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Family dinner has far-reaching effects

Life becomes a bit more routine now that the kids are back in school. For many of us this means carting kids to piano lessons, soccer practices, dance lessons and orthodontic appointments. In all the hustle we create while trying to give our kids every opportunity for fun and success, we often overlook one of the most important things we can do to safeguard their future: the family meal.

The simple act of gathering together each evening to share food, conversation and reconnect with each other appears to have far-reaching effects. Children from families who frequently eat dinner together do better in school, are less likely to be involved in drugs or illegal activity, are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college and have a better sense of themselves and the world around them.

They eat more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and less fat and sodium than their fast food-eating peers, making the family meal a huge investment in a child's healthy future. The benefits don't stop when children grow up and leave home. The healthy eating habits they learn at the kitchen table form the basis of their food choices in college and may even determine the nutritional patterns of their children.

Unfortunately, it is easy to lose sight of this important tradition. The demands on our time and our children's busy lifestyles often lead to eating on the run and too many stops at McDonalds. It is possible, however, to ensure that a few minutes of family time each day with a little planning and a great deal of determination.

I'll spend time in future columns in Utah Valley Life offering help with menu planning, recipes for quick meals, cooking tips and the encouragement you need to make the family meal happen in your home.

Janet Stocks is adjunct faculty in Brigham Young University's Department of Home and Family Living. She teaches advanced foods and family meal management.