Family Dinners and Teens

Family meals help adolescents develop healthy long-term eating habits.

By Megan Othersen Gorman

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Here’s what you can do to gather your family around the dinner table:

1. Make a formal plan

Don’t let family dinners be ad hoc events that nobody makes time for. Check everyone’s schedules, mark the calendar, and be clear that attendance is required. That goes for the adults in the family, too; you’ll have to set an example if you want everyone to be on board.

2. Clear the deck

In most families, the kitchen tabletop accumulates reams of paper—incoming mail, homework, bills—over the course of an average day (or week, or month, or however long it’s been since the table was actually used for eating). Accumulate clutter elsewhere—invest in an extra desk or filing cabinet, if needed—or make a point to remove the detritus on a daily basis. When people see there’s actually a table under there, the goal of sitting down for dinner suddenly seems more realistic.

3. Cut your prep time

If time is tight, bring home precut, frozen, canned, or microwave-in-the-bag vegetables for fast food that’s also healthful. Buy frozen ravioli and low-fat spaghetti sauce, and serve it with a precut salad. Or use a slow cooker; stock it before you leave for work, and when you get home the meal will be ready.

4. Make it a group effort

Enlist your kids to help you set the table, prepare the food, serve it, then straighten up. Have them research and suggest recipes to try (the Rodale Recipe Finder is a good place to start). Involving them in the process means lighter work for you, of course, but it also gives them some ownership over (and responsibility for) the family ritual.

5. Delete distractions

The point isn’t simply to control the food your adolescent takes in, it’s also to stress the importance of eating mindfully (or, with full attention to what you put in your body). To that end, establish a communication blackout (except for conversation). No TV, no cell phones, no texting, no handhelds of any kind (and that goes for you as well as them, of course).

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