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The television images of families sitting together around the dinner table may feel somewhat outdated in today’s fast-paced and diverse society. There are lots of reasons why it is often difficult for families to have regular family mealtimes, including work schedules, single-parenting, sports activities, music lessons, and other responsibilities. There are benefits to being intentional about planning family mealtimes, even if your family does not look like a television family.

The benefits of family mealtimes

    • Introduces children to new foods, and teaches good nutrition and healthy eating habits
    • Teaches etiquette and good table manners
    • Helps to nurture closer family relationships and offers time for family members to talk with each other
    • Builds family traditions
    • Reduces stress because it’s a break from regular workday routines

Tips for successful family mealtimes

    • Serve favorite foods, as well as new ones to try To start conversations, ask open-ended questions and give everyone a chance to talk.
    • Save unpleasant or disciplinary conversations for another time.
    • Create traditions, such as a pizza night, breakfast for dinner, or fancy night
    • Model good manners and listening skills If you are pressed for time, choose a quick or make-ahead meal
    • Turn off the TV, phones, and other screens to eliminate distractions
    • Involve children in planning, preparation and serving the meal–even the youngest ones can help

Applying the family meal concept in child care programs

    • Create a pleasant atmosphere for meal and snack times and encourage sharing and conversation
    • Assign and rotate tasks among children (setting tables, cleaning up)
    • Encourage healthy habits, like handwashing
    • Explore different cultures by serving different foods and talking about food customs

Resources

Get information on what changes you should expect as your child grows with the Developmental Milestones Checklist

Call Pennsylvania’s CONNECT Helpline at 1-800-692-7288 for information about your child’s development and connecting to Early Intervention Services in Pennsylvania.

Get information about the Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Project.

Click here to print the infographic: Family Mealtimes.

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