9 Tips for Family Centered Mealtimes

Family Meal Time Can Be a Positive Experience for All Family Meal Time Can Be a Positive Experience for All

It takes planning and effort to keep a family eating together at mealtime. But it is worth the effort!

Worth the Effort!

One of the most important things families can do is eat together regularly. In today’s world our children often have so many evening commitments ranging from sports, music practice to extra homework. It takes a lot of planning and effort to keep a family eating together at dinner time. But the effort is worth so much. Here are a few tips to keep family meal time a positive, bonding experience for all:

1. Schedule regular meal times - Try to create a regular pattern to mealtimes—as close to the same time as possible, at the dinner table, no television, and parent guided conversation - Teach manners, review their days and help your children understand the importance of healthy eating.

2. Eat meals together - Even if only two family members are home eat together.  When the rest of the family comes home, try to get the entire family to the table, even if it means bringing work or homework to the table.  It is still better than eating in the evening all by yourself.

3. Plan for snacks - The timing of snacking can assist in a healthy dinner and provide the satiety, or fullness, to not over eat at dinner time.  Try a health snack approximately 2 hours prior to dinner.  Options could range from a piece of fruit, a small portion of nuts or even a granola bar.  If you allow your child something like chips, delve out the portion into a small bowl vs. giving them the bag to take in front of the television.

Prepare Meals Together

4. Plan & prepare meals together - Give your children some input into meal planning.  Nothing is more frustrating than preparing a great meal only to have your children pick at it or ask for something else.  If you give them a voice, they will respond with better intake.  Our son requested chicken soft tacos the other day with such enthusiasm that his sisters just laughed!  The end result of this interaction—each child ate two tacos!  Our 5 year old daughter is showing a lot of interest in food preparation and oftentimes assists in cooking the meals.  Sometimes you discover hidden talents and likes when you include your children in meal decisions and preparation.   

5. Make mealtime pleasant - Play soft music the entire family enjoys, allow your kids to set the table however they want, and try and keep the atmosphere stress free and light.  If your child feels your lack of enjoyment or disinterest in meal preparation then they may grow to feel the same.  If you really don’t like it, fake it for the benefit of your family.

6. Avoid the ‘Clean the Plate’ Club! - There should never be scolding at the dinner table related to not not cleaning their plate or picking at unwanted food items.  Sometimes, a food or food group just isn’t desirable to your child.  Reintroducing it at a later time without putting a negative reminder of the food in the child’s head will result in more interest in the food next time you serve it.

Avoid Using Food as a Reward

7. Avoid using food for reward - Food should never be a reward for any accomplishment.  Instead, reward with activities—a bike ride, playing catch or a board game.  Children love private time with their parents, so if you want to make something really special do it with them.

7. Store food out of sight - Other than fresh fruits it is best to keep food stored away in cabinets.  If visible the tendency is to consider eating it when you pass by.  The old adage, out of sight, out of mind is so true, especially for children.  Snack timing and consistent snacking will lessen the desire to eat everything in sight.

8. Schedule mealtimes to last more than 15 minutes, to allow you to feel satiated - It takes a minimum of 20 minutes to feel full, or satiated.  Dinner conversation will slow the meal down and lessen the interest of children to eat more than they should.  When the full feeling takes over, the child will naturally stop eating.

What could be better than getting a calm, enjoyable 30 minutes with the entire family learning about the day’s activities and sharing a few laughs.  Even if we eat at 4:30 before everyone jumps in the car to get to practices it is better than being left to whatever is available in the concession stand.  It is healthier, allows for a better practice or event and keeps the family together.

Ellie Zografakis Huff, RD, LD, CSCS

Ellie Zografakis Huff, RD, LD, CSCS is co-owner of NutriFormance- Fitness, Therapy and Performance based in Frontenac, Missouri.  Ellie is a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning coach.  Ellie can be reached at ellieh@nutriformance.com.

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