Parents and families today are tasked with numerous responsibilities: working and/or caring for children full-time, afterschool activities, homework help, birthday parties and taking children to and from weekend activities. These leave little room for daily activities, such as family dinners. However, families who find the time to shop, cook and eat together may experience a positive long-term impact.
Research shows that there are valuable benefits to cooking and eating dinner as a family each week. In addition to being a fun way to start the week and spend quality time together, evidence also links family dinners to healthier life choices:
Research from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests that kids who eat family dinners get better grades in school, develop communication skills and are less likely to try drugs.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that women who cook regularly consume a more nutritious diet than those who ate out often.
The American Academy of Pediatrics found kids who ate dinner with their family regularly were less likely to be obese.
Cooking also reinforces skills like math, teamwork and following instructions to help kids succeed.
With these benefits, it’s worth setting aside Monday to cook and eat together as a family. Why Monday? A growing amount of research suggests that healthy thinking and behavior are in sync with the seven-day week and the meaning we associate with the days of the week. With Monday being the day people are most “open to buy” health, there’s a surge in healthy contemplations and actions on Monday. Engaging in healthy behaviors on Monday helps people sustain healthy behavior throughout the week. Mondays can be seen as a fresh start to the week.
How can schools motivate families to set aside family dinner date nights? That’s where The Kids Cook Monday (TKCM) comes in.
TKCM, a sister campaign to the well-known Meatless Monday public health initiative, is a nonprofit program that promotes a healthy habit families can adopt at least one day a week. The initiative encourages families to set aside the first night of every week for cooking and eating together as a family. When children contribute to meal preparation, they’re empowered to consider the portions, the vitamins and the nutrients of what they’re eating. Cooking not only encourages children to make healthier choices when it comes to food, it also provides real-world opportunities to practice math, reading and teamwork skills and can enhance learning.
At Public School (PS) 32 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, Camille Casaretti, a parent and the school’s Wellness Chair has found a way to inspire families to cook together. Camille organizes quarterly TKCM Family Cooking Nights led by a Registered Dietitian (RDN), where parents and students prepare and eat a healthy meal together.
A student at one of the recent events mentioned that he usually “hates” tomatoes, but that in the Rainbow Pasta recipe he had just prepared, he “loved” the tomatoes. Diana Rice, RDN, who led the event at P.S. 32 mentioned that not only are “home-cooked meals often more nutritious” but that “when children are involved in preparing the food, they are much more likely to eat what they make,” as was evident with this particular student.
TKCM has collaborated with The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and FoodCorps. Local PTA wellness committees and FoodCorps service members have hosted free Family Cooking Night events, like the one at P.S. 32, throughout the country.
Identifying a location and space – a school cafeteria, community center, local restaurant, supermarket or culinary training program – is a great first step for planning a TKCM Family Cooking Night event. Remember, many cooking lessons don’t require a full kitchen!
TKCM also offers free toolkits here, both for educators and for families, to help families sustain healthy habits, with step-by-step instructions and tips for implementing Family Cooking Night events in schools or TKCM weekly as a family. Additional free resources and recipes are also available.
Nara Sandberg, Marketing & Partnerships Coordinator, The Monday Campaigns/The Kids Cook Monday
Cherry Dumaual, PR & Partnerships Director, The Monday Campaigns/The Kids Cook Monday