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Real Family Dinner Projects: A Healthy Lynnfield

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by The Family Dinner Project Team

A Healthy Lynnfield provided translated conversation starters and materials for its Multilingual Families event (photo courtesy of A Healthy Lynnfield)

While The Family Dinner Project has many partnerships across the country with single entities like community centers, parenting groups, and food pantries, there are a few communities where we’re working with champions who take the commitment to family dinners further. Lynnfield, MA is one example of a community that has recently tackled the challenge of coordinating a fully integrated campaign aimed at improving town-wide family dinner statistics. The Make Meal Time Matter Campaign, spearheaded by A Healthy Lynnfield, worked with multiple community partners – including schools, media outlets, faith communities, and extracurricular activity providers – to bring The Family Dinner Project’s message to the entire town.

A table set for fun at Pasta Palooza! (Photo courtesy of A Healthy Lynnfield)

The Project

Project coordinator Peg Sallade shares that A Healthy Lynnfield was convened in 2017 as a substance use prevention committee, in response to the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. Since then, the group has expanded its work and supports social-emotional, mental health, and wellness initiatives as well as substance use prevention efforts, through a partnership between the town, its residents and many supporting organizations.

“We were aware of the research that shows having 3 or more meals a week with your family helps protect kids from risks associated with substance use, and provides a whole host of other positive benefits. Because mealtime, sharing recipes, and talking about food is appealing across age, race, ethnicity and culture we decided to do a social marketing campaign designed to increase the number of Lynnfield families that report having dinner 3 or more times a week with their families and to increase conversations and connections between youth and trusted adults,” Peg says.

Building on the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s strategy of changing social norms within a community, A Healthy Lynnfield worked with its parent advisory committee to design a 6-week Make Meal Time Matter social marketing campaign. The campaign kicked off with a training for community partners by The Family Dinner Project, then proceeded with multiple social media efforts, online blogs, paid advertising in local newspapers, informative mailings to residents, a community calendar with family meal tips and recipes, school and community newsletter write-ups, and 3 meal time events featuring conversation starter kits for Lynnfield residents.

The community dinner events were planned and executed with local partners, including an elementary school PTO Pasta Palooza Night, a Family Night for Multilingual Families, and events sponsored by scouts and local churches.

Families enjoy Pasta Palooza (photo courtesy of A Healthy Lynnfield)

The Takeaways and Next Steps

Peg shares that the best ideas for a community-wide campaign like Make Meal Time Matter often come from the community members themselves. She cites the Pasta Palooza event as one clear example of community engagement; local 4th graders were trained to host the program and share conversation starters while serving the pasta meal to their parents, with excellent results. “Pasta Palooza was a HUGE success, and we were so grateful for this collaboration this year. The takeout conversation starters were a big hit!” shared one PTO Member from the school community.

While A Healthy Lynnfield is still collecting feedback and data from the entire campaign, it’s clear that the community benefited from receiving targeted communications and resources to help with meaningful family meals. Over 40% of respondents so far have reported using the conversation starters and tip sheets provided during the campaign, and 44% say that they have made changes to their family meal routines at home as a result of the project. Others may not have made substantial changes, but have been revitalized in their already existing commitment to mealtimes. “We always make dinner together a priority at our home and this campaign helped solidify that commitment further,” said one respondent.

When asked to sum up their main takeaways from the campaign messaging, most families shared that they had learned more about the benefits of eating together regularly. Some expanded on that message with greater detail, such as one family who responded: “Engaging in discussion with your children early and often will keep the lines of communication open as they grow, encouraging them to talk to you as they navigate through their days.”

Based on the community’s feedback, A Healthy Lynnfield plans to modify and/or expand on different elements of the program for next year. They already anticipate keeping conversation starter kits in the mix, based on the positive response to that aspect of the campaign.

“The best part is knowing that we are connecting with people in a way that influences positive health behaviors and important connections between kids and other adults in the community,” says Peg Sallade. The Family Dinner Project is grateful for her leadership and the wonderful collaboration with everyone in Lynnfield who made this community-wide effort possible.