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Public health encourages families to eat together

Sitting down to dinner with her two teenage daughters, Shannon Baily poised the question, "if you could have any super power what would it be". While it seemed like a silly question it started an in depth conversation and gave the family something to giggle about.

Bailey's goal was to connect with her children over a meal and it worked. Now she's hoping she can get other families throughout Dakota County to do the same.

Bailey is the Adolescent Health Coordinator for Dakota County Public Health. The department has started a new program encouraging parents to sit down and eat with their children at least five times a week.

Eat. Talk. Connect. started in Carver County. Bailey said the idea sounded like a good one so Dakota County Public Health decided to give it a go as well. Public health designs programs that will encourage families to stay healthy. Over the past several weeks more than 700 families have registered including a number of Rosemount families.

Hoping to establish a good habit for her family Kim Haars, a Rosemount resident, signed up. Although it is only the beginning of the program she said it has been fun.

"I feel like it is bringing us closer together as a family," said Haars.

Haars, who recently got married, is the mother of a fourth grader. As her family has changed in the last month she said the program is a good way to establish a health family ritual.

"I hope it becomes a good habit," said Haars.

So far so good she said. In addition to eating together she said they have also tried to eat at home more often which has a multiple benefits. At home they eat more healthfully. It's cheaper and Haars said everybody pitches in with cooking and cleaning.

"We're making it fun," said Haars.

Another Rosemount resident who has signed up is Peggy Seliga who has two teenage grandchildren that eat at her house frequently. Looking back at her own childhood, Seliga said family meals were an integral part of the day.

"I'm from the old school where family meals were a daily thing," said Seliga. Although it's not always easy with busy schedules she said its important for her to make that part of her grandchildren's day.

Although they don't always agree at the dinner table Seliga said having a place to talk about their thoughts and feelings provides her grandkids with a sense of security.

That sense of security leads to a host of good things said Bailey. Studies have shown that children who eat meals with their family at least five times a week are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use.

By sitting down together Bailey said children often feel more connected and loved which leads to healthier lifestyle choices.

"We're not necessarily saying you have to spend hours making a big dinner," Bailey said. "Pop in a pizza and sit down and connect with your kids."

Getting started can be the hard part of any new habit. To get families going Bailey said they send out a packet to families who register that includes a conversation starter booklet.

The Haars family has had some fun with the booklet.

"It gets you talking about things you wouldn't necessarily talk about otherwise," Haars said.

For example one of the conversation starters was, what was something unexpected that happened to you today. Haars said it got the ball rolling and they spent a meal learning about each other.

Families are encouraged to log the meals they eat together online. Bailey said it was created to be easy and that even small children should be able to do it.

"We wanted it to be easy so any member of the family could do it," said Bailey.

For those who stick with the program there will be prizes. For families who register at least one family meal together a week for at least six weeks, they will receive a packet of kid friendly recipes.

In addition each month public health staff will draw families at random to win a variety of prizes including tickets to the Minnesota Zoo and gift certificates. For families that log at least five family meals eaten together each week for at least ten weeks, they will be eligible to win a family pack to Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America.

There is no cost to register for Eat. Talk. Connect. The program began Sept 22 and runs through Dec. 31. To be eligible for the big prizes families must sign up by Nov. 19.

Families can register online at