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The typical family today is so busy and overly scheduled with activities that it has created a whole new set of challenges for mealtime. Often the traditional sit down dinner and socializing as a family at a scheduled mealtime seems like a quaint tradition of our grandparent's day.

We all feel the pressure to find easier; faster ways to provide a nutritious meal and eating individually as the family runs in different directions can easily become a habit. Is it worth it to keep striving for that pleasant memory of making meals together and eating as a family in a relaxed setting around the table? Yes!

GOOD EATING HABITS FOR LIFE
"Meal time provides the perfect opportunity to teach positive attitudes about food." Say's Fran Dunford, a Nutrition Coordinator for the SUU Head Start program. Fran suggests that food tastes better and meals are more balanced and fun when shared with family and friends. Helping your child to have good eating habits will affect your child throughout their life. Part of learning good eating habits is helping our children to learn to recognize when their body is full or hungry, an important step in avoiding eating disorders. Early childhood development specialists encourage parents to let children make choices. "Kids should decide "If They Want to Eat" as well as "How Much". We can't force our children to eat but we can decide the What,When & Where in regards to food." Fran says.

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
It helps me to remember that the importance of a meal together as a family is not all about the food! Family mealtime teaches kids how to express displeasure about a meal they do not like and provides opportunities to teach good social graces and table manners. But it also is a great setting for helping your children feel like their feelings and opinions matter as they take turns sharing their important news and happenings of the day. John Doran adds, "A good dinner sharpens wit, while it softens the heart".

FOOD AND FUN
Kids will look at meals as a family activity instead of merely another dinner when some fun is added once a month. Here are 10 creative mealtime activities you can try. If you run out of idea's there is a book by Randall Wright, "Building Better Homes and Families" that lists at least 30 more!

1) Let the kids be the waiters and waitress seating each family member, reading them the menu, serving and clearing the table.

2) Pre-school age children enjoy having dinner focus on the color they are learning. Choose the same colored food from all the food-groups. Don't forget the matching drink!

3) Eat by candlelight or let each child put a flashlight above their plate and eat with the lights out.

4) Hide a note to each child in their portion of food for them to find.

5) Let everyone choose their eating utensil from a sack, no forks to choose from only spatulas, ice cream scoop, turkey baster or other unusual kitchen items.

6) Older kids enjoy the challenge of eating with the wrong hand. Use a dish-rag to tie their wrist to the wrist of the person sitting next to them!

7) Grab a big vinyl wipe-and-wash tablecloth, your plates and eat in a different room of the house or even outside in the neighborhood for variety!

8) My father once surprised my grandmother at a birthday dinner by having her place setting different from the rest of the table. Her cup and plate was bright red! If my 92-year-old grandma is thrilled by the gesture, your kids will be too!

9) Turn dinner into breakfast! One of our favorite family meals is to eat breakfast food for dinner. I like to make extra so that we can eat the leftovers the next morning.

10) Make the meal a cultural activity with clothing, food, music and decorations that depict that country.

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