How to make the most out of family mealtime

Family Meals: 8 ways to make the most out of family mealtime and why it matters.

GenPsych HEAL-Healthy Eating & Living December 2017

Family mealtime and healthy eating.

Teens are 35% less likely to develop an eating disorder if there is a shared family meal at least five times a week. Family meals have been shown to reduce stress, increase children’s food choices, decrease use of drugs, alcohol and other substance use in adolescents and improve grades. Meals at home can be better for your budget and promotes healthier food choices overall. The following valuable tips can create a nurturing environment for all involved in the recovery process.

1. SET THE TABLE: Take a few minutes to set the table. Some nice placemats and decorations can help make the meal a pleasant experience. Try to have everything on the table so there won’t be too many interruptions. Everyone should be seated, including parents. Set an example that meals deserve your time. 

2. NEUTRAL ZONE: Never discuss important topics during a meal. For example; grades, homework, food choices, weight, discipline, criticism. Attempt to keep the meals neutral and enjoyable, set another time for serious discussions. 

3. PLAY A GAME: Games are neutral and fun. Word games, riddles, etc. If you don’t have a game, you can use topic sticks (Popsicle sticks with questions) asking general questions, like what is your favorite movie, etc.  Check out:

4. BE ON TIME: Again, setting an example for the family or commit to yourself to a set meal time, which may change a little from day to day. Meals are a priority during recovery, not an afterthought. 

5. SHARE THE WORK: Ask or assign a helper nightly. Sharing the responsibility of meal preparation, setting or clearing the table is more time together and the chance for an individual to contribute. Even though there may be some grumbling, selfless acts feel good.  

6. PREP WORK: Specifically cooking together can be helpful in recovery from an eating disorder. Seeing how things are prepared, learning portions may help decrease distortions around food. A guardian may want to check with the treatment team on an individual’s preparedness to participate. 

7. COLLABORATION: Discuss meal ahead of time, preplan dinner five days to a week at a time. Lunches should be packed at night; even breakfast can be set up, depending on schedules. Everyone has different needs when it comes to organization. Generally, as a rule, more is better in early recovery or following a setback or relapse. The structure can be tapered back after good habits have taken hold. Preplanning also helps an individual review the plan with their nutritionist, if needed. 

8. INVOLVE EVERYONE: When possible, meals should not just focus on the person in recovery, this puts a spotlight on them and may increase paranoia and fear. Ask everyone to be part of the family meals. Ask for everyone’s input; maybe each person picks a meal one night of the week. Slight adjustments can be made for preferences, though try not to over accommodate the eating disorder. 

GenPsych’s Healthy Eating And Living (HEAL) Program will help you break free from the debilitating rules and obsessions of disordered eating and thinking so that you can have a more peaceful relationship with food, your body, and your life.

Further Reading:

Family mealtime and healthy eating