Family Meal Time: Mastering the Art of Feeding the Family Jessica Dean, RD, CDN


Does Eating As A Family Really Make A Difference In Your Family’s Health?

Did you know? – children who enjoy family mealtime are:

  • 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating
  • 24% more likely to eat healthier
  • 12% less likely to be overweight

As a mom of 3 active children, I understand family meals can feel downright impossible! However, knowing the benefits of eating together at home, I make it a priority as much as possible.

Think about it – meals away from home are more likely to be energy-dense (meaning calorie-filled) foods.  These foods typically have added extra fat, sugar, and calories that you wouldn’t typically add to a home-cooked meal.  When you make a meal for your family at home, you know exactly what is going into that meal.  The meal tends to be higher quality, and low in sugar.

So what can you do to make family meal time more realistic? 

  1. Plan Meals A Week Or Two In Advance

Preparation is the key.  Pick a weekend night to sit and write out a weekly game plan.  This will help avoid the last minute take-out or “what’s for dinner?” dilemmas.  Be sure to think ahead and plan easy dinners on your most busy nights.  Soccer night = stir-fry night!  Use this fun meal planning chart and sample weekly meal planner.  Also look for recipes that are simple and require only a handful of ingredients.  Try these blogs for recipe ideas: 10 Minute Meal Ideas and Recipes Kids Can Make.

  1. Get The Kids Involved In Picking Out Recipes And Preparing Meals

Research suggests that the more kids are involved in the planning and preparation of a meal, the more likely mealtime will be a success and be enjoyed!  My kids love picking and planning their day.  Your kids will get a chance to “flex” their nutrition muscles while you get an opportunity to spend quality time with them and maybe learn something new?!  Giving kids a “theme” is a great way to provide some guidance while allowing them to still call the shots.  Some popular themes include Mexican Night, Make your own Pizza Night and Italian night.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be gourmet – just together.  Follow this link for more tips on getting kids in the kitchen.

  1. Shop Outside The Box

With the boom in home grocery delivery services, we have multiple options for shopping without even stepping foot inside the grocery store.  Once you make your meal plan, set aside 20 minutes to order your groceries online.  Most stores have a mobile app so ordering can be done while waiting in the pick-up line for your kids, or when sitting in the doctor’s office.  Amazon Fresh, Peapod, and ShopRite from Home are all great options.  Not only will these services save you time, but save you money as well.  Here is a link to help you avoid online ordering mistakes.

  1. Decorate The Table

Depending on the age of your kids, you can set the table to match the theme of the meal. For older kids who may be unimpressed by fun table decor, delegate tasks such as filling the glasses or setting the table to help meal time run smoothly.  There is nothing worse than having dinner ready but the silverware is not on the table!

  1. Make It Fun!

Turn TV and cellphones off!  Use these conversation starters to keep kids engaged and at the table longer.  Mealtime is a time to catch up on latest events and connect for a bit.  Having a fun dinnertime routine will help create memories and positive associations with food and family that will last a lifetime.

In closing, research shows that family meals 3 or more days per week will yield the most positive benefits for children.  It’s also important to note that if family dinner is not possible, sharing breakfast, lunch, or evening snack (or any similar activity that allows your family to gather more regularly) has also shown positive benefits in a child’s outcome.  As tempting as it may be to go swing through a drive through, a family meal generates feelings of closeness, comfort and stability.  With a little planning, you can provide these benefits – along with a better quality, nutrition-filled meal – that will satisfy the needs of your growing child.


USDA The Food Environment, Eating Out, and Body Weight: A Review of the Evidence

Cornell University College of Human Ecology: Parenting In Context. Do Family Meals Really Make A Difference?


Jessica Dean, RD, CDN

Registered Dietitian

Princeton Longevity Center: Shelton Office