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Gathering at the Table

November 3, 2022

By Samantha Wilford, MS, RDN, CD

A great place to gather with loved ones is around the table. When done right, family meals can lead to many physical and mental benefits for the whole family. Research shows that children who regularly eat family meals have better academic performance, higher self-esteem, better diet quality, and are less likely to be overweight or have behavior problems. Parents and adults who eat with others tend to have higher self-esteem, eat less fast food, and have a lower risk of depression. Whether it’s weeknight dinners, weekend brunch, or a special holiday occasion, sharing meals together can be a simple and fun way to improve everyone’s health and wellbeing!

Tips for successful family meals:

  • Set the tone – Make sure everyone is on the same page with mealtime norms and expectations. Aim to make the environment positive and comfortable. Consider a no-screens agreement – the focus should be on the food and each other.
  • Start simple – If your family is new to family meals or if you’ve got picky eaters, it may be easier to start with a family favorite. Build a collection of go-to recipes that the whole family enjoys.
  • Keep it engaging – Family meals are about connecting and learning from one another. Avoid mundane or heated topics. Ask insightful questions, share your stories, and leave space to listen to others.
  • Be on your best behavior – Family meals are a great opportunity to model healthy behaviors for kids. Be aware of the way you talk about food and your eating-related behaviors at the table.
  • Beyond the meal – Include your kids or other family members in the process by having them choose the menu, assist in food prep, or set the table. This can be a valuable learning opportunity and help them feel more connected throughout the experience.
  • Make it fun – Spice things up, especially for the holidays! Try festive decorations, background music, or themed meals.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (eatright.org/food/nutrition/eating-as-a-family/family-meals–small-investment–big-payoff), The Family Dinner Project (thefamilydinnerproject.org)