These tips will get your family excited about mealtime. Learn how to make mealtime important in your family and build this healthy habit into your family routine.
Is mealtime something your family members look forward to? Do you sit down regularly for family meals or does everyone scatter when it’s time to break bread? For busy families, getting everyone together at the table for a meal might be easier said than done. The kids are busy, the house needs cleaning, and after all, your schedule is full, too, and you just might not have time to cook. For many families, it might be easier to just skip family meals altogether. But mealtime is essential to family wellness. If you want to make mealtime important in your family you’ll need new ways to get your family excited about mealtime again.
But there’s a lot of reason to make family mealtime a priority. If everyone at home isn’t sitting down to enjoy meals together, your family might be missing out on the benefits of family mealtime.
The Benefits of Family Mealtime
Although it’s difficult to establish a cause-effect relationship between family meals and specific positive outcomes, there’s no disputing that sitting at the table together as a family is a healthy habit.
Families that eat meals together are also engaging in other positive behaviors that improve family wellness in many areas. Here are a few ways that you can anticipate when you make mealtime important in your family.
- Regular dinnertime provides a sense of security. When a family eats meals together regularly, this fosters a sense of security and stability for everyone in the home, especially the children. Studies
show that this decreases the chances that the child will engage in activities such as smoking and drinking.
- Eating family meals at home saves money. It’s less expensive to cook meals at home than to dine out, even if it’s cheap fast food.
- Teach kids cooking skills. Seeing parents cooking meals at home can help kids become proficient in the kitchen, too. Get everyone – including smaller kids, as appropriate – involved in preparing meals. When kids are involved in preparing meals, it’s easier to get the family excited about mealtime. Kids will feel like a valued part of the family and they’re also more likely to eat the meals they helped prepare.
- Mealtime builds healthy relationships. Sitting down to eat together as a family helps build a close relationship with your children. It gives everyone in the family a chance to learn more about each other. But this can only happen if we’re also mindful of distractions that compete for our attention at the dinner table. Create rules around mealtime such as turning off the TV and leaving devices docked until after dinner. Use mealtime to talk, catch up with one another, and create lasting memories as a family.
- Family meals help improve nutrition. Meals that are prepared at home tend to be healthier than meals purchased at a restaurant. When you make meals at home, you can choose healthier ingredients that support good nutrition for everyone in the family.
- Children learn about portion control early. Children learn a lot at the table. Not just how to eat, but also how much to eat. Use mealtime as a forum to teach your kids about portion sizes and what balanced meals look like. Allow kids to serve themselves at mealtime and choose healthy snacks, and provide guidance around what’s going on their plate.
- Use mealtime for social skills training. The dinner table can be a great place to teach your kids social skills and table manners.
- Introduce new foods during family mealtime. Do you have picky eaters in your family? Use mealtime to introduce new foods to your family. Introducing new foods regularly gets everyone into the habit of trying new foods. As mentioned before, if they’ve helped to prepare it, they will also be more likely to try it.
- Eating together can boost kids’ academic performance. A study found that family meal frequency – particularly breakfast – had a positive impact on reading, math.
- Family dinners reduce high-risk behaviors. Another study found that the more frequently teens have meals with their families, the less likely they are to engage in high-risk behaviors like stealing, running away, and property destruction.
Knowing all of these benefits of family mealtime should now have you convinced that mealtime with the family should be at the top of your family’s priority list. But the reality is there are many things that get in the way of family meals. Awareness is the key. Let’s see what might be competing against your family’s follow-through on mealtime.
Common Challenges to Family Mealtime
Many families struggle to get everyone at the table at the same time. And it’s oftentimes even more challenging to come up with a healthy meal plan that will please everyone in the family.
It’s not surprising that family meals are important to most families. According to this article, two-thirds of parents say that they want to eat with their kids every night and that eating together is more enjoyable and a better value on the dollar.
But making family meals a regular activity in your home is another story.
From busy schedules to school activities to homework, it may not be an easy task to make mealtime important in your family or commit to a regular mealtime routine. Here are a few common challenges to family mealtime.
Family members have different food preferences. It can be frustrating when everyone in the family likes different foods. But you don’t have to become a short-order cook get your family excited about mealtime. Ask everyone for their input on family meals. Encourage them to voice their feelings about what foods they like or dislike, and have them contribute to making a list of family favorites. Be sure everyone has something on this list. Get them involved in planning and prepping; they’ll be more likely to eat the meal served.
Technology gets in the way. Whether it’s the TV, tablet, or smartphone, technology is always competing for our attention. At mealtime, turn off all distractions and leave devices in another room. Silence or turn them off altogether if you have too. It may be challenging at first – even for parents – but getting everyone in this habit will protect your time at the dinner table.
Family members are busy. If your family is like most, you’re busy. As a result, family mealtime may have lost its place on the list of priorities. Or maybe your kids outright tell you they’d rather not eat meals together. But it’s okay. There are many ways to get your family excited about mealtime.
Whether it’s your busy work or other responsibilities or school activities making mealtime a challenge, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities and your schedule. Huddle the family to talk about the importance of family meals. Ask them to give it a chance, and create a plan to start having regular meals together as a family. You might start with once or twice a week and take it from there.
You need new recipe ideas. Is your weekly menu stale? Maybe your family is just tired of the same meals over and over again. You might need to overhaul your meal planning and preparation routine. Once again, ask for their input on what family meals they like. Start with your family’s favorite meals; then head to the web and search for new recipes to try. Our list of family cookbooks is a great place to start.
3 Ways to Make Mealtime Important in Your Family
Here are 3 quick ways to bump mealtime up on the list of priorities and get all family members to see the value of breaking bread together.
- Make an appointment for mealtime. If mealtime has fallen low on the family priority list, it probably was never on the list in the first place. When things are important, we usually write them down or put them on the calendar. Look at your family’s current schedule. Convey your excitement about the new mealtime schedule, and put mealtimes on the family calendar. Having a discussion about mealtime expectations and the schedule will get your family excited about mealtime, and they’ll know when to show up.
- Create family mealtime goals. You might set goals in other areas of your family life but have you ever considered setting a family goal around mealtime? This could be a goal for preparing healthier meals, ensuring that the family eats together regularly, or trying new recipes over the coming weeks or months. Setting a goal around family mealtime is a great way to be more intentional and get your family excited about mealtime, too.
- Give everyone a job. Have all the burdens of meal preparation fallen on your shoulders over the years? It’s time to get help. Delegate tasks to everyone in the family on an age-appropriate basis. Family members can help to plan, prep, set the table, and clean up after meals. Even little kids can help to put napkins on the table. Getting everyone involved makes it more fun and stress-free.
5 Tips to Get Your Family Excited About Mealtime
You might have been struggling to get your family excited about mealtime. It may have felt like an uphill climb. It’s important that if you want your entire family on board with mealtime, you make it clear that this is important but you do so in a fun and playful way. Just as you would with other areas like schoolwork or behavior, set clear expectations for mealtime, but make it fun and playful. Here are 5 ways to get your family excited about mealtime.
- Plan for it. Just as you would plan a party or special family outing, plan for mealtime. Create your meal plan for the week and be sure that your refrigerator and pantry are stocked with the ingredients you need to make healthy family meals throughout the week.
- Talk about it. Build excitement and anticipation by talking about your upcoming family meals with your kids. It might be tonight’s dinner or the upcoming special dinner you have planned for Sunday. Share how excited you are to try a new recipe, or that you can’t wait for the family to get together and catch up with each other. Excitement is contagious.
- Make mealtime fun. Who says you can’t play games at the dinner table? Create a fun and light atmosphere during family meals to help everyone relax and enjoy some downtime together. This might involve asking a question of the day to help everyone open up, or having everyone share one thing that’s important at each meal. Even little kids can participate.
- Create traditions or rituals around mealtime. When you think of family traditions, one of the first things that comes to mind might be holidays; specifically, holiday meals. But you can create traditions around mealtime in general, too. This might be saying grace before meals, meal prepping as a family on weekends, enjoying a special Sunday brunch every week, or going for a special treat once a month. The traditions or routines you create now can help create stronger family bonds and a healthier approach to meals and mealtime in your home. And when you have regular rituals or traditions around family meals, your kids will be likely to carry these with them for a lifetime.
- Switch it up. You want mealtime to be fun and enjoyable, so get creative. Some options might be theme nights like Taco Tuesday, finger food night, or a breakfast burrito buffet. There is no end to how creative you can get with family meals. Tell the family you’ll be making one new “mystery meal” on a dedicated day each week.
Every meal is an opportunity for you to bond with your children, create healthier habits for everyone in the family, and foster an overall sense of wellness in your home.
Make mealtime important to your family by getting them involved in the process of planning family meals. Setting a positive atmosphere around spending time together will help get your family excited about mealtime.
Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.