Grilling Together Helps Dads and Kids Bond

Keith Cook and his 9-year-old daughter, Mattie, like to spend time together.

“We like to play, go outdoors, ride bikes, go downtown, and eat,” said Mattie.

It was that love of food and togetherness that brought them to ProMedica Ebeid Institute to take part in the OSU Extension’s weGrill program. The 8-week program, funded by a United States Department of Agriculture grant, brings dads and their child together with a dual focus on healthy eating and healthy relationships.

Bonding through Food

“It’s all about bonding through food,” explained Suzanne Saggese, SNAP-Ed program coordinator, Ohio State University Extension Lucas County. “The purpose is for dads to build a relationship with one of their children and do it through food, and increase their knowledge of different nutrition topics, so that the things they learn through the program can be shared with their whole family for the rest of their lives.”

Participants like Keith and Mattie grill food together, learn about nutrition and are guided in discussions on topics such as leadership, responsibility and healthy communication. One week, the dads and youths were separated and asked to make a list of why their family member was awesome.

“It’s an opportunity to communicate things that maybe you might not talk about on a daily basis and to remind each other why you appreciate each other and love each other,” said Saggese.

“The program helps people just talk about the things that are important to them, whether it’s values, morals or the goals that parents have for their children,” said Saggese. “For children, it gives the opportunity to talk about things that may be a concern for them.”

The result is quality bonding time.

“I like that you get to bond with your dad and you get to cook and grill,” said Mattie.

“We learn different and new things about each other,” Keith added.

“We know through research that families that eat together tend to have more positive relationships…and may be eating better as well”

Saggese said that small moments together over meals can make a difference. “We know through research that families that eat together tend to have more positive relationships,” she said. “And they may be eating better as well when they’re eating together.”

In addition to attending the classes, the participants track how often they eat together at home. The number of times the families eat together seems to be growing. Saggese said that some of the youth have also talked about taking a bigger role in cooking or helping prepare meals as well.

Building Community Health

“This particular program meets the OSU Extension’s goal of thriving across the lifespan,” said Saggese. “It’s the idea that people anywhere within the lifespan can learn new things that they can apply to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“Health and wellness is another impact area. We know that diet can really impact long-term health,” Saggese explained. “When it’s a negative diet, it can lead to some chronic diseases, and we see in Lucas County that rates of diabetes and heart disease are increasing, so providing individuals and families with information to make healthy food choices can impact a lifetime.”

The goals of the program fit well with the Ebeid Institute’s mission to address the lifestyle, economic and socioeconomic factors that impact health, with a focus on hunger and nutrition. It’s part of the many community classes offered at Ebeid Institute for free. In addition to cooking classes, the Institute also offers computer classes, financial classes and career-building courses.

Suzanne Saggese, SNAP-Ed Coordinator

Keith and Mattie making grilled lasagna

Keith isn’t a huge fan of outdoor grilling, but said he’ll probably use an indoor grill more now because of the weGrill class. He encourages other dads to get involved with their kids through similar programs.

“Take advantage of programs like this or any programs of interest,” he suggested. “Sometimes they’ll appear to us and sometimes you have to look for them, but take the time to do them. There are a lot of different options if you want to bond with your kid or spend time with them.”

You may find yourself bonding with family, learning new skills, and maybe even liking new foods. For Keith it was a grilled dessert with bananas, chocolate and marshmallows. “I was kind of skeptical, but it came out good,” he said.

“We’ve made shrimp, we’ve made chicken, we’ve made pizzas, zucchini, tarts, and many more that I can’t remember,” said Mattie. “I thought I wouldn’t like the bean salad, but I did.”

If you can’t make it to a community program, then just start at the dinner table.

Saggese recommended keeping meal conversations positive and having a fun question for everyone to answer as a conversation starter. Families can even have a jar where everyone writes different questions, such as “What’s your favorite summertime treat?” or “Who’s stronger: Batman or Superman?”

“It’s something to laugh about and have fun with while you’re having dinner,” said Saggase.


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