Family meals are making a comeback. Shared family meals are more
likely to be nutritious, and kids who eat regularly with their
families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and more
likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Teens who take part in regular family meals are less likely to
smoke, drink alcohol, or use marijuana and other drugs, and are
more likely to have healthier diets as adults, studies have
Beyond health and nutrition, family meals provide a valuable
opportunity to reconnect. This becomes even more important as kids
Making Family Meals Happen
It can be a big challenge to find the time to plan,
prepare, and share family meals, then be relaxed enough to enjoy
Try these three steps to schedule family meals and make them
enjoyable for everyone who pulls up a chair.
To plan more family meals, look over the calendar to choose a
time when everyone can be there.
Figure out which obstacles are getting in the way of more family
meals - busy schedules, no supplies in the house, no time to cook.
Ask for the family's help and ideas on how these roadblocks can
be removed. For instance, figure out a way to get groceries
purchased for a family meal. Or if time to cook is the problem, try
doing some prep work on weekends or even completely preparing a
dish ahead of time and putting it in the freezer.
Once you have all your supplies on hand,
the kids in preparations. Recruiting younger kids can mean a little
extra work, but it's often worth it. Simple tasks such as
putting plates on the table, tossing the salad, pouring a beverage,
folding the napkins, or being a "taster" are appropriate
jobs for preschoolers and school-age kids. Older kids may be able
to pitch in even more, such as getting ingredients, washing
produce, mixing and stirring, and serving. If you have teens
around, consider assigning them a night to cook, with you as the
If kids help out, set a good example by saying please and thanks
for their help. Being upbeat and pleasant as you prepare the meal
can rub off on your kids. If you're grumbling about the task at
hand, chances are they will too. But if the atmosphere is light,
you're showing them how the family can work together and enjoy
the fruits of its labor. Tell them, "Mmm, something smells
Even if you're thinking of all you must accomplish after
dinner's done (doing dishes, making lunches, etc.), try not to
focus on that during dinner. Make your time at the table pleasant
and a chance for everyone to decompress from the day and enjoy
being together as a family.
They may be starving, but have your kids wait until everyone is
seated before digging in. Create a moment of calm before the meal
begins, so the cook can shift gears. It also presents a chance to
say grace, thank the cook, wish everyone a good meal, or to raise a
glass of milk and toast each other. You're setting the
mood and modeling good manners and patience.
Family meals are a good time to teach civilized behavior that
kids also can use at restaurants and others' houses, so
establish rules about staying seated, passing items instead of
grabbing them, putting napkins on laps, and not talking with your
mouth full. You can gently remind when they break the rules, but
try to keep tension and discipline at a minimum during mealtime.
The focus should remain on making your kids feel nurtured,
connected, and part of the family.
Keep the interactions positive and let the conversation flow.
Ask your kids about their days and tell them about yours. Give
everyone a chance to talk.
Need some conversation starters? Here are a few:
- If you could have any food for dinner tomorrow night, what
would it be?
- Who can guess how many potatoes I used to make that bowl of
- What's the most delicious food on the table?
- If you opened a restaurant, what kind would it be?
- Who's the best cook you know? (We hope they say it's
Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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