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OPINIONRetailers

September Signals Back to School—and Back to the Table

Fall months bring family meal activists to the forefront
Photograph: Shutterstock

Labor Day means the unofficial end of summer and back to school, which also is the perfect time for consumers to set new schedules and try to establish healthy habits. September and October have become popular “activist” months, with many groups targeting this time of year to draw attention to what is important: family.

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has established September as Family Meals Month and strongly encourages retailers to develop programs to help families enjoy more meals around the table together. The association offers a variety of helpful tools to make it easier for retailers to promote the initiative. According to FMI’s 2019 Grocery Shopper Trends Report, 97% of families with kids consider eating meals at home with family to be important, and 90% of consumers consider meals eaten at home to be healthier.

New to the program this year is a partnership with celebrity chef Robert Irvine, who joins 230 industry partners in supporting the movement to make family meals a reality. Recognized for his tough-love tactics on top Food Network shows "Restaurant: Impossible," "Dinner: Impossible" and "Worst Cooks in America," Irvine has become a significant advocate for promoting the importance of family meals. 

“The family meals movement is a cause that is near and dear to my heart,” Irvine says. “Now more than ever, distractions are all around us. We’re drowning in technology and inundated with voices other than our own and those closest to us. This movement is an urgent call for families to refocus on what’s most important, which is family.”

Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, notes in her recent blog post about how individual family meals don’t often stand out in the memory other than as a collective. I can relate. I can’t tell you about any specific family meal, but I do remember eating dinner together at the bar separating the kitchen from the dining room. My brother sat by the wall, I was next to him and my mother next to me. My dad sat at the “head” of the bar. Our seating order never deviated, even if one of was missing, which was actually rare. That's what I remember about dinner time—being together at that bar and being more and more squeezed in the older (and bigger) my brother and I got.

Hy-Vee's Family Meals Push

To help others create these types of memories and emphasize that family meals are important no matter how they are prepared or where they take place, Hy-Vee is offering several promotions to participate in Family Meals Month. In addition to family-friendly recipes shared online and available from store dietitians, the retailer is also offering free meals for children 12 and younger with a purchase of an adult entree at all Hy-Vee Market Grille and Market Grille Express restaurants every day in September.

Additionally, every day during the month of September, four Hy-Vee locations will provide a complimentary one-hour family meal at a dining table inside the store, where shoppers will be able to observe the family eating together and learn more about the benefits of family mealtime. Each participating family will also receive a $250 Hy-Vee gift card for future family meals. Hy-Vee customers can enter for a chance to participate by visiting www.bit.ly/HyVeeFamilyMeals. Several local celebrities will help kick off the in-store dining event by eating with their families during the first week of September. 

Hy-Vee’s more than 160 dietitians will continue to provide in-store consultation services with customers regarding their dietary needs and conduct free store tours and family nutrition walks to help shoppers make better nutrition choices.

Add In Fruits and Veggies

Part of that healthy eating includes fruits and vegetables. September isn’t simply Family Meals Month, it has also been designated National Fruits and Veggies Month by the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH). It previously was known as National Fruits and Veggies—More Matters Month, but the name change was made to encourage a less-prescriptive approach to fruits and vegetables.

This year’s theme for the month is Have a Plant–Food Rooted In a Better Mood, which aims to inspire consumers to make the connection between eating fruits and vegetables and feeling healthier and happier. Retailers can help consumers in this effort by promoting the program on social media by using the hashtags #haveaplant, #haveaplantpledge and #NFVM2019 in any social media posts related to National Fruits and Veggies Month. Nearly 90% of Americans fall below the fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations, and retailers can play a large role in encouraging their shoppers to try more fruit and veggies.

Don't Forget the Seafood

September isn’t the only month to celebrate healthier eating habits and a focus on family. October continues the theme and has been designated as National Seafood Month by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP). The initiative encourages families to eat seafood twice a week (the amount recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to support heart and brain health) by demonstrating that buying and preparing seafood is simple for delicious meals.

After the back-to-school rush and before the holidays, October is the perfect time to focus on sitting down together as a family to regroup and to renew your commitment to creating and serving meals at home that nourish your kids’ bodies, brains and help them flourish for life that you started in September’s Family Meals Month push.

For busy nights, SNP suggests fish and shellfish, which can be cooked in 15 minutes or less and are good sources of lean protein, low in saturated fat and rich in vitamins and minerals, most notably the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The association wants to work collaboratively with retailers and dietitians to bring families back to the table. SNP has created a toolkit for partners to utilize as they participate in National Seafood Month.

This toolkit showcases resources for: 

  • Quick, Easy Weeknight Meals: Many fish dishes cook in 15 minutes or less.
  • Fun Ways to Engage Your Little Seafoodies: Get kids cooking in the kitchen.
  • Live Smarter and Healthier with Seafood: The benefits of seafood for everyone in the family.
  • Seafood 101: Help customers be more confident in purchasing seafood.

Seafood Nutrition Partnership is working with the Food Marketing Institute Foundation to emphasize the importance of family meals and expand National Family Meals Month throughout the year and into a true movement—the Family Meals Movement.

“We commend SNP for their visionary partnership with food retailers in providing consumers the easy means of achieving their desire for more family meals at home each week,” said David Fikes, VP of communications and consumer/community affairs for FMI. “Their action leads the charge for National Family Meals Month becoming a year-round endeavor and is a great example we hope others follow.”

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