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Make sure each family member knows the days and times they are expected at the table so that they can avoid schedule conflicts. Meals do not need to be dinners; weekend breakfasts or lunches are alternatives for families with busy evening schedules.
Family meals are much more beneficial if the TV and telephone ringer are turned off. Parents should initiate conversations and ask their children about their school day, or pose hypothetical questions such as which famous person they would like to meet, or how they would spend a particular amount of money. Children can also be assigned the task of coming up with questions of their own. Even infants can sit at the dinner table and benefit from the family conversation.
A Balanced Diet
More important than having a lavish meal that takes hours to prepare is having a nutritious and balanced meal. Frozen vegetables make a quick side dish or addition to pasta sauces and casseroles. Add beans to just about anything that needs more protein. Substitute whole grain pasta or flour for white to help increase fiber content. Eat fruit for dessert. Each meal does not always need to be completely balanced, but the overall weekly trend should be toward getting a balance of fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, dairy and fats.
Children will be more invested in family meal times if they are a part of the process of planning and preparing. Put each child on dinner duty at least once per week to help plan the menu, prepare the meal, set the table and clean up afterward. This gives children the chance to eat foods they like and teaches them the importance of nutrition as they work with parents to make balanced and healthy meals.