Make eating together a priority

The other day, I was sorting through some clothes that are too small for my kids. I found the small clothes in a dresser in a basement bedroom. I kind of forgot about this stockpile of clothes, which brought back memories I looked at a tiny pair ...

The other day, I was sorting through some clothes that are too small for my kids.

I found the small clothes in a dresser in a basement bedroom. I kind of forgot about this stockpile of clothes, which brought back memories

I looked at a tiny pair of socks that would fit on my son's big toe now. I thought back to those busy earlier days when we had two kids in elementary school and a baby at home.

Like any busy family, we had homework to monitor, meals to prepare and piles of laundry and dishes to wash. We also had lots of extracurricular activities that had us driving here and there.

How on earth did we survive all that activity?


Now that two of our kids are 21 and older, shouldn't we have time on our hands?

Maybe we have become very inefficient. Maybe we are just catching up. We have several household projects that were set aside while we were running from activity to activity.

Our youngest child is a super-busy kid, so life hasn't slowed too much. However, we are older and moving a bit more slowly, too.

As our kids were growing, we always made family meals a priority. I have no regrets about gathering our family for meals.

September is National Family Meals Month, so that's a good reminder to gather people, whether related or not, around the table to enjoy eating together.

According to the 2016 Food Marketing Institute's Shopping for Health Survey, parents were making strides toward making family meals a priority.

According to the survey results, about 47% of surveyed parents were serving meals they knew their family enjoyed, 42% were making sure that family members were home at dinnertime and 34% were sticking to a particular time for dinner.

Family meals offer numerous benefits. Researchers have shown that children who eat more meals with their families are more likely to earn mostly A's and B's compared with kids who eat fewer times with their families.


Children who eat with their families improve their communication skills and build their vocabularies. Even the occasional bickering session among siblings builds communication skills.

Family meals provide structure, stability and feelings of belonging. As a result, children who eat meals more often with their families are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or drug abuse. They're also less likely to be depressed and less likely to have eating disorders.

A family who eats together enjoys more nutritious meals, too. Kids who eat more often with their families eat more fruits and vegetables, more calcium-rich foods and less high-fat, highly sweetened foods. They're more likely to meet their needs for fiber, iron, vitamin E and folate, too. That's good news for health.

By the way, we at NDSU Extension have a website and Facebook page dedicated to helping you eat together more often. Visit for information to make family meals a reality, and check out the Facebook activities with monthly prize drawings for participation. Sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter, which features tips and a recipe.

This week, I am featuring a delicious recipe to make with seasonal apples in a slow cooker. Using a slow cooker to prepare meals is one way to remove the time pressure from meal preparation.

When selecting apples, look for fruits with shiny, smooth skin and the characteristic color of the variety. For longest storage, keep apples in a plastic bag in a refrigerator away from strong-smelling foods. Apples give off ethylene gas, which may cause browning of other produce.

Apples can be frozen, dried or canned. Visit for more information about preserving apples.

Slow Cooker Harvest Apple Crisp


6 large Gala apples (or your favorite apple)

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

1 teaspoon lemon juice

3 cups rolled oats

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons butter

After apples have been washed, core, slice and place them in a large bowl. Top the apples with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Place the apple mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker. In the same large bowl, combine oats, remaining brown sugar and cinnamon, and salt. Stir until combined. Cut the butter into the bowl and stir, forming a sandlike texture. There will be small chunks of butter, which is normal. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the apples. Turn the slow cooker on high and cook for two hours with the cover on. After two hours, remove the lid of slow cooker and continue to cook for another hour. Serve with vanilla yogurt or ice cream of your choosing.


Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 230 calories, 6 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber and 25 milligrams sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service.

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

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