By Tracie Bettenhausen

When is the last time you sat down with your kids to have dinner? Even if the meal wasn’t fancy, you’re doing your family a favor in more ways than you might think.

The NDSU (North Dakota State University) Extension Service is promoting family mealtime through “The Family Table.” The program, which is being championed by extension agents across the state, is unique to North Dakota, though there are similar programs in other states.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph. D., NDSU professor and food and nutrition specialist, and her colleagues launched the program after several discussions. The project brings together experts in family science, nutrition, finance, and technology.

“There are just so many benefits when families eat together, it’s astounding,” she says. “Kids who eat with their families do better in school. The family table is where many of us learn our language skills, through conversations around the dinner table. Both kids and adults are healthier, and the family saves money when buying groceries rather than meals already prepared.”

The program’s goal is to have families eating together on a regular basis, or three times a week at minimum. Garden-Robinson says the program launched in January with a website, Facebook page, e-newsletter, and monthly challenges with prizes.

“We have a group page, where we post quick meal ideas and conversation starters,” she says. “For example, start mealtime conversations with a question like, ‘If you could talk to anyone, living or no longer alive, for an hour, who would you talk to?’ or ‘Did you appreciate someone today? How did you show or tell that person that you appreciate them?'”

The program asks families to put electronic devices away and turn the televisions off.

“Families aren’t used to being together just to talk, and the feedback we’re hearing from families already is they’re having fun,” Garden-Robinson says. “By asking questions you wouldn’t normally think of you’ll learn things about one another that might surprise you and that’s exciting.”

Kids learn healthy eating habits at home.

“Surveys show that more than a third of families increase their fruit consumption, about a third eat more vegetables, and not quite a quarter eat more whole grains,” Garden-Robinson says. “Those trends have an effect on promoting healthy weight among children.”

Food is also a good way to introduce cultural history to children.

“You might tell your kids about the food your mom or grandma used to make and you might want to try those recipes for yourself,” Garden-Robinson says.

“The Family Table” is one program in a suite of NDSU programs aimed at promoting healthy, strong families. Facebook followers of the program can even win prizes along the way, like cookbooks and spatulas. Click here to participate in all aspects of “The Family Table.”   


Tracie Bettenhausen

Tracie Bettenhausen

Tracie Bettenhausen is a senior staff writer/editor at Basin Electric. Her mealtimes vary from picking up grab-n-go smoked ribs at the local food co-op (they’ll have you believing in angels) to trying out recipes a la Julia Child or Chrissy Teigen.