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Simple questions have a big impact on family meals

A little stack of cards sat next to our second grader Anika's supper plate one night this past week. Yes, it's supper, not dinner, on the prairie. We can debate that another time. After we filled our plates, Anika announced she had "family table" questions to ask. They were given out by our local extension agent at school.

For years, my husband and I have spurred conversations at family meals. When our now-college-student son hit his late elementary years, we saw the need to encourage communication when he wasn't sharing many details about school, friendships and struggles. I've written before about our key questions that touch on the best and worst parts of your day, one thing to improve on and, Anika's favorite question, "What did you have for lunch?"

The "family table" questions from North Dakota State University Extension Service dig into topics we've never addressed as a family. The first question Anika asked was, "Think about your day. If today were a color, what color would it be? Why?"

I learned my husband had a gray day, which I wouldn't have known otherwise. The rest of us described our day as teal, hot pink and orange.

Anika went on to ask five more questions. The following night, it was my turn to ask the questions.

I asked my husband, Nathan, "What hobby would you like to start or pick up again?" He said, "guitar," which made us chuckle. I bought him a guitar at Marguerite's Music in Moorhead, Minn., for his 30th birthday. That was 12 years go, and the guitar has only been used by my brother. Maybe, at age 42, this will be the year the hobby takes off.

When I asked, "What's your favorite fruit? How do you like it prepared?" I learned my family loves fresh pineapple more than watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe or my favorite, cherries. Pineapple for dessert coming right up.

My girls and husband got up from the table to go to 4-H archery practice. I cleaned up the kitchen and thought about how we had just spent more time at the table than usual. We eat family meals together. We talk regularly. But I learned several simple yet new details about my husband and daughters I wouldn't have if Anika hadn't taken the initiative to spur the conversation.

There was a proposal to reduce NDSU Extension Service funding for North Dakota counties with fewer than 2,000 people. It was taken off the table after an outpouring of support. My county population is about 2,600; we have far more cows than people. Knowing the funding situation, I have an even deeper appreciation for "The Family Table" outreach. The fruits of the program reached my rural county and daughter and have impacted our family.

We haven't made it through the list of questions, but our family meals are richer, and time shared together around the table is longer. Ironically, our family and consumer sciences county Extension agent retired at the end of January. She was in Anika's classroom her last week of work. Sometimes our impact isn't always seen or discussed, but little efforts can go a long way.

This week, a little nudge served as a great reminder that family meals matter and make a positive difference in our family.