Thanksgiving is fast approaching, which means time with friends, family, and food. But the holidays are not the only times families can sit down together to share a meal, and the virtual workshop that was held on Tuesday evening by the Military Child Education Coalition and the Stewart C. Meyer Harker Heights Public Library addressed the importance of family meals.

The workshop, titled “The Magic of the Family Meal,” was presented by Tina Wolford and Cackie Howe, and discussed the many ways that a family dinner, or breakfast, or even snack time, can benefit everyone, especially children.

Wolford began by discussing the intellectual benefits of family dinners. For children under the age of 6, it helps them not only build their vocabulary, it also helps build language development and early literacy skills.

For school-aged children, it builds their reading fluency, and improves academic achievement scores. And research shows that teens are twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who don’t partake in regular family meals.

“That family meal provides a connection,” Wolford said.

There are social-emotional benefits, as well. Studies show a reduction in both high-risk behaviors and depression. Children who have family meals also have higher self-esteem.

“It also provides a time for stress relief,” Wolford said.

Physical benefits include weight control and establishing good eating habits, something that can last a lifetime.

Howe did say that during family meals, avoid forcing a child to eat, as well as nagging, bargaining, or making deals. Also avoid electronic devices at the table. “Make it an electronic-free zone,” she advised.

Howe said that though it generally takes seven to 15 times for a child to get used to a new food, there are some tips to getting a child to try something new.

First, attempt it when the child is hungry. Try riffing off familiar favorites, or even cooking new recipes together; especially for picky eaters, children who have some input and have a hand in the meal will be more willing to try something new.

Family mealtime can also be a great time to encourage conversation.

“This is where that connection comes in,” said Howe. “Try to speak together as often as possible. It’s one way to build those bonds.”

Family meals should become a routine. In addition to giving children a sense of comfort and stability, it’s also a good way to connect to previous generations.

And for family members far away, just the act of sharing recipes can help that generational bond.

“I think people underestimate how much that means to the kids,” observed library clerk Heather Heilman.

“Just encourage them to have fun,” Howe said. “Make it fun and create magic moments that your children will cherish for years to come.”

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