we instill today’s youth with healthy habits that will help prevent such outcomes later in life.

Many school-based programs are working to help children develop healthy habits, but did you know there’s one action that parents can take at home that can also have a huge impact? A recent study found that as few as one or two family meals a week can help protect children against obesity later in life. And it’s not just healthy weight that’s associated with the habit. Other studies have demonstrated that regular family meals are associated with improved academic performance, lower rates of adolescent substance abuse and overall increased feelings of family togetherness.

kidscookmondayThe trouble is, in today’s crazy world of homework, afterschool activities and parental work schedules, finding the time and energy to get the whole family together for a meal can be a challenge. That’s where Monday comes in. At The Kids Cook Monday, the non-profit public health campaign where I’m on staff, we have a simple slogan, “Start your week off right, make Monday family night!” Our research shows that Monday is the day people are most predisposed to adopting new healthy habits that lead to lasting change.

So we’re working with parents and schools across the country to create school cultures where family meals on Mondays – or least once a week – are the norm. And all of our resources are free! PTA members can promote the benefits of sharing meals together (and getting kids involved in the cooking process) by sharing our free weekly recipe newsletter, The Family Dinner Date, as well as the inspiring promotional graphics on our Facebook and Twitter channels and the free downloadable recipe PDFs on our website.

KCM PS 32 photo 1We’re also working with PTAs to kick-off school-wide participation in The Kids Cook Monday with engaging in-person cooking events, such as the event recently organized by the PTA Wellness Committee of the Samuel Mills Sprole School (P.S. 32) in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. At the evening event, I led 23 families in cooking two delicious The Kids Cook Monday recipes. Families heard about the many benefits of cooking and eating together and also learned helpful tips about which steps in the cooking process are appropriate for parents versus kids.

Students went home with raffle prizes and personalized chef’s hats and parents received recipe printouts and other useful tools. The school’s PTA now has plans to encourage family meals by distributing The Kids Cook Monday recipes in their weekly newsletter and holding future cooking events.

If you’d like to bring The Kids Cook Monday to your school, I’d love to help you out. Please contact us to get started with this life-long healthy habit!

Diana K. Rice, RD is the registered dietitian on staff with The Kids Cook Monday, a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns.