As the new school year begins, families get busier and family mealtimes may get crowded out of the schedule. Here are some nutrition, parenting and budget tips to keep the family mealtime tradition alive.

Eat

Make time for family meals with a little help from your family in the kitchen. Plan meals and set up a “family help schedule” to involve all family members with meal preparation and cleanup.

Age-appropriate tasks will be different for each child, depending on how much experience the child has in the kitchen. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/foodpreparation for hundreds of healthful recipes and food preparation tips. Find age-appropriate tasks on the Family Table website.

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Connect

As students from kindergarten to college get ready to pull on their backpacks and head to school, take time to talk about all of the decisions your children will need to make independently of you for the hours or weeks they are away.

You have no better time than a meal around the family table to tell a funny story from your school days about a concert, athletic trip, theater production or club that had an interesting twist. That should get the conversation started!

Review all of the extracurricular activities your children may want to join in the coming year. Determine how much of the child’s time each potential activity will take, including practices. Also figure the amount of family time, money, driving and other resources each option will use.

— How long is the season for sports?

— What is the rental costs on an instrument?

— Will out-of-town travel, hotels and food costs be involved with this activity?

— Is the activity too early or late in the day to be considered for this student?

Being informed and realistic about the activity going into it is better than being surprised by costs and commitments later.

Connecting at the family table means everyone may linger a little longer. Serve ice cream with fruit or berries to sweeten the time together.

Savor ... the savings

As you are sending the kids back to school and making sure they have a healthful lunch that doesn’t break the bank can be a balancing act.

If you decide to pack their lunches instead of purchasing school lunches, here are a few tips to save a bit of money and time in the mornings:

  • Buy larger packages of items and make your own snacks. Don’t buy portion-sized prepackaged foods. You can purchase a few hundred sealable snack-size bags for a few dollars and divvy up the snacks yourself.
  • Prep your own produce. By taking a little extra time to clean and prepare fruits and vegetables, you can save some serious cash. Precut fruit can cost several dollars more a pound.
  • Invest in a good lunch bag that keeps food cold. You don’t want your food to spoil and go to waste. Ask your kids what they will eat. If your children don’t like something, don’t pack it because the likelihood of it ending up in the trash is high. Give them choices.
  • Work with them to pack their lunches.
  • Do all your prep work in one day. Save yourself from stressful weekday mornings by having items prepped and ready to pack. Have different containers for each food group, and make sure your kids pick something from each one so they have a balanced meal.

Article used with permission from Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension, The Family Table newsletter, Issue 9.

For more information about this topic, contact the Stutsman County Extension office at 252-9030 or email luella.morehouse@ndsu.edu.