Reclaim the Dinner Table – Meal Planning Strategies

Whether it’s at dinner, breakfast, or a snack, eating together for 20 minutes three to five times a week can help you receive the many positive benefits of family mealtime. These benefits range from fewer behavior problems to higher academic achievement1. With a little planning, we can help you reclaim the dinner table to make time for you and your family despite having hectic schedules.

1. Set a goal but be flexible.

Research highlights that to reap the benefits of family meals, families need to eat together at least three times a week, with greater benefits the more often they eat together 1,2. Start with this goal in mind but be flexible.
If dinner is not a time that works well for your family to meet, try breakfast on the weekends or an after school snack. The time you eat is not as important as the time you spend together.

2. Build a Schedule.

Schedule your meals for the week— this will let everyone know what to look forward to and removes
the “what are we going to eat” pressure after a long day. Keep a running grocery list and tally of pantry staples that need to be picked up to ensure you have everything for the meal. Helpful staples to keep on hand include whole grain pasta and rice, canned or frozen vegetables, and convenient protein items such as canned beans, tuna, or chicken.

3. Get everyone involved.

Get the whole family involved with the meal planning process. Not only does this remove the stress from any one person trying to plan out the week, but it builds up overall family engagement. Kids, and adults, are more likely to try new foods or to be present for the meal when they’re involved in the planning process3.

4. Make it Fun.

Mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for families to connect and share a positive experience together. Spread a bright table cloth or set out colorful dishes to make the meal more fun. Tell jokes, talk about highlights of everyone’s day or week, or discuss a favorite television show. This time should be positive and free of screens to avoid extra distractions.


  1. Meal Planning: Benefits & How To’s of Family Dinners. American Heart Association website. NutritionCenter/SimpleCookingwithHeart/Meal-Planning-Benefits-How-Tos- of-Family-Dinners_UCM_445152_Article.jsp. Updated February 11, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2015.
  2. Utter, J., Denny, S., Robinson, E., Fleming, T., Ameratunga, S., Grant, S. Family Meals and the Well-Being of Adolescents. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2013;49(11):906-911. Doi: 10.1111/jpc.12428
  3. Plan a Healthy Meal. Let’s Move website. plan-healthy-meal. Accessed May 8, 2015.

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