The Health Care Share Program at the University of Vermont Medical Center aims to improve access to healthy food for our patients. How? We provide a twelve-week, grant-funded farm share from the farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), a nutrition curriculum, cooking demonstrations, and kitchen tools. Now in our second season, the program serves 130 patients at four medical homes in Vermont. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-funded study will help us measure the progress of the program through biometric indicators and patient surveys.
Each week, we weave in a nutrition lesson to support the overall goal of helping our patients eat together as a family. This is easier said than done. In my house, we strive to follow the same nutrition curriculum and recipes we ask of our participants. Learning plant-based protein, glycemic index, and food safety has been no problem. Finding time to sit down for a meal together is nearly impossible – and there are only two of us.
Benefits of Eating Together as a Family
While I may not be able to offer the silver bullet for wrangling your family to the dinner table, family mealtime does have its benefits. Studies suggest that family dinners encourage healthy eating habits in children and decrease substance abuse in adolescent boys and girls. There may be developmental benefits as well. Time spent eating as a family has been shown to increase children’s motivation and self-esteem and boost vocabulary. Family mealtime creates space for developing healthy communication, and sharing news and events of the day.
3 Steps You Can Take Today
What steps can you take toward encouraging family mealtime?
- Try to turn off the television, leave cell phones in another room, and encourage your children to talk about their day.
- Make it fun, try having an international theme night, cooking the meal together, or supervise your children in cooking one meal a week.
- If work schedules preclude family dinners, try weekend brunch or weekday breakfast.
How we eat plays an important role in developing our own food culture. The Health Care Share Program provides nutrition education; however, actually absorbing these lessons and creating lasting change in dietary patterns is the task at hand. Eating together as a family provides a platform to leverage these lessons to develop healthy cooking and eating habits. Together, we have an opportunity for primary care to influence one of the most important health care choices we make every day: what we eat.
Conner Soderquist is in the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program at the University of Vermont. He is a volunteer with the Health Share program and works at the intersection of healthcare and agriculture.