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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What do people value most about eating meals with others?

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

large family group eating dinner around a table

For many years, when I presented about family meals, I collected feedback from my audiences about their experiences with and beliefs about family meals. One question on my survey asked:

“Why do you think people value mealtime?”

This question was open-ended; no multiple-choice prompts were given. No matter who was in the audience – students, parents, community members, teachers, health professionals – between 90-100% of the responses were as follows:

  • Time with family

  • Reconnect with loved ones

  • Bonding

  • Family togetherness

  • Communication among family members

  • Learn about one another’s lives

  • Builds relationships

Even when my audience was nutrition professionals whose job was to improve the nutritional well-being of families, the answer was not about food intake or improved nutrition but about the importance of connecting with family.

People value family togetherness

Equipped with this knowledge, that a desire for building close family relationships was valued most by all audiences, promoting this benefit became the primary motivator in family meal messaging. After all, other benefits are strongly associated with families creating and maintaining the routine of eating together.

Consider that the association of family meals with improved grades is related to the conversations that occur at family meals. Children learn words, build language skills, learn the give and take of conversation, learn how to ask and answer questions, and discuss topics that broaden their knowledge and worldview.

Eating together may also prompt the routine of reading and doing homework ("Have you finished your homework?"). Family meals also provide an opportunity for children to ask parents questions about topics that are confusing at school and for families to problem-solve situations that are potentially affecting schoolwork.

Consider that the association of family meals to a reduced risk of substance use and suicidal thoughts can be related to the feeling of security children and teens feel when they trust their parents to provide regular meals and demonstrate an interest in their lives.

Consider that the association of family meals to improved nutrition is due to not only a wider variety of foods served when families eat together, but the potential for parents and other family members to role model healthy eating.

Promoting the benefits of family meals with a focus on what people value most, led to the creation of several promotional slogans:

Make Mealtime Family Time

This slogan was the focus of educational classes and brochures we developed for families in WIC and SNAP-Ed and similar programs. Find the "Let's Talk About Mealtime" handout here.

Family Meals Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S

S - Smarter children…

U - Unlikely to smoke, drink, or take drugs…

C - Courteous and conversational…

C - Connected to family… and

E - Eating better! Because… at family meals

S - Sharing food and conversation

S - Strengthens families!!

In honor of Family Meals Month, celebrated every September, we will focus this month on what makes sharing meals with others something worth celebrating. In upcoming blogs, we will explore how family meals are enjoyed in various cultures around the world, how to enhance conversation at meals, ways to overcome common barriers, and, provide an update on family meal research.

Check out previous posts on family/shared meals:

Looking for ways to promote family meals? I have lots of free resources!

“The table is where we mark milestones, divulge dreams, bury hatchets, make deals, give thanks, plan vacations, and tell jokes. It’s also where children learn the lessons that families teach: manners, cooperation, communication, self-control, values. Following directions. Sitting still. Taking turns. It’s where we make up and make merry. It’s where we live, between bites.” ~ Doris Christopher, in Come to the Table

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