The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012


Bring Peace to the Family Table: Better Nutrition Will Follow

 by Katja Rowell, M.D.


Parents know how important family meals are, but all the worry about nutrition and weight gets parents and kids stuck. One mom said that in spite of all her effort to cook and coordinate schedules to get everyone at the table, dinner is, “ forty-five minutes of hostage negotiations.” Families give up on eating together when no one is happy at the table. Dinner might be delicious and nutritious, but if Mom says she “dreads” coming home from work to face dinner, the days of the family meal are numbered.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so hard, and the great news is that when you can end the battles, and actually enjoy the food and each other, nutrition improves as well.

The number one tip that my clients say helps end the war is serving foods family-style. That means, put all the food out in plates and bowls in the middle of the table, and allow children and adults to serve themselves. (Helping small children as needed.)

When parents pre-plate, maybe try to get the MyPlate vision of veggies, starch and protein, battles erupt before everyone is even sitting down. “I don’t want that many beans!” or, “Mo-om! You know I don’t like when it touches!” Simply avoid this battle altogether…

Yes, your child will pass on the beans– for a while. But, with time, and if you can follow the Division of Responsibility (the parent decides what, when and where to eat, and the child gets to decide how much from what is offered) nutrition evens out. (Check out this post and comments for crazy sounding meals and snacks that added up to good nutrition at the end of the day.)

When you actually enjoy being at the table, when peace is restored, it makes the effort worth it, and easier to stick with. Don’t dread coming home from work to a green bean battle-ground. Call a truce. Enjoy family meals!

  • Serve foods family-style.
  • Observe the Division of Responsibility.
  • Start with what you are eating now, but do it together. Worry about meal-planning and improving your cooking skills after you have the habit of pleasant family meals.
  • Watch how nutrition evens out.
  • Keep it pleasant. Avoid talking about bad grades or stressful topics at the table.
  • Stop pressuring.
    • kids who are pressured to eat more tend to eat less and grow less well
    • kids who are pressured to eat fruits and veggies tend to eat fewer
    • kids who are pressured to eat less tend to eat more and weigh more over time

Enjoyable family meals are sustainable family meals, and by now we’ve seen the research that kids who eat regular family meals are happier, tend to do better socially, and emotionally, wait longer to have sex, smoke and use drugs less..

Kids who eat with their parents also tend to have more stable weight, less disordered eating, and better nutrition. Feeling good about food and being at the table is the key to making it all happen. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Katja Rowell M.D is a family doctor and childhood feeding specialist. She blogs and is working on her first book addressing feeding challenges for adopting and fostering families. She helps families who are struggling with food and weight worries by phone and house-calls! 

Readers interested in learning more about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility are invited to register for her free two-part webinar, “Preventing Child Overweight and Obesity, Raising Children to be Competent Eaters,” which will take place on January 12th and 19th. You can learn more about this webinar and register here.

6 comments to Bring Peace to the Family Table: Better Nutrition Will Follow

  • This is a great boost to get started eating together. I almost always plate our meals, but now I am going to try the family-style. That’s what I grew up with! Thanks for the valuable information. I am going to pass this article and this blog onto all of my customers.

  • Hey, thanks karyn! Doing what we grew up with is such a default! I too am doing many things differently, and I believe my family is happier and healthier for it! (we didn’t grow up with dessert, but I serve dessert a few times a week, my mom pre-plated, i was told when I had had “enough” which of course just made me want to eat MORE :)
    Let me know how it goes! We have great discussions on my FB page if you are interested. http://www.facebook.com/familyfeedingdynamics

  • So true. Family dinners are important in so many ways for developing healthy, responsible, well-rounded (not in the literal sense) children!

  • Family-style is definitely the way we serve in our family, but your “my plate” anecdote and blog post reminded me of a funny story.

    One evening my 6 year old literally loaded half of her plate with broccoli, which happens to be her favorite veggie. She took well over half the bowl! She proudly reported that she “learned that half her plate should be fruits or veggies.” I thought maybe she had heard something about “My Plate” at school and asked her, “Oh, did you learn that in school?”

    “No, Mommy, I learned that from you, silly!” she replied. Oops. I must have brought up the concept in dinner conversation, even though we never “push” it. We just try to have lots of options on the table. I had to explain that she could have as much broccoli as she wanted, but please save enough for the rest of the family!

  • [...] I served everything family style so the boys could be in charge of what they chose and how much they put on their plates – I’ve always done this but was reminded how helpful it can be over at Blog for Family Dinner [...]

  • [...] I served everything family style so the boys could be in charge of what they chose and how much they put on their plates – I’ve always done this but was reminded how helpful it can be over at Blog for Family Dinner [...]