During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are eating dinner together more often than they used to. However, for families who didn’t have structured dinner habits before social distancing hit, it hasn’t necessarily been easy to make the switch to daily meals together. Those families need support to ease the transition into a different daily routine. While The Family Dinner Project has halted our in-person programs like Community Dinners due to safety concerns, we have worked with partners across the country to find new ways to share our food, fun and conversation resources. One of those partners is the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.
Over more than a decade of working with families, we’ve heard countless times that tension at the table, picky eating, and challenges with behavioral expectations at dinner can all make it hard to relax and enjoy the time together. And if dinner isn’t relaxing and enjoyable, it’s not likely to have the scientifically proven protective benefits we strive for — including lower rates of drug and alcohol use among kids who regularly eat dinner with their families. So we teamed up with the Idaho Office of Drug Policy (IODP) to co-create a special guide for families, offering great ideas for food, fun and conversation along with some key facts about the ways in which family dinner helps to lower rates of substance use among teens.
The IODP shared the guide with 15,000 families in advance of their September 22 Idaho Family Dinner Night. Pre-COVID, resources would have been distributed to Idaho families via schools and in-person programs. This year, a different approach was needed. The IODP worked with the Idaho Foodbank to distribute the Family Dinner Night guide through both their Backpack Programs and their Farmers to Families Food Box Program, which is part of the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance program. Each family receiving assistance through one of these two programs at the Idaho Foodbank also got a Family Dinner Night Guide with recipes, conversation starters, table games and additional tips and resources from The Family Dinner Project and the IODP.
Jessie Dexter of the IODP says of the undertaking, “The stress, anxiety, and uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 has made it even more important for parents and children to check in with each other around a family meal. These efforts allowed our resources to be shared with the most vulnerable Idaho families that are experiencing the greatest challenges accessing support and information during this difficult time.”
Through an online contest, Idaho families were able to share photos of their Family Dinner Nights, demonstrating their use of the Guide. The winner of the contest was the Keller family, who shared a photo of their ranch family dinner.
The success of the program and the ability to reach 15,000 families with targeted resources for their family dinners, despite the challenges of COVID, paved the way for additional partnership opportunities in the future. The Family Dinner Project and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy are currently exploring new ideas for further projects to help families in Idaho — efforts that will hopefully open doors to helping more families across the country.
Special thanks to our friends at the Idaho Office of Drug Policy for their work! If you’re interested in finding out more about partnering with The Family Dinner Project to help families in your community, contact us.