Can’t make every family meal? Here’s how to make the most of the time you do have.


Unsurprisingly, the family meal is in decline. As occupations move away from the standard 9-5 it is increasingly common that meal times are attended by either mum or dad, rarely both. Simultaneously, reports continue to promote the benefits of a family sitting down to dinner together.  Research suggests that regular family meals can benefit a child in ways as broad as leading to healthier food choices to improved performance at school and reduced likelihood of involvement in drugs or alcohol. But parents should not feel guilty if their schedules do not fit around every family meal, there are ways that parents can still super charge the impact they have at the meals that they can attend and also plenty that can be done away from the table that will have a positive impact on their kids relationship with food.

Family meal times should be an enjoyable, relaxing and positive experience that builds connections and strengthen family bonds. This may sound unrealistic, but with a little planning it is highly achievable and can have a profound impact on all members of the family. The following steps can turn meal time trauma into mealtime bliss.

-    Timing. Let everyone know when dinner is. No excuses. If kids watch TV before dinner, ease them away with a few minutes to spare, no one, young or old likes being dragged away from their favourite program without a little warning.
-    Spread the work load.  Get everyone to pitch in. Get kids to lay the table, sort out drinks, etc. If they are old enough to unlock your iPhone then they are old enough to get cutlery out of a drawer. Be under no illusion, this approach may not always make our lives easier (mopping up water before we have even sat down) but it helps develop a variety of skills and gets everyone in the right frame of mind for a meal.
-    No screens. Simple. No phones, iPads, TVs, Kindles…. Old school.
-    One meal, no substitutions. Everyone eats the same. No short order cooking. Always try to serve a meal where everyone will like at least one aspect.
-    Have good chat.. If you are not a deipnosophist (a person who is a master of dinner-table conversation) then cheat. Google meal time conversation starters or dinner time questions for kids… avoid “How was school” Zzzzzzzzz.
-    Happy ending. No one leaves until everyone finished, no running off once you have eaten what you want. If kids are made to stay and wait… chances are that they will keep eating even if they thought that they were done. Everyone helps clear up.
-    Family meals don’t have to be dinner. Family meals can be anytime that fits the schedule, weekend lunches, breakfasts even midnight feasts!

Despite the benefits of eating as a family, that is not the whole story. Meal times do have a significant impact but the broader family environment also plays an important role. A family’s practices, habits and priorities all contribute to a child’s relationship with food, so don’t let the press make you feel guilty if you can’t be there for every family meal, there are plenty of things we can do away from dinner table.

Parents are role models and their attitudes to food and their own health and wellbeing will have a significant impact on their kids. Kids are like sponges and, like it or not, they constantly learn from our behaviours. Kids pick up on our how we conduct ourselves, from politely holding open a door to dropping an F Bomb whilst driving in the car, they pick up on it all. The same goes for our attitudes towards food and feeding. It is difficult to encourage kids to drink water when all they see us drink is diet Coke! Parental commitment to healthy eating empowers kids to prioritise a positive relationship with food. 

Aside from being role models in how we eat, we can also educate our kids about food. Yes, get them involved in food shopping and preparing food but also teach them about different types of foods and nutrition. Teach them both away from the table and at it. Take every opportunity you have. There is a tendency for parents to break into the “bananas are full of potassium” speech at the dinner table…. and at that point in time, most kids could not care less. At the time of eating, kids are motivated by taste and satisfaction, the fact that bananas help heart function and enhance muscle strength is irrelevant to them…. but these messages can re-enforce an ongoing education in food.

We can also help influence our kid’s overall attitudes to life which in turn are replicated at the dinner table. Many kids only want to eat familiar foods as it is safe and comforting. Research has suggested that if kids can be encouraged to be adventurous away from the table, this will translate into being more adventurous at the table and getting kids to try new things is probably the #1 challenge for most parents at the dinner table. 

So there we have it. Don’t feel guilty about missing dinner with the kids tonight. Take advantage of the time you have away from the table and try to make every meal together count. Prep together, eat together and grow together… and ask your kids at your next family meal what they would do with £1,000! I am sure the answer will be interesting / hilarious…. and will probably be the next thing you tweet (@Prog_Fam_Food)! 

Parenting is tough enough. Meal times should be a pleasure! Neil Welsh writes at Progressive Family Food, the website all about how enjoy stress free family dinners, end meal time battles and overcome fussy eating. Visit for your free pdf on how to get your kid to try one new food. Trying one new food is the first step on the path to building a positive relationship between our kids and their food, for life.