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kybryl2's picture Karen Bryla McNees, EdD, RD
Registered Dietitian
College or Department
Phone Number
(859) 257-9355
Email Address

It can be a real feat to get the people in your household to sit down together for meal. Everyone is on a different schedule, not everyone is hungry at the same time, and there are always distractions that seem to pop up. Here at the McNees house, we are no different. I do not have a magic dietitian wand that I get to wave to make these challenges go away.

Regardless of the obstacles, having my family together at the table is a priority for me. The research is pretty compelling about the benefits of sharing meals together. It allows for connection, communication and improved eating habits. And kids who eat regularly with their families tend to have better mental health and academic performance!

Through my efforts to facilitate family mealtime, I have learned to be flexible in how I define success. Many nights, success is simply having everyone sitting together at the table, even if we aren't all eating. There are some nights when my husband and son go to a class together, so my daughter and I eat earlier in the evening. But when my son and husband come home, I am sure to sit with them while they eat their meal. It's funny, because I remember my dad doing this when we were kids. He was self-employed in our home and often worked late into the evening. But he would almost always sit with us when it was dinnertime, even if he wasn't eating. The same connection and communication can happen, even when everyone isn't eating. And the shared meal doesn't have to be dinner. It can be breakfast or lunch, especially on the weekends, when there is a good chance people in your household will be out and about once dinnertime rolls around.

And of course, the benefits of a shared meal are greatest when there are minimal distractions. At my house, that means no screens or answering texts or calls during the meal. Hardcore, right? :) Another important element of a shared meal is having a space where everyone can gather. Is your table being used for other things (maybe a home office these days)? If so, find a way to make it easy to clear it off for mealtimes. And remember, it's not the food itself that makes the time together at the table meaningful. It doesn't have to be a special or elaborate meal. Sharing grilled cheese and canned soup is no different than sharing a filet mignon and twice-baked potatoes. It's the gathering around the table that is important.