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Free meal in Waterman brings the community together

WATERMAN – Deanne Frieders’ favorite part of the day is sitting down to dinner with her husband and children, which she tries to do every day.

To share the experience of a sit-down, home-cooked meal with others, Frieders partnered with The Family Dinner Project and local sponsors to create a free community dinner at Lions Park in Waterman on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

Frieders, who runs the food blog This Farm Girl Cooks, and her friend Katie Betz, both of Waterman, co-chaired the event.

“Sometimes it’s nice just to sit down, unwind and talk to friends and family,” Betz said. “The goal of the event was to bring the community together through a sit-down meal at a dinner table.”

The dinner was free and open to the public, but attendees were asked to bring an unopened purchased item to share, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa or tortilla chips. A checklist on how to create a buffet-style taco bar can be found on Frieders’ blog.

“Feeding your family doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive; there’s no right way to do it,” Frieders said. “Every family’s circumstances are different on a given day. Sometimes dinner can just be a frozen pizza, but healthy options are always best. It’s more about the experience than the food.”

According to The Family Dinner Project, sharing a family meal has health benefits for all family members: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, higher grade-point averages and self-esteem and lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.

“The benefits of eating dinner together as a family are an important message for the community and to share with others,” Frieders said. “It’s also a way to bring the community together, people that may not know each other. It’s a way to bring family and the community together over a meal.”

In addition to a taco bar and desserts, the community dinner featured a get-to-know-each-other bingo game and had conversation-starter questions on slips of paper on each table.

“When you ask your kids how their day went, they usually answer, ‘Fine,’ ” Frieders said. “The Family Dinner Project’s website lists conversation starters to really connect with your kids and have them tell you more than, ‘Fine.’ Sitting down for dinner is all about talking and sharing with each other.”

Jen Peterson of Steward attended the event with her husband and their four children.

“When we are home, we try to do family dinners as often as we can,” Peterson said. “Life is hectic with sports and school, but eating together as a family is important. It’s a time where everyone can sit down and talk about their day without TVs or cellphones.”

Amanda Donovan of Waterman and her 11-year-old daughter Ashleigh attended the community meal as a way to meet new people.

“It’s something we could do together and get to know others in town,” Amanda Donovan said. “It’s important to sit down and eat dinner together and spend time with those you love.”

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