STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, children who learn good nutrition at school do take their lessons home.

Washington Post reporter, Sally Squires, calls it the trickle-up effect.

Ms. SALLY SQUIRES (Reporter, Washington Post): Who knew that couscous had such power. Just listen to what happened in Trumansburg, New York.

In 1993, a Cornell graduate student in nutrition introduced couscous to students at a small rural elementary school near Ithaca. Antonia Demas let the kids run their hands through this pearly-white pasta while she taught them about its North African roots. The children then helped her prepare a platter of couscous and they lined up afterwards to taste their efforts.

Sampling foods in the classroom is one thing. Eating them for lunch is another. So, the next week, the school cafeteria served couscous to the entire student body. The results: students who learned about couscous in the classroom ate significantly more than those who had never seen this strange new food before. The same thing happened with Spanish beans and rice, with collard greens, and with other foods that were foreign to the mostly white rural area of farms.

But the real surprise came later. According to Demas, children liked the food so much that they asked for them at home. To keep up with demand, the local market began stocking couscous and the other foods introduced in the classroom. This is just one example of a trickle-up effect that Demas has since repeated in Inner City Miami; South Bend, Indiana; and in Vermont.

It isn't just food that matters. The simple act of sharing a family meal is proving to be an important shield against poor nutrition, eating disorders, and even obesity. And researchers find that kids who eat three to five times a week with their families, do better in school. They're also less likely to smoke, have sex, take drugs or alcohol. And perhaps most surprising of all, teens admit privately to researchers, that they enjoy dining with their families.

So, as you prepare to enjoy today's Thanksgiving feast, consider that it could be just a first step in reviving an endangered species, the family meal. Our forefathers and mothers are likely smiling at our rediscovery of what they knew so well - the importance of savoring food with family. So, pass the turkey and the couscous, please.

INSKEEP: Sally Squires writes for the Washington Post's writers groups. She has a nationally syndicated column called The Lean Plate Club.

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