4 Ways to Make Family Meal Times Less Miserable

Surprising Reasons Why It’s Worth the Extra Effort to Eat as a Family

By Mary Sterenberg and Kristie Sigler, SALT effect March 2, 2021

The most challenging times of day as a mom with younger kids are first thing in the morning, bedtime...and dinner. 

I swear dinnertime can take every ounce of strength we have as parents.

“Please stop getting out of your seat.”
“You cannot get up from this table until you’ve taken two bites.”
“I’m sorry you suddenly don’t like spaghetti (or apparently anything but chicken nuggets and applesauce).”
“No, you may not have a granola bar instead of your green beans.”
“No iPads at the table.”
“I SAID, stop getting out of your seat.”

Beyond these battles, the time and energy needed to prepare meals and ever-changing schedules can mean we’re just not sitting down to eat as families very often. According to the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, families only eat dinner together about half the time on any given week.

The struggle is real, but the rewards of having five to seven screen-free family meals a week are surprisingly significant: 

  • Family meals help kids academically. Eating together boosts vocabulary even more than reading to kids. Research shows regular family mealtimes predict higher achievement scores in kids.
  • Eating together strengthens the bond between parents and their kids. Life slows down for a few minutes and it’s a time for quality conversation.
  • Family meals can help kids process things going on in their lives or the world around them. 

Tips for Making Family Meals a Reality

Tip #1: Look beyond dinner for five to seven family meal options each week. Weekend breakfasts and lunches definitely count!

Tip #2: Make cooking easy or just grab carryout. The goal is time together as a family.

Tip #3: Eat out with family or friends to change things up from time to time. These still count as family meals and they’re lifesavers when the dinner drama in your own house needs a night off.

Tip #4: Make the most of your meal time as a family. My family likes to do “Highs and Lows” to share the best and worst things from our day. The Family Dinner Project offers other great conversation starters and questions for families with kids of different ages.

We’re always deciding which battles to pick as parents, but creating the habit of eating meals together as a family is one that’s worth your time and effort.

Mary Sterenberg and Kristie Sigler teach communication at The Ohio State University and run the blog SALT effect with gift guides, book recommendations and other parenting resources for moms of tweens and teens. For more about their family meal routines, see their features with The Family Dinner Project: The Sterenberg Family, The Sigler Family