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Published 11th May 2017

Joanne Dunnett

Families are being encouraged to cook together and eat healthier options as part of an initiative to promote the benefits of family meal times.

Joanne Dunnett, a PhD researcher at Teesside University, laments the reliance on fast food and the culture of bringing mobile phones and tablets to the dinner table.

She says as well as the negative effect on children’s health, it is also having a detrimental impact on the relationships between parents and children.

Joanne has been awarded a grant of almost £5,000 from Sunderland City Council’s West Area Committee to carry out her ‘Let’s Eat Together’ intervention as part of her stage two health psychology chartership.

Working with families and schools from economically challenged areas across Sunderland, Joanne will spend 12 weeks trying to educate and change people’s attitudes and perceptions towards food and meal times.

“It is about giving parents the confidence to cook together as a family and to make that part of the routine,” explained Joanne.

“But also educating them about the importance of eating together as a family and the benefits of that in terms of strengthening bonds and relationships through shared time and experiences.”

Part of Joanne’s work will be initially going into communities in the Sunderland West area and holding sessions on meal planning, budgeting and cooking skills.

She will also be going into schools, talking to children and holding taster sessions in the hope that they will go home and tell their families about some of the things they have learned.

Joanne, who also completed her MA Health Psychology at Teesside University, added: “I think it is widely noted that families do not eat together as often as they should and there are many reasons for this – the pressures of work, children’s expectations, the convenience of eating outside of the family home.

“I have spoken to parents whose children simply won’t come to the table without their mobile phone or handheld device.

“This project is all about open communication and fostering relationships through cooking and eating together as a family, as well as making healthy food choices.

“Meal times can be stressful but I want to work with families and let them know that it is easier than they think to make healthy choices. The benefits can be massive, not only in terms of health, but in forming positive relationships and re-engaging parents with their children – meal times can become an activity to share together, rather than a chore.” 

West Area Committee co-ordinator, Helen Peverley said: “The ward councillors and their community partners on the committee were happy to support Joanne and this project, as part of our continuing commitment to working with community health partners to help improve the health and well-being of everyone in our community.

“Family meal times have an important role to play, not only as an opportunity to bring everyone together to eat and socialise, but also to get involved in the preparation and cooking to learn new skills and develop a greater understanding of healthy and nutritious food.

“There is great opportunity for people to find out more about this and other health projects and campaigns, at the West Area Committee Community Event being held in Barnes Park on 1 July.” 

The Let’s Eat Together initiative gets underway this week and will initially last for three months.

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