Set the Table Tulsa promotes family meals
BY SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
11/13/12 at 7:00 AM
Dinner conversation at the Thiel house covered an upcoming weekend trip to Oklahoma City for a Thunder game, everyone's like or dislike of tomatoes and adding another pet to the family.
"Let's talk about getting a Pomeranian," said 9-year-old Hailea.
"Let's not," her mother, Elizabeth Thiel, countered.
Eating dinner together wasn't a new experience at the Thiel home, but usually the family's attention was on the television.
Now the TV is off and the family of four, which includes Rick Thiel and the couple's 6-year-old daughter, Kynlee, spend dinner time talking to each other as part of an initiative to get families to sit down and eat together.
Global Gardens, a community garden organization working at several Tulsa-area schools, has partnered with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and the Tulsa City-County Library to encourage families to eat together at least four times a week during the month of November as part of Set the Table Tulsa initiative.
Ayschia Saiymeh, community outreach director of Global Gardens, said that when the program started, the hope was as students got involved with Global Gardens, their parents would follow suit.
"It's the sixth year of the program and we hadn't seen a lot of parental involvement," Saiymeh said, so the Family Food Farm program started this year and now this month a push for families to sit down and eat a meal together.
"Why don't we pose a challenge to families in Tulsa," she said. "I started researching this and there is this resurgence of interest in eating together. There's blogs and websites, but there's no community-led effort. Tulsa could jump on board with this and become a model."
Hailea, who participates in Global Garden's after-school program at Union's Rosa Parks Elementary, liked the idea and asked her family to take on the challenge.
"It gets us more involved with each other than if we were just watching TV," Rick Thiel said. "It brings the family together more. We sit down and talk over their problems and how their day went."
The idea may be simple, but it's hard to do with parents working and children involved in after-school activities.
"I have a family and know how difficult this is to accomplish. It's a tough challenge," said Eileen Bradshaw, executive director of the food bank. "It's complicated. There may be a parent who works an alternate shift. Kids are participating in sports or the arts. It's not easy to achieve, but it's worth it."
Studies and reports from Rutgers and Columbia universities have shown that children in families that eat together regularly are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as tobacco, drug and alcohol use.
"When you take time to sit down and eat, you eat healthier generally," Saiymeh said. "You end up spending less money. That act of sitting down creates a ripple effect."
Elizabeth Thiel said with her daughters doing gymnastics, softball and after-school programs, it hasn't been easy, but she's found a way to make meals that she can prepare ahead of time. It's also given her a chance to try to new, healthier recipes, like baked chicken spaghetti, a new favorite.
"I was reading how some studies show when parents cook from home, they give out smaller portions than if you ate out," she said. "Home-cooked dinners usually have fewer calories."
Dinner may not always be the ideal meal though with busy parent and child schedules, so families could try breakfast or lunch.
"Our thing has been meal time, not dinner time. Make it work for your family," said Saiymeh, who added it's not about when you eat, but that you do it together. "Creating that time, it's important. It's just as important as the other things we make time for."
Hailea said she's enjoying the Set the Table challenge.
"I like it, being together," she said. "I like talking because we're always doing some kind of sport."
It's also important that when you do sit down to eat, you focus on the people at the table and limit distractions, Bradshaw said.
"It's a no cellphone zone, no television. We don't answer the home phone. It's a safe zone, no electronics. That makes a huge difference," she said. "Table conversation, we're kind of losing that art in our society."
Tips for family meal times
1. Make mealtime a priority: If everyone can't make it for dinner, eat breakfast or lunch together. It doesn't matter when the meal is, as long as everyone makes the time for it.
2. Have a plan: Know everyone's schedule, plan a menu and keep foods on hand that can easily be turned into a meal.
3. The food doesn't have to be home-cooked: It could be as easy as sandwiches or take-out. It's sitting down and eating together that counts.
4. Make mealtime positive with few distractions: Focus on each other, not phones, television or music.
SOURCE: Rutgers University
Family meal time statistics
Teens who have infrequent family dinners are:
- In 2011, 58 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week. That's a decrease from 60 percent in 2010
- When asked what they consider to be the best part of family dinners, 54 percent of teens responded it was sharing, talking, interacting and having conversations
SOURCE: Importance of Family Dinner 2011 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
- Almost four times more likely to use tobacco
- Twice as likely to use alcohol
- Two and a half times more likely to use marijuana
Original Print Headline: Mealtime magic
Sara Plummer 918-581-8465
Rick Thiel serves dinner to his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter Kynlee at their home in Tulsa. The family is participating in Set the Table Tulsa, an effort to encourage families to eat together. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Hailea Thiel (right) and her sister Kynlee sit with their family during dinner at their home in Tulsa. They are part of an organized effort to promote conversation as a family activity at mealtime. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Kynlee Thiel, 6, takes a bite of spaghetti during dinner with her family at their home in Tulsa. The family is participating in Set the Table Tulsa, an effort to encourage families to eat together. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World