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Promoting at-home family dining is a win for all

Mar 31, 2016

The following article appeared in Supermarket News on March 28, 2016

Food retailers need to engage their shoppers through multiple channels and on multiple levels in order to encourage more at-home family dining. These efforts can involve dietitians and in-store, print and digital communications built around nutrition, recipes and meal planning.

In a hectic world of eating meals on the go, supermarkets and their trading partners have the reach and the influence to steer consumers on the path toward better health and the other benefits that gathering around the dinner table confer.

These benefits are especially important for children.

“Home-cooked family meals are a useful tool to help improve nutrition in children and establish healthy habits that they can carry into adulthood,” said Kelly Toups, a dietitian and program manager for the Whole Grains Council at Oldways Preservation Trust, a nonprofit group that promotes nutrition and cultural food traditions.

Toups cited a host of research supporting the positive impacts of more frequent family dining which include reduced obesity rates, fewer eating disorders, less risky behaviors among teens and lower rates of diabetes among adults.

“Research shows clear evidence that family meals [among youth] and shared meals [among adults] are associated with better lifetime dietary intake,” said Toups.

The food retailing industry can play a bigger role by emphasizing recipes and ingredients that allow for shared experiences in meal preparation and family dining, she said. In fact, encouraging more families to shop for nutritious ingredients and cook healthy meals is among the topics scheduled for discussion at the annual Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium this March in New Orleans.

“Supermarket dietitians can be instrumental in this movement,” said Toups. “By hosting cooking demos, offering recipe ideas and guiding shoppers, these key personnel can offer the personal connection needed to nudge families toward more home-cooked meals.”

Comprehensive communication

One of the supermarket companies that has been successful in promoting at-home family dining is Ahold USA, parent of Giant and Stop & Shop banners and the Peapod online grocery service. The company’s “Savory: fast, fresh and easy” meal program — a comprehensive communications vehicle that focuses on recipes and meal-planning — was recognized with a 2015 Gold Plate Award by Food Marketing Institute for its efforts to encourage more families to eat meals together at home more often.

The Savory meal program includes a magazine, website, email notifications and in-store components that seek to provide all the information shoppers need to plan their weekly menus. Soon to come — a Savory cooking app to help teach customers cooking techniques via mobile devices.

“Quality family time together is so important and yet difficult to find with such busy schedules for parents and children,” said Shirley Axe, magazine manager, Ahold USA. “Making and eating dinner at home is one way families can stay connected and share their daily experiences together as a family while enjoying a nutritious meal.”

Ahold structured Savory around its brand promise which is to help customers “save time, save money and eat well.” Specific components of the program target each of those aspects of the brand promise, such as quick recipes that can be prepared in 15 minutes to help customers save time, and others that cost less than $10 to help customers save money.

“We need to make it easier for families to be able to cook meals at home,” said Axe, adding that Ahold hopes that families involve children in meal planning and preparation.

“Cooking dinner with the kids and for the kids makes it even more special,” she said.

Toups of Oldways said children today are primed for a rich culinary education in the home.

“Thanks to school garden programs, television cooking shows and a renewed interest in childhood nutrition, young consumers are growing up with a food literacy that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago,” she said. “This bodes well for family dining, as kids seem to be more receptive to unique flavors and less familiar ingredients.”

Manufacturers have a role to play, too, by partnering with retailers to activate simple meal solutions that are achievable by the home cook. Many consumers are inspired to cook at home and balance their diet, but time and complicated prep can make this difficult.

Knorr is helping consumers with this dilemma by showing them that Knorr Sides can be the foundation of a delicious and nutritious main meal in just three simple steps. Now, in minutes, cooking enthusiasts can prepare a complete meal with a protein and a vegetable by following an easy Knorr Sides recipe. 

Similarly, Hellmann’s seeks to increase confidence in the kitchen and unlock more home dinners by teaching consumers a simple technique: “combine, spread, and bake.” Using this technique, consumers can make lean proteins like chicken and fish juicy and delicious, and mix up the ingredients every time to keep dinnertime fresh and new.

The challenge of getting everyone around the dinner table grows as children get older and teenagers fill their schedules with after-school activities.

Toups cited Dr. Leann Birch, professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia, who has studied children's eating habits for three decades, as saying that the food available in the home has a big impact on healthy eating.

“Parents can take some time on the weekend to prepare meals for the freezer, creating easy-to-reheat leftovers,” said Toups. “Teaching kids to make simple stir-frys and stocking the pantry and refrigerator with fresh fruits and other easy-to-prepare healthy foods reinforces the important message that good food comes from home.”

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