Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Enjoying a meal together with your family or friends is a great way to connect. Here are some mealtime tips to try:
- Remove distractions by turning off the TV and making a phone "parking spot" away from the table.
- Talk to children about the importance of face-to-face communication with family and friends that is NOT using their phone to see or talk to others.
- Use mealtime for the group to share what they did during the day. What made you laugh or what did you do for fun?
- Try new foods at home. The kids and adults need many opportunities to taste new foods to get used to the flavors, texture, color, and taste.
- Have adults and older kids talk about the color, feel, or flavor of foods. It'll make them sound more appealing to younger kids that may be picky.
- On nice days, opt for a change of scenery outside and take advantage of being outdoors. For example, go to a nearby park for a lunch or dinner picnic.
- Connect at mealtimes and use this time as a friendly, serene place for everyone to see and talk to one another. Disagreements do not belong at family mealtime. Take care of unpleasant issues of disciplining children or unhappy occurrences before or after meals.
- Sit down together for a meal when you can. Make sure to turn off the TV and put away screens and devices so you can "unplug," interact, and focus on each other.
- Plan your meals at least one week or more ahead of time. This allows the family to know what they will be eating and how they can help with the meal preparation.
- Reduce stress at mealtimes by planning out meals before the week starts. Include quick and easy dishes, or leftovers, on nights that are extra busy.
- Planning ahead will help you save money by preparing food at home rather than quick pick-ups at fast food chains or buying pre-prepared dishes at local supermarkets or restaurants.
- Let everyone help with the meal planning, food shopping, food preparation and clean-up.
- Kids learn by doing. Younger ones can mix ingredients, wash produce, or set the table, while older kids can help with ingredients. Everyone can help clean up.
- Serve a variety of foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, and protein foods. Limit ultra-processed foods and use ingredients without a lot of sauces that will be high in fat, salt, and/or sugar.
- Include choices from each food group – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy and fortified soy alternatives – in meals and snacks throughout the week.
- Add one new ingredient to daily meals, rotate seasonal ingredients and try one or two new recipes each month.
- Let all family members choose recipes that include healthy ingredients that are easy and quick to prepare, especially on days that are very busy.
- Get kids engaged with meal preparation at home. Serve meals "family style" to encourage kids to be creative with their plates.
- Offer nonfood rewards for household jobs done well, excellent school grades or other activities that are being recognized. Foods aren't the only rewards that kids like. Younger kids may enjoy gathering points toward a special outing, and older kids could earn extra screen time or an allowance.
The benefits of healthy eating add up over time. Taking small steps each week can help families enjoy mealtimes and provide healthier eating environments for kids and adults.