How ‘Back to School’ Can Also Mean Back to the Dinner Table
By Lara McCauley, Vice President Corporate Affairs, Mars Food North America
All across the country parents are beginning to fill out their calendars in anticipation of the school year starting. While the preparation for each new school year can be trying, having routines in place again is a simple joy that most families appreciate. It’s not just the daily rhythm of getting kids clean, dressed and homework finished that brings a sense of normalcy to family life. It’s also the routine of family meal times that can help.
With so much new to share every day, parents search for moments where they can bring the family together, and there’s no better place to do this than the kitchen and the dinner table. Using dinner prep time to catch a few extra moments with each other is a great way to stretch the average 18-20 minute duration of meals into a longer conversation.
While it might seem like families are spending less time eating together, this might not necessarily be the case. A survey shows that 77 percent of families with school-aged kids reported they ate dinner together “always” or “frequently.” As many as 10 different pieces of research found that children who participate in dinner prep or eat with their family are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, perform better in school and have better relationships with other family members than those who are not as involved.
With so many benefits, how do we help families invest even more in dinner time? Simply by making it an easy affair that everyone can participate in. Here are some easy ways the grocery store can help encourage all family members to roll up their sleeves and help:
- Provide recipes with prep steps that even the smallest hands can help with. Even toddlers can help wash produce and older children can set the dinner table or help measure ingredients. Kids who are involved in dinner prep are more likely to eat the meal they helped with. Parents often don’t think of what their kids can do to help, so make it easy and provide some options with your recipes.
- Group ingredients within the store that make up a meal. Suggesting a chicken teriyaki dish? Place the ingredients together in one location so shoppers can buy all the items at once. Pair the meal with the recipe steps for kids listed above and you’ve made a meal that is easy to grab and go.
- Provide recipes made of entirely shelf-stable foods. While most people go to the grocery store several times a week, families tend to order out the closer it is to the weekend because items bought earlier in the week are not as fresh. Suggest recipes made entirely of shelf-stable items that can keep even longer.
- Help parents plan a back-up meal. Having kids in the kitchen means that accidents happen. And that’s OK! Experimentation is one of the great parts of cooking, but can sometimes mean that chicken might be a little spicier than intended or rice a little crunchier than desired. With today’s shelf-stable and frozen options, having an easy 20-minute meal in the pantry can prevent a call for pizza delivery.
- Table talk is essential so help parents get the ball rolling. One of the biggest benefits for any family meal time is the communication that happens. Chatter matters! Help parents by providing conversation starters or fun facts about recipes, ingredients or cooking styles. These tips are a great way to help even the most reserved child open up.
As parents and kids get ready for routines once again, you can help them by participating in the Food Marketing Institute’s Family Meals Month in September. Or encouraging them to join the UNCLE BEN’S® Brand in encouraging family meals by participating in the Ben’s Beginners™ Cooking Contest. Learn more at unclebens.com as families get back to school, back to routines and back to the dinner table.