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The 15 Best Expert Parenting Tips on Family Dinners

Here's what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend for having dinner together as a family.

Having dinner together as a family is one of the best ways for parents to connect with their kids and with each other. Experts have found that engaging during dinner can lead to a long list of improved outcomes from decreased drug use to increased vocabulary for children who eat with their parents. Kids who regularly eat family meals are also generally in better physical shape and less likely to be depressed. Family meal time is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your kid’s long-term prospects. Making the most out of that time means addressing challenges that often stand in the way, like phone usage or picky eaters.

Here’s what researchers, scientists, and experts recommend for having dinner together as a family.

Dinner Rule #1: Enjoy Eating Together

  • Turn off your phone the second you get home. Multi-tasking parents need to try to focus on their family once they get home, and the best way to do this is to block the outside world.
  • Don’t watch TV during dinner. If there’s something that everyone wants to watch, try eating before or after.
  • Come to the table equipped with games and conversation starters. Kids that aren’t occupied leave faster and eat less.
  • Let go of unnecessary dinner expectations. When families feel like there’s so much pressure on them to have the perfect meal and bond, that can be very intimidating. Conversation doesn’t have to be deep. Nobody has to be fully dressed. Napkins can be optional. The plates don’t need to be porcelain.

Dinner Rule #2: Manage Messy Toddlers

  • Purchase plates and bowls that have silicone bottoms that are less easy to slide, or get goods with actual suction cups on the bottom to keep them from being flung.
  • Give your kid more than one spoon. They’ll practice with one while you sneak in with the other.
  • Serve thick food. Try to give them foods that aren’t runny or otherwise sloppy. Stick with stuff that has a thicker consistency for less splatter.
  • If a toddler is particularly messy, use plastic. If you need to open some garbage bags and lay them under your kid’s chair, that’s totally fine.
  • Don’t let their dinnertime last longer than it needs to. The longer the kid is at the table, the more damage they’ll do, so get that conversation in quickly.
  • Serve small portions. Like a short dinner, small portions limit the amount your kid can huck, drop, smear, and mash into the table.

Dinner Rule #3: Respect Picky Eaters

  • Don’t stress out if your toddler doesn’t want to eat. Look at the child’s weekly rather than daily food intake if they begin to avoid meals.
  • Never badger or bargain with your child in order to get them to eat.
  • Try to give your kid something to eat 15 separate times before giving up. Offer the food in different forms if your initial attempts fail.
  • Include your kids in both grocery shopping and meal prep in order to get them invested in the experience.
  • Pinpoint the difference between picky eating and a potential feeding disorder. Seek help if you believe your child is beyond being a finicky eater.