FRC News

New project to raise awareness about value of family meals

11/5/2013  8:00 am

University of Illinois Associate Professor Michelle Nelson and Assistant Professor John Wirtz received a $21,000 grant from the Family Resiliency Center (FRC) and the Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family program to raise awareness about the value of family meal times.

The grant will support the ongoing Mealtime Minutes Initiative, which includes a series of short videos that provide practical solutions to common family mealtime challenges, including picky eating, work-life stress, sibling conflict, and managing strong emotions. Nelson and several Department of Advertising master’s students helped to shape the content of the Mealtime Minutes videos.

“Their feedback greatly improved the quality of our Mealtime Minutes public service announcements,” said FRC Director Barbara Fiese. “When Dr. Wirtz joined the faculty, it was an excellent opportunity to extend the effort and consider the role that social media might play in promoting shared family meals.”

The importance of family meal times is one of the research themes pursued by some of the faculty affiliated with the FRC, and the grant will focus on raising awareness about those findings.

“We know that children from families who eat together regularly are more likely to be normal weight and more likely to have healthy eating habits,” Nelson said. “Later, these children are also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Our challenge is to work on getting the word out about the good things associated with regular family meal times and how parents can overcome obstacles to family meals.”

The first phase of the “Family Dinner: Kids Eat It Up” campaign will target increased media coverage about the benefits of family meals, as well as placing Mealtime Minutes PSAs on broadcast media outlets.

“We will use basic public relations strategies and tactics to earn media coverage about the many good things associated with family meal times,” Wirtz said.

The second phase of the campaign will include developing a website and social media presence that will be used to educate parents about how to overcome barriers to family meal times.

“Our goal will be to take advantage of the dialogic nature of social media to engage parents in a discussion about the everyday things they can do to get past obstacles to regular family meals,” Wirtz said.

Nelson also noted that the grant was designed to include learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

“One of the university’s strategic initiatives is to increase integrative learning experiences for our students,” Nelson said. “We plan to involve students so that they can apply what they are learning in the classroom in a unique and important setting.”

More information about the campaign can be found at the project’s webpage here.