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Small Steps to More Mealtimes Together

July 2008

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Want to spend more time with your family? Below are five small steps you can take to spend more mealtimes together. National surveys confirm that most parents and children enjoy eating together and would like to increase the number of family mealtimes. To do this, adults and kids need to make a commitment to enjoy more meals together. Last minute planning for meals often creates stress and quick pick-ups of fast food or deli foods. Think about how many times you enjoyed one or more meals prepared together last week and consider these easy tips to enjoy more family meals:

Plan one family meal together as a family activity each week. More meals together is even better but start one step at a time and look for easy ways to make it happen weekly. We often think that dinner has to be the family meal of the week; however, breakfast or lunch might work better for your family on some days when you look at work and school schedules.

Think about planning a simple meal that is not time-consuming or complicated. Let each family member choose a menu for one meal or try having family members each pick a dish. Either way, getting input from all family members helps to keep everyone’s food likes and dislikes in perspective. An example of a simple meal might be a pasta dish or tacos with a vegetable or green salad and fruit for dessert. Include lean meats, fish, poultry, or other protein sources; fresh fruit and vegetables; whole grains; and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Keep beverages healthy such as water or either non-fat or 1% milk.

Plan to set an appealing table for the family meal. The table should be clean and have a table cloth or placemats. Use plates and appropriate cutlery and add a napkin and a glass for the beverage. Set a relaxing mood by setting a table that is pretty and practical. Placemats that wipe clean and paper napkins work fine. A candle or some flowers for the centerpiece are added possibilities.

Conversation around the table offers family members a chance to discuss happenings of the day, allows children to learn new words from the adults, and provides a time for adults to share their values with the next generation. Keep the conversation positive with opportunities for all family members to talk and express themselves. Even small children can participate by sharing their experiences that day.

New research emphasizes the importance of family meals in helping families to make healthier food choices, as well as encouraging communication and interaction among members. Shut the TV off and resist taking phone calls or text messages until after the meal is over. Any distraction destroys the cohesiveness of the family meal so make your commitment to family mealtimes electronic free!

Family mealtimes should be enjoyable and encourage healthy eating habits and positive communication. For a list of research studies and articles on family mealtimes go to: