N. Leigh Dunlap

Quick – when is your family most likely to be together for half an hour or more?

If you answered dinnertime, you may have dessert.

While the single best way to ensure that your kids eat healthfully is to provide healthy foods and limit their access to the bad stuff, being involved in meals as a family is one of the most effective ways to make healthy eating a lifetime habit. Long term studies have shown that kids whose families regularly eat meals together not only eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they are also more likely to avoid junk food, alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

First off, get the kids into the kitchen. Kids who share meal prep with their parents benefit in a variety of ways: they have time with a parent or parents, they learn to appreciate the effort that goes into a meal, they develop an idea of what constitutes a healthy diet and they acquire skills that will serve them throughout life. This doesn’t have to involve much more that some washing or peeling -- need to crush some garlic or grate some cheese? There you go. Younger kids can shell peas, stir a sauce or try their hand at measuring ingredients.

Second, eat together as often and as regularly as possible. Kids value the predictability and comfort of the mealtime ritual. Even teens use mealtime as a chance to stay connected provided the time isn’t used for arguments or lectures.. If busy schedules don’t permit a nightly gathering a la “Father Knows Best,” try making Saturday morning breakfast or Sunday brunch your regular family meal. Just making the effort can have a big impact on good nutrition.”


Challenge your family to try one new food each week – whether it’s a new dish or just an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. Assign points for most bites, best “yucky” face, best description or most creative tasting technique. Just remember, you have to try it too.