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The Power of Family Mealtime

By Kari Ure, Extension Assistant Professorfamily having dinner together

“What’s for dinner?” This is a common question asked by both kids and adults and can create tension among family members. September is National Family Meals Month.  Research shows there is power in families eating together.  The physical benefits of a healthy meal are important, but emotional health and family wellness are also developed by consistently enjoying meals together (Lawrence & Plisco, 2017).  

Family mealtime has been shown to decrease family conflict, improve individual family member happiness, and increase emotional family connectedness.  For some families, mealtime is the only time they gather together.  Stability and belonging are important benefits of mealtime gathering (Armstrong-Carter & Telzer, 2020).  Studies also show that family mealtime decreases the risk of substance use and risk taking behaviors (Utter et al., 2013).

Here are a few tips to improve family mealtime:

  • Planning ahead solves many barriers to family mealtime.  Create Better Health (Snap-Ed) provides planning, money saving, and time saving resources.  Mealtime doesn’t need to be elaborate; the goal is nutritious food and time together.  
  • If evening doesn’t work for family members’ schedules, try breakfast or lunch together.  If weekday schedules do not work, try for weekends.  If daily family mealtime is not possible, find as many family mealtimes each week and improve over time.  
  • Focus on positive communication during meals and create a distraction-free, trusting environment.  Make an effort to include everyone in the conversation.  Limiting distractions includes screens, negative topics, lectures to family members, and complaints.  Try a device basket that is away from the table during the meal.  All devices go in the basket - including devices of adults! 
  • Simple creativity can improve family mealtime.  The Create Better Health (Snap-Ed) program provides excellent resources to help with mealtime.  Try mealtime theme nights.  Examples include Meatless Mondays, Saturday Stir Fry, Sandwich Saturday, and Taco Tuesday.  Check out the website to find conversation starters, mealtime bingo, and other games to make mealtime enjoyable. 

The benefits of positive family mealtime are worth the effort required.  Make realistic goals to improve family mealtime and over time the question of “What’s for dinner?” can be met with excitement. 

Create Better Health offers excellent family mealtime resources:

References

  • Armstrong-Carter, E., & Telzer, E. H. (2020). Family meals buffer the daily emotional risk associated with family conflict. Developmental Psychology, 56(11), 2110–2120. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1037/dev0001111  
  • Kok, C. M., Torquati, J., & de Guzman, M. (2019).  The family mealtime study: Parent socialization and context during family meals. Journal of Extension, 57(3).  https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/joe/vol57/iss3/10
  • Lawrence, S. D., & Plisco, M. K. (2017). Family mealtimes and family functioning. American Journal of Family Therapy, 45(4), 195–205. https://doi-org.dist.lib.usu.edu/10.1080/01926187.2017.1328991
  • Utter, J., Denny, S., Robinson, E., Fleming, T., Ameratunga, S., & Grant, S. (2013). Family meals and the well-being of adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 49, 906-911. doi: 10.1111/jpc.12428