Creating Peaceful Family Mealtimes

You may have heard about the importance of eating meals together. The idea is that families who eat together also communicate better, make healthier food choices, and feel more connected to one another. But if you’re like most parents you’ve also had your share of dinner-table disasters: arguments, silent treatments, and food in undesirable places. Here are some tips to help cut down on mealtime madness.
Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Regularly include even the youngest children at the family table and at larger group meals, rather than feeding them separately or before or after the bigger people.
    • Start some meal traditions—like Wednesday Waffles or Make-Your-Own-Pizza Nights.
    • Try not to worry about accidental messes. Kids this age are learning an important aspect of being civilized—how to feed themselves. Do set limits, however, regarding playing with food.
    • parents with children 6 to 9
    • Invite your child to help you prepare for meals. Even young children can put out placemats, distribute utensils, or add ingredients.
    • Establish clear rules, such as sharing, passing food when asked (and being sure to ask, not reach), using inside voices, saying “please” and “thank you,” asking for permission before leaving the table, and waiting for a turn to speak.
    • parents with children 10 – 15
    • Use mealtimes to learn about one another’s musical tastes. Choose one night each week as music night and rotate who gets to choose. Set guidelines about things like volume and appropriateness of content and language.
    • If your children are able, give them responsibility for one meal per week or per month. Let them choose the menu and prepare and serve the food. Volunteer to help if they want you to.
    • parents with children 16 to 18
    • Save the inquisitions. Instead of “20 Questions” about school or their day, use silly or thought-provoking questions to spark mealtime conversation. Examples include, “If you could be any place else in the world right now, where would you be and why?” Or, “Tell about the most unexpected thing that happened to you this week.”
  • Encourage your teens to invite friends to your family dinners. Use the time to get to know the friends and for them to learn more about your family.

If you’re thinking, “What’s the point? We can’t ever get everyone to the table at the same time anyway,” get creative about your approach. Could you have a different meal together, perhaps breakfast, on a regular basis? Or what about choosing an evening a week that’s devoted to family and all other offers are declined? If dining out better suits your style, could you pick a regular time and place to gather?

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