Soccer practice. Theatre. Band. Aunt Janice’s retirement party.
American families lead busy lives. Even after the traditional 9-5 workday, evening events seem to monopolize the week, leaving little time for family togetherness. Dinners are often rushed, unplanned, and not always healthy.
That’s why, this month, we’d like to challenge families to do something that seems very simple. Have one homecooked meal together as a family, per week, with items purchased from your local grocery store.
Pennsylvania elected officials have endorsed the effort. Gov. Tom Wolf issued a proclamation designating September 2019 as Family Meals Month in Pennsylvania. State Rep. Greg Rothman introduced a resolution (House Resolution 455) making the same designation.
“More than 8 in 10 parents say it is important to eat at home together as a family and, those who miss dinners, in particular, say they are trying to eat with their children more often,” Rep. Rothman said. “This is our mission.”
The national Family Meals Month movement originated several years ago from our partners at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation. The goal was, and still is, to encourage families to cook and eat together at home, thus providing more opportunity for bonding.
An FMI study showed that 92 percent of United States consumers say they want to eat healthier meals, yet only 30 percent of American families share dinner every night. Dinnertime conversations establish closer relationships and increase parental involvement. (Just refrain from bringing up politics with distant relatives See: Thanksgiving).
The benefits run even deeper. Studies show that regular family meals are linked to kids earning higher grades, improving self-esteem, and resisting negative peer pressure. Each additional family meal shared per week results in adolescents who are less likely to show symptoms of violence, depression, and suicide, and are less likely to use or abuse drugs or run away.
PFMA member stores have strongly supported the initiative. At Giant Food Stores, for example, nutritionists have highlighted easy meal solutions in-store and in the community, including ideas for eating healthy on a budget, while inspiring families to bring everyone together for one more family meal. Wellness Walks, conducted by Giant nutritionists, offer tips for easy-to-prepare dinners, ready-to-eat choices to help save time and fresh ideas to make mealtime fun.
“Families are always juggling busy schedules and struggling to put a nutritious meal on the table—and Giant can help,” said Matt Simon, Giant VP, marketing. “We believe that bringing families together around the table strengthens the bonds that make up a healthy community.”
Wegman’s has offered strategies to organize family meals, which include filling half your plate with veggies, cook once, eat twice, and theme night — which could include Meatless Mondays or Taco Tuesdays.
“Involve the kids with choosing themes – it gives them a stake in planning, it creates variety and it makes shopping easier, said Wegmans Nutritionist Krystal Register MS, RDN, LDN. “Active time for dinner prep can be 30 minutes or less.”
ShopRite has offered four “chef-inspired, dietitian-approved” meal kits, according to a news release. The kits serve two and cost $11.99.
Get involved in Family Meals Month. Post a photo (selfie or “usie”) of you and your family enjoying a home-cooked meal together, include the hashtag #FamilyMealsMonthPA, and email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us and post it to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
We’re thankful to our government leaders, member stores, and industry partners who have recognized the importance of this movement and we hope Pennsylvanians join the effort to eat together as a family this month.
Alex Baloga is President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.