Extension agent Jodi Drake teaches "Once-a-Month" method.

Family mealtimes are important — kids do better in school, they develop larger vocabularies and better language skills when the family gathers around the table together. Teens are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and girls are less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits like anorexia or bulimia.

Family mealtime can be a quick breakfast or ordered-in pizza, but cooking at home offers the advantage of being able to control the ingredients that go into the food, leaving out some of the high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium components of fast foods or processed meals.

Pratt County Extension Agent Jodi Drake explained why cooking and eating together at home are worthwhile goals, while also acknowledging the difficulty of fitting those activities into a busy schedule. She offered a solution: spend five or six hours in the kitchen with a congenial group, prepare 10 entrees, stash them in the freezer and get a head start on dinner for up to a month.

Drake facilitated a workshop last weekend based on "Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites" by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg. The book includes recipes, shopping lists and preparation schedules to make it easy. Drake made it even easier by having some ingredients pre-measured, hamburger pre-browned and a big tub full of onions already chopped. Even better, Cassie Van Slyke washed the dishes for 12 participants so a ready supply of clean utensils was always available.

Hallie Riffey estimated she fixed enough food for her husband and three children for about a month. Jayme Woody customized some of the recipes for her daughter, who eats vegetarian meals. Krista Wilson divided a two-pound meatloaf into four portions. She has taken the workshop once before, and her daughter was looking forward to having meatloaf again, but a big one makes too many leftovers.

Drake's goal is that participants will be pleased with the results of the workshop and repeat the activity on their own or with a cooking partner, saving money and providing nutritious meals for their families.