|Reviewers Comments: ||The Center for Families at Purdue University has created a web site devoted to encouraging families to eat together. Aptly named, the “Promoting Family Meals” project includes numerous resources, references and links devoted to its cause. Resources on the site are divided into three sections: resources for community nutrition programs, resources for schools and community groups, and resources for parents.
The numerous materials throughout the site can be tailored for use in a variety of different ways, depending on need. All of the materials are available for free on the web site, although some may require appropriate applications for use, such as Adobe Reader, PowerPoint, and a media player. Materials can be used with varied audiences, of all ages and backgrounds.
One of the major resources is a staff training video designed to teach educators how to empower parents to make meal time family time. The video can be watched alone or with a group. It is 2 hours and 15 minutes long, and is divided in to six segments and an introduction. While it contains many useful points, part of it can be a little redundant. For this reason, it may be more effective when completed over several sittings. The volume on the video seems to be slightly off, getting higher and lower at different times, and the picture can be blurry when shown in full screen mode. When used as a percentage of the screen, the video is generally clear, provides continuity and a smooth flow; however there is one short PSA clip in which only the audio is functioning.
The video discusses several aspects of family meals, including interesting facts about families who eat together, when to talk about family meals with participants and how to broach the topic, why people value family meals, the role of the table, barriers to family meals and the cooking process, and current research about feeding children and how to promote and assess change using the stages of change model. Activities encouraged are behavior oriented including role playing and goal setting. At one point during the video, the instructor mentions that the “Food Stamp” web site now has recipes available. This is likely in reference to the SNAP-Ed Connection’s Recipe Finder which contains almost 600 recipes.
A study guide, which is designed to be used simultaneously with the video, is also available. The viewer can use the study guide to participate in interactive activities, add their own notes and reflect on ideas given. Occasionally, the instructor will stop speaking during the video for a minute, or encourages the user to pause the video, to give the learner time to complete the exercises in the study guide. It is a nice compliment to the video presentation.
A class outline gives a complete lesson plan for holding a class for parents on family meals. The lesson includes a lot of information and can be divided into several classes. There is no time schedule given so the lesson can be tailored to the available time. The class follows a logical format, and uses some of the handouts, posters, and other resources available on the site. It utilizes many of the facts and techniques gone over in the staff training video. It includes an evaluation piece to assess the efficacy of the lesson.
Posters show hand drawn pictures of several families having dinner together. They are designed to be reproduced on large heavy paper, however, they also print well on regular white paper. The pictures show some diversity, yet depending on the participants, it may be stressed that the families shown may not accurately represent all families and how they have dinner. Another poster shows hand drawn pictures of how and where children tend to eat dinner.
Several handouts and worksheets are also available for download and print. One is designed to be used as a brochure and is available in English and Spanish. The brochure includes a lot of information about family meals and a place for parents to set goals for their own families. Since there is so much information on this handout, it is recommended that is be printed on large (legal size) paper and folded in half, so that the information does not seem cluttered or clustered together. Other handouts include a family meals worksheet for individual assessment, a handout comparing the time and food cost of fast food versus a home cooked meal, and a family meals planning calendar. This handout, in addition to the video, does use brand names to illustrate its point.
The web site includes other helpful resources to encourage family meals in the community, including a planning guide for holding an Open House in which parents and children can all attend and participate. It is encouraged that a meal is served and creative activities are planned. The planning guide is not structured; rather it is a general outline of suggestions and helpful tips. A colorful PowerPoint presentation, with lots of pictures and photographs is also available for use with groups of parents in a community. The presentation is about 30 minutes long, and includes a script for each slide, so it can be given even by someone with a limited background on the topic. It covers the definition of a family meal, its benefits and importance, and strategies for creating family meals, including available resources.
Similar to the community presentation, there are three separate PowerPoint presentations in the school and community groups section. One presentation is designed for schools and is structured around the tagline “Family Meals spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S”, with each letter in “success” representing a benefit of eating meals as a family. There is also a handout to compliment this presentation, which is about 30-40 minutes long. The other two presentations are designed for policy makers. There is a shorter presentation, about 10-15 minutes long, and a longer presentation, about 20 minutes long. While these presentations are also quite colorful with beautiful photographs, they also contain several graphs and charts indicating evidence that encouraging family meals reaps benefits.
All sections contain feedback and survey documents, and it is encouraged that these documents are returned to the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University. A reference list 20 pages long is also available for more study, in addition to a list of Family Mealtime Resources specifically for schools. Links to a variety of other web sites are available, including some mentioned in previous materials and some new web sites.
All of the materials available at the Promoting Healthy Meals web site are well maintained and contain up to date information. The site contains easy and logical navigation, so despite the large number of resources, it is east to find what you need. Overall, it is an excellent resource for educators who would like promote family meals.