Thanksgiving is just three short days away. Many of us enjoy gathering with family and friends to celebrate all we have a share a meal together.

While we can’t dine with family scattered across the country or the world every day, we can make an effort to eat with our family at home.

You may have heard the family mealtime is important for children. It sounds great, but you’re really busy. Does it really make a difference?

Yes. Children and adolescents who eat dinner with their families . . .

  • Experience depression less often
  • Are more likely to experience better mental health
  • Have a higher vocabulary
  • Have an increased likelihood of having a good relationship with their parents (which leads to):
  • Have a decreased chance of substance use
  • Are more likely to eat more vegetables and fruits
  • Are less likely to eat fast food and soft drinks
  • Get better grades in school
  • More likely to be a healthy weight

. . . and the list could continue.

Family meals sound pretty important, right? What keeps us from having regular meals as a family, and why do so many of our meals just feel like a fight?

We are busy. Everyone, from the adult(s) in the family to the smallest child, has a different schedule. Perhaps you work late or need to go to bed early for a morning shift. Maybe you have a young child with an early bedtime and a teenage child who participated in evening sports. Getting everyone together to eat is no easy task.

So, what can we do?

As with all things, do what you can.

Simplify or reduce the number of activities that limit family mealtimes, if possible

Can you trade shifts at work? Can your teenager drop a sport or club?

Sometimes you can’t work out daily family mealtime, but plan it whenever you can.

It doesn’t have to be dinner

If you find your family all together in the morning, gather for a family breakfast. If you don’t want to (or can’t) get up earlier, prepare some breakfast meals ahead of time.

If you find one or more children are struggling to make it to the table, find a way to entice them; while it’s not advised to cater to every individual food request, try to have something everyone enjoys eating at some time during the week. Preparing what you can in advance can fit breakfast into as short as 20 minutes from cooking to the last bite.

  • Cook extra waffles on the weekend to pop in the toaster
  • Make overnight oatmeal in the crockpot
  • Make an egg casserole to reheat
  • Keep fruits and vegetables on hand, and slice what you can the night before

You’ve found some time to eat as a family, but you find everyone at the table is constantly fighting over food?

Make it enjoyable

Mealtime can be torture for parents when we find ourselves in a power struggle over food. Remember: you can’t control what or how much your child chooses to eat, but you can control the food that is available. Make meal plans with a variety of foods, and let your child choose what to eat.

Just eating together does not guarantee closeness. Good conversation is a great way to relax and come together as a family. But, when you’re tired, it’s difficult to start good conversations.

Write or print some conversation starters, cut them apart, and keep them in a container on the table. Take turns choosing a question (or more than one) when you’re struggling to connect. Here are some serious and silly questions you can use to start:

Conversation starters (sorted by child’s age)

More Conversation Starters

If you’re looking to increase your connection with your child, try eating a favorite meal together. Then, repeat as often as you can.

Here is to fun, connecting family meals!

A last note: benefits of family mealtime are lost when screens are used. Turn off TVs, tablets, and phones, and start tasting your food and talking to your family.