How to Make Family Meals Happen

September 27, 2017

Make family meals happen more often in your home with these tips!

Make family meals happen more often with these 5 tips @jlevinsonrd.

When I was growing up, I remember most weeknights sitting at the dinner table eating with my mom and brother with another setting placed at my father’s seat, ready for him to come home from work. (At this point my older sister was already away at college). After my father got home and had a chance to change his clothes and go through the bills and mail, he would eat dinner by himself while my mother finished the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, and my brother and I did our homework.

But Friday nights were different. Growing up in a modern orthodox Jewish home, every Friday night my mother would light her Shabbat candles, my father would say the blessings over wine and challah, and we would all sit down together to enjoy a family meal.

Most people love the weekends because they don’t have work or school and they can go see a movie or hang out with friends. And while it was nice to get to sleep in on Saturday mornings rather than wake up for the bus to school, shabbat dinners – spending time with my family, especially with my father at the table – were what I looked forward to the most.

Make family meals happen more often to reap the benefits, including emotional balance.

The Benefits of Family Meals

For me, family meals were a chance to fill my parents in on what I learned at school or talk through a problem I may have been having, but they were also an opportunity to hear my parents discuss their day to day lives. I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back now, and given my parents marriage of 45 years, I see how these family meals set an example for my marriage and interactions with my husband.

Not to mention the model of healthier (although sometimes not so healthy!) eating these family meals set. I just told my kids the other night that I never ate salad until I went to college, but I remember watching my parents eating a bowl every night.

What initiated this trip down memory lane? September is National Family Meals Month™, a perfect opportunity to think through the benefits of family meals and how we can make family meals happen more often.

Some of the benefits of family meals include increased self-esteem in kids, a sense of wellbeing, and stronger family relationships (1). Studies have also shown that kids who participate in regular family meals have better grades, healthier eating habits, and better behavior, and are less likely to show signs of depression, use drugs, be overweight, and have eating disorders (2,3).

Make family meals happen more often to reap the benefits, including improved nutrition.

Despite all these benefits, I don’t think you’d be surprised to find out that only 30% of American families share dinner together every night – eating together 7 nights a week is not easy when there are different school and after-school schedules, work deadlines, and kids of different ages in the house (4).

You may not be able to make family meals happen every night (it certainly doesn’t in my house), but shooting for that goal can help you get there.

5 Tips to Make Family Meals Happen

1. Start small. Reaching any goal requires taking baby steps, and this one is no different. If you make your goal to eat dinner together every night, or even five nights a week, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.

There’s nothing that makes you less inclined to do something than the negative feedback of not being able to achieve what you want. So start by setting a goal to eat one more meal together a week. For example, if you normally eat dinner together two nights a week, add a third meal to the family schedule.

2. Eat breakfast together. Notice in tip #1 I said “eat one more MEAL together”? Although 68% of consumers say dinner is the mealtime most often eaten together, no one says your family meal can’t be breakfast, lunch, or even a snack. The key to making family meals happen is to have them at a time that works best for your family.

3. Meal plan together. You know how important meal planning is to me, and involving the family in the process can increase the frequency of family meals. When everyone shares in advance what meals he or she would like to eat and what mealtimes are free to be had togeter, there is a greater likelihood of getting everyone around the table at the same time for a meal everyone will enjoy.

How to make family meals happen. Top tips @jlevinsonrd.

4. Eat at least part of the meal together. I’m going to be honest with you – most days of the week we don’t eat as a family. Just like my father came home after my dinnertime, my husband gets home too late to have dinner with my girls. And while I may be hungry enough to eat with my kids, I enjoy having some time with my husband to chat about the day or even just veg out and eat dinner in front of the TV (Note: I do not promote this behavior, but sometimes it happens).

To compensate for the lack of family meals during the week, we usually have Shabbat dinner together Friday night, breakfast and lunch together both weekend days, and we always have Sunday night dinner together.

During the week I try to sit down with my girls to have part of the meal like a bowl of soup or some salad, and as often as possible, I bring the kids into the kitchen to make the meal with me. I use that time as an opportunity to teach them about food, nutrition, math, reading, and science, and possibly more important, it’s my chance to chat with them and ask about their day. (By the way, instead of asking “how was your day?” try more pointed questions to elicit more information. I love the ideas in this article at The Kitchn).

5. Order in. Or defrost a meal or go to a restaurant. There’s no reason family meals have to happen at home. Take the pressure off and enjoy the family time without any distractions. At the end of the day, the point of family meals is to connect – it’s not (all) about the food!

Make family meals happen more often with these 5 tips @jlevinsonrd.

Do you make family meals happen in your house?

Share with me your best tips in the comments below!
(1) Utter J, Denny S, Robinson R, Fleming T, Ameratunga S, Grant S. Family meals and the well-being of adolescents. J Paediatr Child Health, 2013.
(2) JM Berge, Wall M, Hsueh TF, Fulkerson JA, Larson N, Neumark-Sztainer D. The protective role of family meals for youth obesity: 10-year longitudinal associations. J Pediatr, 2015.
(3) Hammons A.J. & Fiese B.A. Is frequency of shared meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics, 2011.
(4) Are Americans Still Serving Up Family Dinners. The Harris Poll, 2013.
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  1. These are awesome tips. I have 3 brothers and we all played sports growing up so family meals didn’t happen ever day but those times we did really are the best memories. It’s just my husband and I now and I cherish eating our breakfast together at the table every morning…we’ve also made a habit of no TV at dinner time and eating at the table instead. I’ll have to pass this along to my friends with kids!

    1. I love hearing about your experience with family meals, Deryn! Thanks for sharing. And so glad to hear you and your husband make meals together and without distractions a priority. So important.

  2. My kids are still little so we have dinner together every night. My husband has breakfast with them and if I’m not running or coaching, I’m there for that, too. I hope we can at least keep our dinners together as everyone gets older!

    1. That’s so great Rachel. It gets challenging as the kids get older and have more activities and different schedules, but you’re setting a great example now and the kids won’t want to give up that special family time.

  3. Love all of these tips! I grew up on family meals, and I see how important they are, not just from a nutrition perspective but also a social perspective. Thanks for sharing. Also love the infographics!

  4. One piece of advice we give young(er) married couples is to try to live your life without kids the way you’d want to with them. Obviously, travel, go to movies, stay up late, etc. But do little things…like eating dinner together at your dining room table every night…so when your first baby comes you won’t have to change your entire life around! Ritch and I always sat down to dinner together when it was just the two of us, and now we do it every night of the week with our kids!

    1. I love that Laura! I think it’s fantastic advice. And you’re lucky that you and your husband are both able to be home to eat dinner with the kids every single night. My hope is that as the kids get older and stay up later we’ll be able to do that as well. For now my husband gets home too late for us to do that :/

  5. It’s so true we rarely eat together, but that’s largely because my husband is working super late a lot right now. So I’m going to make a point of those meals on the weekend because I love that connection!

  6. I love EVERYTHING about this post! Saving it so I can share with the families I work with- we talk about this a lot, but I don’t always share resources like this one. Thanks for providing all this great info, Jessica!

  7. I totally agree – eating together is so important! It’s something my family always did and something I plan to do with my children as well. Love your tip for getting everyone involved in the meal planning – that certainly helps build excitement for the meal together!

    1. I love hearing people’s stories about the role family meals played in their lives growing up – thanks for sharing yours! And so glad to hear that you’ll be continuing that routine when you have a family 🙂

  8. Awesome tips and post Jessica! Family meal time is sacred at our house. Although it doesn’t happen every night of the week, I’d say it usually happens 4-5 nights, which is pretty good considering I have 2 teenagers on the go 🙂 Both of my kids are pretty good conversationalists (when they want to be-ha!), and I think a lot of that has to do with the conversations we have at meal time. Thanks for sharing this post!