Fun Ways to Get the Family to Eat Meals Together (and Like It)

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5 minutes



After a long workday, getting the kids to their after-school activities, running errands and doing household chores, grabbing dinner on the go may seem like the best alternative for everybody. Having a “family meal” may seem like one big additional chore near the end of the day, but the time together is worth it.

Research shows children who regularly eat dinner with their parents are less likely to have behavioral or health problems as they grow older. #FamilyGoals

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens who dine with their families five to seven times each week are four times less likely to smoke, 2 ½ times less likely to use marijuana and half as likely to drink alcohol compared with teens who eat dinner with their parents two times or less per week.

This and similar studies show that the act of dining together – and, relatedly, having the opportunity to talk with and listen to one another – enables kids and their parents to strengthen their bond and to uncover problems or concerns that might otherwise go undetected. That’s the good news.

This and similar studies show that the act of dining together – and, relatedly, having the opportunity to talk with and listen to one another – enables kids and their parents to strengthen their bond and to uncover problems or concerns that might otherwise go undetected. That’s the good news.

The bad news is … you still have to plan, prepare and clean up after a meal. Here are a few tips for making cooking and mealtime a fun, inclusive and engaging family experience.

Mother and daughter prepping food together

Getting Ready for a Family Meal: Assign Everyone a Task

To make mealtime more meaningful (and fun), get everyone involved. Get a dry erase board or put a blank piece of paper on the refrigerator and list common tasks for planning, preparing and cleaning up after a meal. You don’t have to do it for every meal; maybe once or twice a week, so there’s plenty of time to mentally prepare.

The assignments could include:

  • Menu – based on a list of everyone’s favorites, perhaps? Are there any family recipes handed down from previous generations? Or try these 30 Easy Family Dinner Ideas.
  • Ingredients – it may involve a pantry/refrigerator search or trip to the supermarket but list out what you need with the kids. You can even give each shopper a few items to pick up to make the trip even more time-saving.
  • Cooking – unless you’re a chef in training, there’s no need to go overboard. A basic meal, prepared simply, is just fine. Assign different tasks to each member of the family so it’s a combined effort. Grilling for dad; sides and salad for Mom; drinks and dessert for the kids.
  • Clean-up – OK, not likely anyone’s favorite chore. But somebody’s got to do it. Again, assign roles like dishwasher, dish dryer, counter wiper, and food scrapper. Keep Scott® Paper Towels on hand for efficient cleaning, even during the cooking process, so your family can get back to more fun, family moments such as eating the meal!

Make sure everyone has a task (for small families, give adults multiple tasks, as needed; for larger families, you can have more than one person assigned to a task). Don’t play favorites; every family member should have the opportunity (or bear the burden) of tackling every task over time.


5 kids playing on their phones against the window

No Distractions: Family Meals Are Just That … for Family

Your tweens and teens may not like it, but you need to set a few ground rules in order to get the most out of mealtime. These may be the most painful for all participants to obey:

  • No smartphones or gaming devices at the table
  • All TVs and music turned off
  • You have to try at least one bite of everything
  • Conversation is required

So, you’re just going to eat? Yes, but there’s more you can do. You can actually … talk to each other.  And you can even make a game out of it.

Type up some open-ended questions that anyone can answer, print them out, cut out each question and fold the paper in half, then place each in a bowl or Mason jar. Throughout dinner, each family member – babies excluded – must pick a question and answer it. (“I don’t know” is not a valid answer).

You may be surprised – perhaps even pleasantly – by the answers shared and the conversations that can be ignited from questions like these:

  • What is one way you helped someone today?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • If you could only eat one food for a week, what would it be – and why?
  • What was the best part of your day? What was the worst part of your day (the answer had better not be “dinner”)?
  • Where would you like to go on vacation?
  • What are some of your favorite hobbies? If some of the kids don’t have any hobbies at the moment, we have some ideas for them like making paper mache.

Need some ideas for questions? Click here or here

Don’t Let the Family Meal Get Stale

Like everything else in life, the family meal can get boring after a while. So, mix things up to keep it fresh and ensure it’s something everyone enjoys. Consider trying these options, periodically, especially on days when there aren’t a lot of other activities planned:

  • Theme dinners – Ask everyone to take on the personality of their favorite celebrity. Who wouldn’t want to dine with Lady Gaga and Harry Styles at the table?
  • New locations – How about a picnic on the living room floor? Or, if the weather’s nice, outside on the lawn?
  • Mystery guest – Ask a family friend or relative to be your “surprise” guest for the night; that person could also be the one to choose the menu or be the assistant chef.

No matter how you do it, the idea is to get everyone together, slow down a bit and enjoy one another’s company. The meal is just a convenient excuse; the real goal is to have quality family time.

Do you have any tips or tricks for making family meals special? Please build on the ideas we’ve listed, or share your own, via social media channels. Remember to use the tag #KeepLifeRolling.


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