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Make and take a family meal

Sitting together at the family dinner table might seem hard to manage with the busy lives people lead these days. However, a family meal helps cultivate an environment where parents can have a conversation with their children. And that family interaction is an important factor to protect children from the dangers of smoking, drinking and drugs.

This month, the Ellis County Extension office is teaming up with Papa Murphy's and the Hays Kiwanis Club to offer a make-and-take pizza activity to encourage families to cook and eat together. Families will have the opportunity to assemble a pizza from provided ingredients and take home a low-cost meal to enjoy together.

Family Make and Take Pizza Night will be from 4:15 to 6:15 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Ellis County Extension office, 601 Main. (Enter the rear door from the north parking lot.) The cost is only $1 per pizza, with a limit of two pizzas per family. Quantities are limited, so registration is accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Register and pay fees at the Ellis County Extension office, (785) 785-628-9430.

Papa Murphy's will donate up to 70 crusts for the make-and-take event and toppings are supported by funding from the Hays Kiwanis Club and Ellis County Extension. We'll also provide a bag of baby carrots and a few pieces of fruit to balance your healthy family meal.

Volunteers are needed to assist with this event. Call the Extension if you can help during one or both shifts -- 4 to 5:15 p.m. or 5:15 to 6:30 p.m.

The goal of Family Pizza Night is to create awareness that regular conversations between parents and children are an important prevention tool to help safeguard Kansas youth and that family meals are an important way to regularly engage in those conversations.

Parental influence is known to be one of the most crucial factors in determining the likelihood of substance abuse by teenagers. Research done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse consistently finds the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. The statistics reveal teens who almost always eat dinner with their families are 31 percent less likely than the average teenager to smoke, drink or use drugs, while teens who virtually never eat dinner with their families are 72 percent more likely than the average teenager to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.

Kids like to eat dinner with their families, too. When a recent survey asked teens about family meals, 84 percent said they prefer to have dinner with their families than to eat alone.

Additionally, research shows that children who eat dinner often with their families are more likely to be emotionally content, do well in school, have positive peer relationships, have lower levels of stress and be bored less often. What amazing benefits from something as simple as a family meal.

This month, plan to make and take a pizza Sept. 30 and think of ways you can schedule more family time to talk about what's going on in your child's world. After all, what your kids really want at the dinner table is you.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu