Mealtime a good opportunity to nurture family ties

In today?s harried world, seems like everyone?s schedule is filled to the brim with activities. Both parents work, kids go to school and participate in student government, sports or any number of activities and events.

Seems families meet each other coming and going. Still, most parents believe it?s more important than ever to dedicate the dinner hour to developing and nurturing relationships with family members.

While most of us are fortunate enough to eat every day, the abundance of food in our country is still something to be thankful for and not taken for granted. Farmers and ranchers provide us with the meat, vegetables, fruits, milk, juice and other items we eat each day.

Our food is safe and wholesome. It is also a real bargain with most families paying less than 11 percent of their annual income on food.

That said, it is important that time spent at the dinner table should also be something we as families look forward to and appreciate. It is a time to give thanks for the bounty we enjoy. Make each and every evening meal memorable with your family.

Carve out a few moments of peace and quiet for these family gatherings. It?s important to limit distractions during mealtime. Turn off the television, radio or both.

Establish a quiet place for meals and make a habit of temporarily eliminating interruptions such as cell phones, video games and toys. Make the family the center of attention not a distraction.

Have each member of the family talk about an activity in his or her day and discuss it within the family. This initiates conversation and helps keep the family connected. By carving out a moment of peace in the day, you communicate that dinner is a special, family time.

Mark milestones at meals. Throw away the old rules of calendar holidays and make family dinner a time to remember. Use place mats and table decorations and easy themed meals to note special days including birthdays, test days and any other significant event worth highlighting. Remember it?s about spending time with your family.

Include teamwork at the table. Everyone should play a part. This includes menu planning so children will have a voice. They can search for recipes in cookbooks and online as well as meal preparation such as setting the table, washing vegetable and clean up after the dinner meal is complete.

Packing the pantry is a key to dinner success. This means having an assortment of condiments on hand including plenty of mustard, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, jams and jellies, herbs, spices, olives and garlic. These will all help pull a flavorful meal together. Today with all of the convenient ingredients available at our fingertips, this provides an easy way for children to participate in whipping up sauces and marinades.

Don?t forget to create a bevy of flavors. This means adding variety to meals that also encourage youngsters to select and eat different foods. Remember to add color to the dinner table. By filling a plate with fruit and vegetables, colors like green, orange and red will ensure a meal that?s rich in key vitamins and nutrients. Hopefully the kids will eat and enjoy these foods too.

No doubt there are plenty of other ideas and tips that will foster family togetherness through meal preparations, rituals and traditions. These are simply a handful that are tried and true. Come up with your own. Make them part of your own family?s tradition. More importantly enjoy the food and time with your family.

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John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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