Mealtime with kids for many of us is a time of great stress. Everyone is on the verge of being “hangry,” making fuses short. Last minute changes to the menu because of a missing ingredient or a child’s refusal to eat anything orange only makes us more likely to want to retreat with our plate and a glass of wine to another room.

Yet, the family dinner is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with our children and partners and, according to research, is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes for our kids. Here are just a few:

  • Better school performance
  • Healthier eating habits
  • Lower risk of obesity
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Lower risk for substance abuse
  • Increased vocabulary
  • Reduced chance for developing eating disorders

That’s a pretty powerful list for just spending thirty or so minutes at the dinner table! These are all the things that as parents we wish for our children and we can help increase their chances just by having family meals.

Family meals are more than just a time to feed your family. They are a way to invest in your kids.How Do I Make This Happen?

There is no magic number for how often a family should eat together, although research has shown that five meals a week has strong benefits. The family meal doesn’t have to be dinner; breakfast or lunch work, too!

Getting kids involved in the meal prep can help bring about those family meals. It’s another opportunity to interact and their pride in being part of the preparation will help pull them to the table. Plus, learning how to cook is a valuable life skill.

Doing a little advanced planning for meal prep can also take some of the stress out of the family dinner. You can make larger batches of meals like soups or casseroles and store one in the freezer for another week. You can even take advantage of meal prep services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh (no one is judging you). Or you can invest in a meal planning service like Fresh 20 that has vegetarian and kosher options.

How Do I Keep Everyone Entertained?

Mealtime is probably not the best time for screen time. There are certainly benefits to sharing screen time with your kids, but the research has shown a diminished impact on those wonderful benefits of the family meal.

Instead, try this strategy for getting your kids to talk about their day by starting with talking about yours. The Family Dinner Project has some great one sentence conversation starters that you can use if the table is suddenly quiet.

If an engaged table is new to your family, take your time and ease into it. Everyone has to get comfortable with the new norm. Be prepared to keep the conversation balanced as some members of your family may want to fill more “airtime” than others. Think of it as a great opportunity to teach some listening skills, too!

Rethinking the family dinner just a little bit now? It’s more than just a time to feed your family, but a way to invest in your kids’ futures.