Studies show families that eat meals together regularly are less likely to be obese, are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables and have children with higher grades and self-esteem. National Family Meals Month, an initiative started by the Food Marketing Institute in 2015 to promote the societal and health benefits of families eating more meals together, is rolling into its fifth year and is proving to be an important tool not only for families, but also for businesses across the food retail industry.
“We began with a simple concept -- design a platform for food retailers and suppliers to support consumers in making family meals a reality and, in turn, help them reap the physical, social, and psychological benefits of doing so,” writes FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin.
“What began as a campaign to shine a light on the importance of family meals during September in 2015 has grown exponentially over a period of four years into a verified societal movement with approximately 230 partners -- food retailers, suppliers, collaborators, media and celebrities -- participating,” she writes.
The grocer, supplier connection
Both small and large grocers mark the occasion through special promotions and events, with Skogen’s Festival Foods last year engaging children through a YouTube series with several brand partnerships. Hy-Vee partnered with actor Mark Wahlberg to promote its family meals message, and dietitians at Giant Food Stores led tours and cooking classes to educate in-store shoppers.
Suppliers and associations are also increasingly getting involved in Family Meals Month. Nestle’s Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine brands, for example, are investing heavily in marketing and sales efforts centered around the occasion. The brands will offer in-store, point-of-sale coupons, as well as on-pack rebate stickers, according to Julie Fagin, manager of consumer activation and partnerships for Nestle.
"National Family Meals Month is important to Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine, as it helps remind shoppers of the benefits surrounding a regular family mealtime routine, while offering savings on great tasting and convenient meals they can feel good about feeding their family," Fagin says.
The Seafood Nutrition Partnership, meanwhile, is releasing a 30-page toolkit for retailers that details the importance of eating seafood and how easy it is for families to prepare. The toolkit will debut during National Seafood Month in October, which for the first time will be focused on family meals.
Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have underscored the importance of seafood consumption for children, which made the organization interested in supporting National Family Meals Month in a big way, says Andrea Albersheim, director of communications.
“Retailers are such an important advocate of family meals and helping busy parents find quick, easy and healthy solutions,” Albersheim explains. With print-ready sheets, recipes, guides to buying and cooking, and tips to get children to eat more seafood, the toolkit provides customizable solutions for individual retailers.
The bottom line
Food retailers, suppliers and organizations are participating in Family Meals Month in different ways, but their involvement allows them to get the word out and change the way families eat, while also reinforcing their commitment to societal change.
“What we’ve found from studies shows that magic happens during family meal times,” Albersheim says. “It’s not something tangible, but when children and parents gather around the table and engage in conversation, we see that these family meals are linked to better outcomes in children.”
Chef and television personality Robert Irvine, who recently joined the FMI Foundation’s push for increased family meals, agrees that families spending time together around the dinner table is of the utmost importance.
"Now more than ever, distractions are all around us -- we're drowning in technology and inundated with voices other than our own and those closest to us,” Irvine says in a press release. “This movement is an urgent call for families to refocus on what's most important, which is family. And in my experience, a strong family connection starts in the kitchen."
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