How Can I Make Family Mealtime A Success?



Only one in three families in the United States eats meals together regularly. Family mealtime provides many benefits. It is an ideal time to teach family values, strengthen family ties, encourage learning, strengthen youth and, of course, encourage good nutrition.

  • Teaching values. Eating together is a natural time for children to be around and observe adults. Children learn values through many little interactions, not in one big dose. Values are taught by discussing daily events, decisions and the reasons why something was good or bad.
  • Bonding families. Meal preparation, clean up and spending time together while eating are natural rather than "staged" times to talk together and strengthen family ties. Encouraging learning. Preschool children who eat with family have better vocabularies. Dinnertime chatting exposes them to a broader vocabulary, especially as they listen to conversation between adults.
  • Strengthening teens. Researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital studied 527 adolescents and found that if mealtimes are shared with parents or grandparents regularly, they could account for 75 percent of the difference in youth being well adjusted or having problems with substance abuse, depression or other adjustment problems. That's probably not due to mealtimes alone, but is an outgrowth of families that eat together also being more likely to do some other positive things.
  • Modeling good nutrition. Children eat better at a regular family mealtime than when they fix food or eat out on their own.

With all these benefits, it's worth getting the family together at mealtime. Make it a priority, but be flexible. This might include bringing prepared food home or giving children an early snack so they can wait for a later dinner when everyone is home. Make it a time for pleasant visiting with an emphasis on building relationships. Avoid making it a time to lecture or scold. Offer a variety of foods but don't force children to eat. Turn off the TV. Fast finishers can stay at the table to visit for a few minutes.

A six-year-old girl, when her parent told her of the plan to start sitting down to dinner together every evening, said excitedly, "We're going to be like a real family." So, families, "It's dinnertime!"

Posted on 22 Aug 2006

Tom Lee
Family & Consumer Science Program Leader & Department Head, Financial Management Specialist

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