By David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation
As a lover of words, I find them fascinating– especially how linking them can create new and more powerful meanings. Taken individually, words may track in very different directions, but pair them and they shift to form a whole new meaning. For instance, if I say the word “baseball” you may start to think about the stitched object itself, famous players, implements needed to play the sport or even specific games attended. And if I said the word “season,” your thoughts might run in the direction of spring, summer, winter, fall or some other specified duration of time. However, if I put the two words together–baseball season–the two individual words impact each other to form a whole new concept and your mind embraces things like spring training, pennant races or, these days, perhaps shorthand for things frustratingly shortened by COVID-19.
Another powerful team of terms are the words family meal. Taken individually, the words family and meal take you down very different paths, but put them together and they form an entirely different emotively powerful concept.
FMI Foundation funded research recently published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior addresses the benefits of family meals and points to aspects found within the domain of the two-individual words, family and meals. The finding that family meal frequency promotes healthier eating places the accent on the MEAL part of the pairing. Consumers have long perceived that family meals are healthier, but our research verifies that they truly are because a family MEAL promotes more fruit and vegetable consumption. Just think, all of these years we’ve been trying to increase produce consumption. All we had to do is have more family meals! The second finding, that family meal frequency promotes better family functioning, places a focus on the FAMILY part of the pairing. Families eating together more regularly reap the benefits of improved communication, support, and problem solving.
Each of the words family and meal contribute value to the phrase but put them together and their magnified meaning moves to another level. Better meals strengthen the individual members and stronger members result in a stronger family unit. In reciprocity, a stronger family unit is more equipped to reinforce messaging, exert positive influence and provide better support for individual family members. It may not be good math, but it is solid linguistics to say family meals are a case where one plus one equals three, because the final outcome is greater than the sum of its parts.
The two-word powerhouse of family meals is a critical building block in the game-plan for a nation striving to stay strong emotionally, physically and socially. Whether it is breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack occasions, family eating events play a role in our nutritional health through the food we serve; in our psychological health through the support we experience around the dinner table; and in our societal health through the issues we discuss while sharing food with our loved ones. Plus, family meals usually make us laugh more, which we all can use more of these days.
Become a proponent of family meals by joining the family meals movement and celebrating family meals month in September. Learn how at www.FMIFamilyMeals.com. It is also no coincidence that September is also National Fresh Fruit & Veggies Month. Learn how to participate in that too at https://fruitsandveggies.org/stories/nfvm/.