Family Dinners for Community Health

Center for Innovation team members with individuals involved with "The Family Dinner Project"

The Family Dinner Project (FDP), is a grass roots start up movement with a team of people who believe in what research has shown about the power of family dinners.   Seeing the potential in encouraging small changes that create positive impact, CFI's Community Health Transformation team is collaborating with FDP, educating and helping families understand the long-term implications and importance of family dinners and the health of their families. This blog post is written by CFI's Kajsa Nichols-Smith.

West Concord, MN is a town that can be a little hard to find. You can’t read the signs, you thought you picked the right exit, but after 15 minutes on a narrow dirt-and-gravel road, with even farmhouses few and far between, you’re starting to think you made a mistake. You pull out your phone and start searching for the blue dot. Was that last strip of gravel really a road?

But you’ll find where you’re going eventually. Tucked away somewhere behind the trees, cows, and obscure county road intersections, there are a half dozen restaurant booths full of moms, dads, and children waiting to have dinner together.

Families from not only West Concord, but also Kasson, Byron, Pine Island, and all over Dodge County, gathered at a local mecca, Omar’s Café. They were looking for a chance to connect with each other, and themselves. They gathered as part of a kick-off dinner for families, to try out and commit to The Family Dinner Project, a 4-week program in their own homes over the coming weeks. It was just a coincidence, really, that they were served homemade guacamole, healthy tacos, and apple strudel topped with fresh whipped cream. Drooling yet? Good. Nothing’s better at bringing people together than delicious food. When The Family Dinner Project started leveraging this truism to bring families in Boston, Massachusetts together, they knew they had struck gold. "The Family Dinner Project" program booklet

Family dinners bring people together, they inspire family members to talk about who they are and who they want to be. But The Family Dinner Project is not just about bringing people together. As big of an achievement as that is, The Family Dinner Project also strives to showcase the long-term positive effects on family's and family members' health.

Research shows how having regular family dinners can help family members hold higher self-esteem, better body image, better grades and better consumption of vital nutrients- things families want to provide and see in each other.

FDP’s goal is to unite families around this common vision that sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain, and health of all family members. Studies and research have proven it, but more importantly our everyday, common experiences have proven it: it is worthwhile to work toward having dinner as a family more often. And to utilize more of the full potential of those dinners – in whatever small, imperfect ways your individual family can.A small child enjoying his dinner with the family

This research intrigued Stephanie Ims-Goin. A born-and-raised southeastern Minnesotan, Triton High School alumna, and now Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation employee, she was delighted to hear what her very own department was doing for families like her own. She jumped at the opportunity to come out herself, with her husband and two sons, to see what this whole thing was about. That night they mashed avocados, asked each other questions, and took a moment to enjoy the love of their family. With her husband pursuing higher education, her family currently has to balance three different school schedules, on top of her work schedule. It’s hard to find the time to make sure their kids are eating healthy, or to ask questions about everyone’s day.

Their hectic schedule mirrors family dinner research, with 69% of Americans reporting that some other activity is competing with the typical family dinner.

To use Stephanie's words, The FDP was a great chance for them all to get together, unwind, and reconnect. The value of the evening was evident: whether it was when her sons were jumping up and down outside with the other kids, shaking tupperware containers full of heavy cream to make dessert for their family.  A family gathered together that is laughing and talking with one another

Or when she and her husband had a chance to chat with the other families about what makes getting together for a meal difficult. As a result of her experience with FDP,  Stephanie was inspired to create a weekly meal planner for her family. It’s simple and useful, and was an easy idea to come up with after a little nudge of encouragement. For Stephanie and her family, it’s all about finding ways like this to try. “If we don’t do it perfectly, I’m fine with that,” she said. “It’s the awareness piece” of it, knowing that it’s possible to get something out of family dinners, that inspired her to start moving forward in small, imperfect ways.

View of the restaurant and families eating together. After all, in the end it’s the small, imperfect steps that count. Because tucked away somewhere in there—past the confusing road signs and all the layers of the daily grind—there’s real conversation, real connection, and real health waiting to be uncovered in your own family. And it doesn't take a smart phone to find it.