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Dinner Together began as a partnership between the Vermont Department of Health (VDH), Sumra Harper-Deas, who is a dietician from Porter Medical Center, the Counseling Services of Addison County, and RiseVT-Addison County Program Manager, Michele Gilbert. The project was developed following a presentation by VDH staff on results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) which monitors risky behavior among youth. According to data from 2017 YRBS, Addison County high school students who ate dinner with at least one of their parents on four or more days during the previous week were less likely to use substances compared to students who did not eat dinner with a parent four or more days in the previous week. Sharing frequent family meals appears to be a protective factor against teen substance use.
Tips & Recipes
Gilbert, the RiseVT-Addison County program manager, and her partners developed the Dinner Together educational campaign to help parents understand the far-reaching benefits of eating meals with their children. Dinner Together encourages families to share a meal together and offers recipes and tips that highlight the many benefits of family meals, such as:
- Supports social-emotional development:
- Helps children perform better in school by giving them the confidence to speak up in class, take turns in a conversation, and share their ideas in a respectful manner
- Teens are more likely to have better self-esteem and less likely to experience depression or develop an eating disorder
- Develops lifelong healthy habits:
- Dinners at home are less likely to have too much sugar and unhealthy fats
- Planning meals and cooking from scratch costs less than many prepared or processed foods
Cooking Classes & Nutrition Education
The Dinner Together tips and recipes were first distributed through the Addison County school newsletters and during parent teacher conferences. From the educational campaign grew more programmatic elements, including a collaboration with Blueprint for Health in Addison County to host cooking classes for participants in their diabetes prevention program. Similar programs were developed for middle schools in Addison County where students met twice weekly with the first session focused on cooking demonstrations and the second on nutrition education, and then student took home the ingredients to recreate the meal at home.
Family mealtimes help everyone know each other and feel they belong to each other – and the value of this cannot be underestimated. Dinner Together offers nutritious recipes to cook and encourages healthy eating – but it’s about more than food! Equal to that is what the campaign does to encourage engaging conversation and interactions at the dinner table, and to provide tips for making regular meals together a habit.
Dinner Together Meal Kits
In 2020, there was a strong interest from the Bristol and Starksboro food shelves to incorporate more fresh produce in their offerings. RiseVT-Addison County worked with local Lewis Creek Farm to source carrots, onions, and potatoes and recognized that this was a perfect opportunity to incorporate Dinner Together educational materials. Gilbert and the Dinner Together team worked with food shelf leaders to design weekly meal kits that focused on Dinner Together recipes, all incorporating the seasonal carrots, onions, and potatoes. That meal kit effort has since expanded and is now being replicated in Windham County with support from the Townshend Community Food Shelf, West River Modified School District, Vermont Foodbank, West River Valley Thrives, Food Connects, and the Brattleboro Retreat Farm.
Pictured above / image description: A photograph of a Rise Vermont Meal Kit – Three Sisters Soup. The meal kit contains the ingredients for a Dinner Together recipe. A carrot, potato, and onion are shown – and a Rise Vermont recipe card for Three Sisters Soup is attached to the bag.
Social & Emotional Benefits of Dinner Together
The focus of Dinner Together is on the relationship building that happens around mealtime. Of course, healthy meals are important and family meals allow for an opportunity to model good nutrition, however families should remember that the time invested in family meals is just as important as what is on the plates. Going forward the core mission of Dinner Together is to continue to share these educational materials around the state so more families will share four or more meals together each week, because eating as a family improves children and teen’s learning in school, enhances their social and emotional well-being, and leads to lifelong healthy eating habits.