Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

When families eat together, it's more than just a meal

To some, "the family meal" is practically folklore, representing a curious practice when American life moved at a slower pace. Despite the hectic, break-neck pace of today's modern family, eating together -- in one form or another -- should remain a priority.

Family Snack

A regularly scheduled family snack can help families feel connected.

Sharing meals has been shown to help kids do better in school, make them less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and result in less depression and lower levels of obesity, said Mary Lay, research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University.

"Everyone eats," Lay said. "Finding ways to eat together regularly as a family, and not just during the holidays, is an important part of parenting. That time together really matters."

How the time is used, brief as it might be, and the behavior parents model are key. Arguments, criticism and food fights? Not so useful. Goal-setting, healthy eating habits, regular status updates (in person, not on Facebook)? Now that's more than a meal.

"Family meals, when the TV and mobile devices are turned off, provide opportunities for social interaction," Lay said. "They give parents a chance to set goals and boundaries for youth. They provide opportunities for youth to share information about their day, their goals and their concerns."

These tips can help make breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks more than just a meal:

  • Turn off the TV, computers, mobile devices and other distractions.
  • Put it on the family calendar and make it mandatory.
  • Get creative when finding common time. Maybe it's brunch on Saturdays or hot chocolate and a brief snack in the evening. If finding the time is challenging, begin slowly by meeting once or twice a week, and then see if family time can become more frequent.
  • Share the meal planning by letting family members choose the cuisine, or better yet, prepare it.
  • Give everyone a chance to share, whether discussing a highpoint of the day or career aspirations. Other conversation starters can include favorite family memories, where to vacation next and ideas for weekend plans.
  • Avoid using family dinner time to bring up problems with family members. Problems or concerns involving homework, chores or other issues can be discussed privately. If they are discussed during the meal or snack, it could lead to family members dreading or avoiding the shared time.

The Indiana Prevention Resource Center is part of the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at IU Bloomington.

To read more articles from the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of HPER, visit info.iu.edu/cat/page/normal/357.html.