Make mealtime family time, even if it’s only a few times each week. That’s the recommendation of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is encouraging families to use National Nutrition Month (March) as a reminder to get back to the basics when it comes to healthy eating.

“Research shows that family meals promote healthier eating – more fruits, vegetables and fiber; less fried food; and often fewer calories,” says registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Angela Ginn. “Family meals do much more than put healthy food on the table. Beyond preparing the meal itself, we sometimes forget that mealtimes offer time to talk, listen and build family relationships. And it’s a chance for parents to be good role models for healthful eating.”

Ginn offers ideas for adding more family meals to any family’s routine:

  • Start slowly. Consider how many meals you eat as a family now, and add one more to your weekly schedule. If school nights are too hectic for a family dinner, make it a leisurely weekend breakfast or lunch. After a few weeks, add another family meal to your schedule.
  • Plan tasty menus together. Putting together a family meal does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. Let every member of the family choose a favorite item and build simple, delicious meals around them. Even small children can pick a main dish like tacos or pasta, a vegetable like a green salad or cooked carrots and sliced apples or fruit salad for dessert.
  • Set the right mood. Food is just one important part of mealtime. Your table setting can improve the mealtime mood with very little expense: a candle, colored napkins and wipe-clean plastic tablemats for children.
  • Talk! The conversations families have while eating together have a huge impact, as you share experiences and ideas, and pass along family values. Pick topics that are positive and allow everyone to talk. Even toddlers like to discuss topics like ‘What is your favorite color?’ or ‘What made you laugh today?’
  • Turn off the TV, phones and anything else that makes noise. They create distractions that can throw off any family’s mealtime routine. Declare mealtime a TV- and phone-free zone, except for emergencies, of course. Instead, put on some background music, played at low volume, to add a relaxing atmosphere.

No matter your children’s ages, parents and caregivers can find countless resources and a wide range of information about eating right – all backed by the unequalled expertise of nutrition professionals like registered dietitian nutritionists – at Kids Eat Right, a joint initiative of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Academy’s Foundation.