How to do family meals

Leave behind the mealtime meltdowns and actually enjoy eating as a family. Here’s how. (Hint: Don’t make them eat).

We get it. Your days are busy. You all have different schedules. You may even have to make several different meals for your family. Or perhaps when you finally do sit down to family dinner or lunch, it’s so stressful (“Eat your carrots!”), that you wonder why you tried.

But before you dismiss the idea of having a proper family meal as too daunting, here are some tips to help you make it work.


Take the pressure off

Minimize mealtime meltdowns by being very clear with your children – right from the outset, say: “You don’t have to eat”. That way, you take the pressure off everyone at the table, and your kids will probably eat anyway. Make it easier by including one or two foods you know they enjoy, set the meal out in large platters on the table, then let it go.


Set the rules

Communicate what behavior is expected at the table. For example, if they taste something they don’t like, they’re allowed to politely spit it out into a napkin. Or they have to ask to be excused should they need to leave the table for a moment. Remember to be realistic about your expectations though – for example, toddlers will not be able to sit at the table for longer than around 10 minutes.


Focus on connection

Whether the kids eat or not, explain that the mealtime is about connecting with family. Engage them in conversation so that they associate family meals with positive feelings – tell stories and jokes, catch up on news, and enjoy each other’s company. For ideas on fun conversation starters for the dinner table, no matter your children’s ages, visit The Family Dinner Project 


Share the load

Assign everyone a responsibility, so that it’s truly a family meal. Ask for help with menu planning and grocery shopping, give your elementary-school child the task of setting the table, or share clearing and cleaning up duties.


Pick the family meal that works for you

For most of us, having dinner together seven nights a week is just not going to happen. In that case, pick a day and meal that works for everyone – Sunday lunch, Saturday morning breakfast, Friday night pizza fest.


What to serve

Your family meal does not have to be a multi-course fancy spread. Keep it simple and enlist the family’s help in the kitchen beforehand. Kids are more likely to eat food they’ve had a hand in preparing, so get them washing and chopping veg, mixing up sauces, tossing herbs and seasoning into the pot, whichever task is developmentally right for them.

You can also choose themed dinners (Soup Night, Burger Night, Kids’ Choice Night, Breakfast for Dinner, Taco Tuesday) so that the whole family knows what to expect. And – if you’ve selected the themes as a family – everyone will enjoy the meal.



Looking for ideas on what to serve up? Check out our Pinterest board, Family Dinner for some of our favorite family meal recipes.