Dates to remember

Feb. 9: Little I, North Dakota State University

Feb. 10: Rube Goldberg event, Burleigh County Extension Service

Feb. 13: Morton County Soil Conservation District Meeting, Mandan

Feb. 14: Great Seeds and Where to Buy Them in 2018, online Field to Fork webinar

Feb. 21: Tomatoes, Peppers and Cucumbers: A Snapshot of NDSU's High-tunnel Research Project, online Field to Fork webinar

We’ve had a great first year across the state talking about one of our projects, The Family Table. Perhaps you have taken the challenge and made a goal to increase the number of meals together. If not, there is still time to make a change and enjoy the resources when you sign up at Recipes, conversation starters, opportunities for prizes and more are available when you register. Also, you can follow on Facebook @ndfamilytable.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Nope, it’s not going to work for my family.” Too busy, kids who don’t want to participate; all these things we hear and we understand! It’s tough to get a new habit going in the midst of busy lives. So, I’ll point you to some tips from one of our publications called “If Meals Were More Fun.” When parents read the research and realize that children who regularly eat meals with their families earn higher grades in school, have larger vocabularies and better communication skills, and make more nutritious food choices, who wouldn’t make time for all those benefits? Additionally, children who eat family meals are less likely to be depressed, have an eating disorder or engage in other types of risky behaviors. So what does it take and how to add it in to your family life? Here are a few tips:

Careful planning is one part of the solution to match schedules and meals. Breakfast is a meal! If work or activities are keeping everyone from the dinner table in the evening, make breakfast your shared meal of the day. Provide nutritious and delicious food options and sparkling conversation to start everyone’s day in a positive way. Recite a fun fact, ask a playful question or play soft background music. Planning includes making sure everyone goes to bed early enough to make it to the table. Also, having some simple, healthy recipes for smoothies, omelets, or other breakfast foods ahead of time will save the morning headaches.

Some families are starting their dinner hour with a brisk family walk to “let off steam” from their day and show their kids a new kind of “happy hour” — exercise! Next, everyone tall enough to see over the counter helps with meal prep. Those not tall enough can help bring ingredients or even entertainment to those cooking. Again, a good dose of planning is needed to have helpers in the kitchen. Healthy appetizers of raw fruit, vegetables, cheese and nuts can be offered to give everyone time to assemble for the meal without having a crash or crisis.

Involve everyone in your household in some creative thinking around your family’s weekly schedule. Perhaps Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are shared dinner meals. Children also can help in the menu planning, division of tasks and creating the shopping list. If family meals aren’t fun at your house, find out why. Conversation should always be pleasant in the kitchen and at the table to encourage a good turnout at every meal. Save the discipline or “lecture” moments for another time of day so family meals remain enjoyable for everyone around the table.

Each family member and each generation has different experiences and views when it comes to family meals. Those memories or hopes are a great way to start the conversation with the kids in your life about family meals together. Tell stories of your own childhood and express interest in what your kids have going on in their lives to show that this time is something you value as a family. If all else fails, tell them you read this newspaper column and wanted to try something new this year.

For more information, visit, email or call 701-667-3342.

Liz Larson is the parent educator for the NDSU Extension Parent Resource Center Region VII. Larson has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Luther College in Iowa and started with Extension in 2016.