Sunday Suppers is unique because it approaches the issues of food access and healthy eating with the family as the focus. As opposed to soup kitchens and other “feeding” programs, Sunday Suppers is a family-centered model and a hands-on, grass roots approach to supporting behavior change. Our model is based on family, community, education and food with a focus on supporting positive family relationships to enhance the potential for positive change. Family interaction and participation create the opportunity to build sustainable community. Through food and family dinners, participants gain greater exposure to different foods, see produce grown in our community garden, pack food boxes at SHARE, and cook together. By pairing the practical and theoretical, families gain knowledge, skills and confidence to replicate their experience in their own homes.
Despite the clear benefits of the family meal, the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health found that less than half of Americans share daily family meals, with lower income and single parent households having fewer than higher income households and those with married parents. Family meals make a difference; they:
• establish a routine to build expectations and lessen stress;
• enhance academic achievement, communication, and health.
• are negatively correlated with drug use and depression and positively associated with academic achievement and interpersonal relationships.
• can reduce childhood obesity because meals at home (especially as Sunday Suppers families learn to prepare healthier meals) are lower in calories and fat than meals eaten out.
• The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health report that children who regularly dine with their families are more likely to meet the World Health Organization’s recommended daily intake of five 2.8-ounce portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
Being able to have a family meal is affected by many factors including increased economic pressures, time constraints, food insecurity, and the amount of time spent with electronic media.
• More and more, television, the internet, and cell phones take up an increasing amount of hours in our days.
• On average kids today spend almost 7½ hours a day using some form of electronic media. African American and Latino youth spend even more time in front of a screen.
• Some households lack the kitchen appliances and equipment to store and prepare food and a table to gather around to share a meal.
When we asked 500 high school students in the Kensington section of Philadelphia how many of them sat down to regular meals with their families, fewer than 5% raised their hands. Similarly, families interested in Sunday Suppers often can not recall the last time they they had a family meal (prior to their enrollment).