Why Family Mealtime Is Important — and How to Make It Happen

Family with Young Children At Home Eating Meal In Kitchen Together

Why Family Mealtime Is Important — and How to Make It Happen

If you and your children are worn out by dinnertime, thanks to busy work and school schedules and the occasional chaos of modern family life, you’re not alone. You may want to enjoy dinner as a family, but it can feel impossible to make it happen some nights. You just need to get everybody fed, whenever and wherever that might happen — the kitchen counter, the soccer field or the couch.

First, the good news: Family mealtime doesn’t have to happen at a certain time or in a certain place. What matters is that you sit together and talk and share, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. You don’t even have to all be eating — if you tend to eat after your toddler goes to bed, for example, you can sit with them during their dinner, and that counts.

What matters is that you’re at the table, connecting.

Benefits of Family Mealtime for Children

Children who eat meals with their families reap physical and social-emotional benefits, according to the American College of Pediatricians.

These benefits include:

  • Stronger family connections
  • Fewer behavioral issues
  • Improved language skills and broader vocabulary
  • More likely to eat nutrient-dense foods
  • Less likely to demonstrate physical aggression
  • Greater resilience

Parents benefit too, according to the pediatricians group. Parents who eat more frequent family meals are less likely to be depressed or stressed, and they display greater self-esteem.

Making the Most of Family Mealtime

Try these tips to maximize the benefits of family mealtime.

  1. Don’t pursue perfection.

Maybe one parent is working late, or you have only a frozen pizza to serve. (Try these tips for a healthier pizza.) While it’s great to have everyone there and eat fresh, nutritious food, it’s still a worthwhile family meal as long as there are at least two people and something to eat.

  1. Find ways to make meal prep easier.

Ask yourself what would make family mealtime easier. Is it planning a weekly menu before you grocery shop, or buying pre-cut vegetables? Maybe you can make and freeze casseroles or plan slow cooker meals that take just a few minutes of hands-on work on busy weekdays.

  1. Involve your children in meal prep if possible.

Children are more likely to eat food they helped prepare, and making meals together is another opportunity for bonding. Even the little ones can help by sprinkling cheese or putting napkins on the table.

  1. Don’t invite screens.

Avoid bringing phones and other electronic devices to the table and turn off the TV. Of course, sometimes this might not be possible, such as if you’re waiting for an important phone call. But for the most part, try to focus on one another for entertainment, not a screen.

  1. Get your children talking.

Conversation is key to reaping the benefits of family mealtime. Try these conversation starters:

  • What was your favorite/least favorite part of the day?
  • What made you laugh today?
  • Who did you help today? Who helped you today?
  • If you could be any kind of animal, what would it be and why?
  • If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
  • What makes you happy/sad?
  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • What can you do to make someone else feel better?
  • Go around the table and tell us your favorite thing about each person.
  • What are two things you are thankful for today?

You might find that once the conversation starts flowing, mealtime becomes a family favorite and a can’t-miss in your busy day.

For inspiration for your next family meal, check out:

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