Tips from Ruth Ryan on the Family Training Table

How to make sit-down dinners and busy sports schedules mix.

Huntsville, Tex., September 23, 2006 – Sports rank high on the list of excuses for missing the family meal. Whether it’s a matter of the kids having a big game or Dad watching a big game on television, sitting down to a meal together often ends up getting pushed aside.

Yet each year survey after survey is released showing the importance of dining together as a family. The latest survey (sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) shows that teens who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are at almost half the risk of substance abuse as teens who eat dinner with their families only twice a week or less.

Other surveys have shown that family dinners are associated with happier marriages, healthier children, and stronger family relationships.  These statistics are causing many families to realize they’re missing out on more than just a healthful meal together.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Take it from Ruth Ryan, wife of Baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Despite Nolan’s whirlwind baseball schedule and their three kids’ busy lives, the family made it a priority to dine together whenever they could.

“Our family constantly fought the battle of sports time vs. family time,” Ruth Ryan says. “But instead of giving in to the fight and giving up on the idea of the family meal, we took advantage of every moment we had together. We viewed the family dinner as a great opportunity to celebrate our lives together.”

This year, make it your family’s personal goal to win the battle of finding time to eat dinner together. Celebrate “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your ChildrenTM” on Monday, September 25th by following Ruth’s tips for making sports and family mix:

  1. Plan ahead. It may sound silly, but if you have to schedule your family meals to make them happen, do it. Create a calendar of family meal opportunities and themes, such as “Steak Night” or “Build Your Own Hamburger Night,” featuring Nolan Ryan’s Guaranteed Tender Beef, to create excitement around family meal time.
  2. Host your own at-home tailgate party. Grab some veggies and steaks and head out to the backyard to fire up the grill. Consider following Nolan Ryan’s favorite grilled steak recipe:  steak, salt and pepper.
  3. Create a sports-themed night to eat AND watch the game together. Set up the TV trays and create a feast appropriate for celebrating the big game together. Take advantage of your remote control’s mute button during commercials to catch up on family business. Consider trying Ruth Ryan’s favorite: Ground Beef, Corn and Tomato Pie, which she adapted from an old “River Road Recipes” cookbook. (See Ruth’s Ground Beef, Corn and Tomato Pie recipe below.)
  4. View the family dinner as a “training table” opportunity to eat healthy. Talk about what athletes eat and the importance of healthy diet and exercise. Dining together creates the opportunity to establish sound eating practices – including eating from a variety of food groups, such as healthful proteins like beef – that will benefit you and your family.
  5. Use dinner time as an opportunity to present family awards. Consider honoring the kids for both sports and academic achievements at mealtime. If little Johnny gets all As, he can earn a steak dinner. If little Suzie wins her softball tournament, she can pick her favorite dessert.
  6. Allow each family member to choose their own recipe for one meal a week. Make it an interactive experience by encouraging your kids to find recipes on the Web. Reese Ryan, Nolan’s and Ruth’s son, loves cooking and developing or adapting recipes. He even demonstrated one of his recipes – Reese’s Tender Tenderloin – on a local Texas cooking show. See other favorite family recipes.
  7. Teach good eating habits AND good manners. The family dinner table brings everyone together for positive social interaction. Use this time to encourage positive interaction, including social skills and table etiquette – from where to place silverware to the proper way to cut a steak.
  8. Establish your own traditions. The Ryan family tries to spend every Thanksgiving at their ranch in South Texas. The family assigns different dishes to different people and it always comes together. Ruth says cooking together is always a lot of fun.
  9. Don’t just rely on dinner for the family meal; consider eating together at breakfast or lunch. It’s not about the type of food that’s served. It’s about eating together as a family. A breakfast of steak and eggs or a hamburger-and-fries lunch can be just as much of a family bonding moment.
  10. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If baseball or soccer practice conflicts with a family dinner, why not pack a simple meal and eat it together on the field? Leftovers can make for a great picnic.
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