Each Thanksgiving, families celebrate togetherness, home-cooked food and family time, but research suggests we should continue the Thanksgiving tradition on a regular basis. With a little planning, our treasured family time can become a daily event, said Rosemary Rodibaugh, professor-nutrition with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

In an effort to encourage families to dine in, The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Cooperative Extension Service have dubbed Thursday, December 3, the Thursday after Thanksgiving, “Dining In Day.” But there’s no need to reheat leftover turkey and mashed potatoes.

“Invite your family and friends, make a menu and head to the grocery store,” said Rodibaugh.

Families can participate in “Dining In Day” by planning a simple, healthy meal to cook and eat at home. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – just a wholesome meal prepared at home. Something as simple as a home-cooked meal can benefit the whole family.

“Most research suggests that both parents and children value sharing a meal together,” said Rodibaugh. “It offers time to talk and listen to each other. And it’s a great opportunity for parents to be good role models for healthful eating.”

Children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier eating habits than those who share fewer than three family meals per week, she said.

Planning, shopping and eating together as a family fosters better nutrition, improved family communication, and teaches life skills such as meal planning, budgeting and food prep.

Last year, more than 100,000 people participated in Dining In Day, and organizers are hoping to more than double that number for 2015.

Families can pledge to participate by signing up here. Celebrate starting a new family tradition by taking a selfie and posting it online with the hashtags #healthyfamselfie and #FCSDay.

“This is a great opportunity to strengthen family bonds,” said Rodibaugh.

For more information about meal planning, budgeting, and food preparation and safety, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.

Rodibaugh’s 10 Tips for Making Dining In Easy and Enjoyable

  1. Make family meals a priority and agree on a schedule.
  2. Try to have regular family meals two to three times a week.
  3. If dinner doesn’t work, have family breakfasts or snack times.
  4. Keep meals simple. Slow-cookers save time in the evening.
  5. Double recipes and freeze food for a second meal.
  6. Set aside 30 minutes on the weekend for meal planning.
  7. Make it fun! Include children in food preparation.
  8. Discuss neutral or positive topics at the table.
  9. Eliminate distractions like TV and cell phones.
  10. Eat slowly, and enjoy time together as a family.

Are you dining in tonight? Tell us in the comments below!

Featured image by Luisa Brimble