Mealtimes can offer a sense of familiarity and security and can provide opportunities to connect with others. Mealtimes can be about promoting good habits and offering a safe place to discuss positive and challenging situations or topics. Starting at a young age, children begin to notice and follow adults’ behaviors, such as, eating food that is similar in color to the food consumed by parents (Addessi, 2005). Healthy eating is encouraged when parents/caregivers interact with their child during mealtime by, for example, asking questions or showing interest in the child’s activities (Neumark‐Sztainer, 2004; Hammons & Fiese, 2011). Parents should be good role models at mealtime and encourage positive habits such as minimizing distractions, like the use of electronic devices at the table; eating a variety of healthy foods; or consuming appropriate portion sizes (Powell, 2017). Shared mealtimes can take place at any time of the day. If a shared dinner time doesn’t work for your family, try having your shared family mealtime at breakfast or lunch!
Some guidelines for planning your family mealtime can be found below. Remember, lessons taught and learned during mealtime can impact many areas of a child’s life, like choosing positive dietary habits or maintaining a healthy weight.
- Determine a time when all family members can eat together.
- Prepare one meal for the entire family.
- Do not have distractions at the table.
- Provide a variety of healthy foods from which to choose.
- Introduce new foods.
Addessi, E., Galloway, A. T., Visalberghi, E., & Birch, L. L. (2005). Specific social influences on the acceptance of novel foods in 2–5‐year‐old children. Appetite, 45, 264–271.
Hammons, A. J., & Fiese, B. H. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics, 127(6), 1565–1574.
Neumark‐Sztainer, D. R., Wall, M. M., Story, M., & Fulkerson, J. A. (2004). Are family meal patterns associated with disordered eating behaviors among adolescents? Journal of Adolescent Health, 35(5), 350–359.
Powell, F., Farrow, C., Meyer, C., & Haycraft, E. (2017). The importance of mealtime structure for reducing child food fussiness. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 13. doi:10.1111/mcn.12296