Mealtime with Kids - What's Important?

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I often talk with parents who are concerned about the amount their child consumes at mealtime or the child’s lack of interest in food or mealtime. These same parents are often also very concerned with the nutritional adequacy of the child’s diet.

Kids don’t just want to be fed, they want to share meals with the people they love, including parents, nannies, teachers, or other family members. Kids tend to eat better, enjoy food more, and try new foods when they are eating with others.

Children and teens who have family meals eat better, feel better about themselves, get along better with other people, do better in school, and are even less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.  Family meals have more to do with raising healthy, happy children than family income, whether the child lives in a dual or single parent household, and after-school activities.

So, even if it’s just a carry-out pizza or PB&J sandwiches for dinner, sitting down together to enjoy the food that’s available has so much value.

  • Grown-ups can model positive eating behaviors and manners, such as showing attunement to body signals of hunger and satiety OR simply using a napkin.

  • Grown ups can model eating a variety of foods. Kids can’t be expected to try foods they don’t see the grown-ups around them eat.

  • Mealtime is a great time to catch up on the day. It’s best to have all devices silenced and ignore any calls or texts. If kids are feeling unseen or unheard they are more likely to do something to get the attention of the grown ups. If it’s mealtime, that could mean resorting to a negative food behavior.

I get it, though. Family meals can be tough sometimes. For my family of four, family dinner is a must, but during the school week, sitting down with the kids at breakfast is so hard because of the morning rush. Other parents have told me that the after school schedule gets in the way for them. Parents with really little ones have said the early bedtime means a really early dinnertime that they are just not used to or they just want to have a peaceful adult meal with their partner after bedtime. Family meals don’t have to mean eating EVERY single meal together, but even one meal per day with a loved one can make a great impact.  

If you already have family meals, what benefits do you see? Are there challenges to having dinner together? If you’re not having family meals, what gets in the way?