March has come and almost gone, which means more daylight, warmer weather, and if you’re a nutrition professional, it’s the month to celebrate all things nutrition (cue confetti)! National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to raise awareness about ways to establish healthy eating habits. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table.” As a registered dietitian and a mom, I believe that what happens during a meal is just as important as the meal itself. According to research, some benefits may last far beyond the table.1,2,3

The amount of time families spend gathered around the table has declined in the last thirty years.3 Prioritizing family meals is now recognized as a simple way to improve overall well-being, with research on the benefits of family meals — from physical health to overall wellness — growing by the day.3,1. The data reveals a positive association between family meals and connectedness, communication, and a way to maximize nutrition and model important behaviors.1,3

Connectedness and Communication

Seventy percent of those eating or cooking family meals together report feeling more connected.1 Connecting during a meal allows time to talk about the day, take a break from busy schedules and unplug from devices. These moments of connection promote a sense of belonging across all age groups.

Try these tips to connect over your next meal:

  1. Connect while you cook. Connection isn’t just for eating; ask for help in the kitchen as you prepare dinner. From setting the table to cleaning up after, there are benefits for everyone when mealtime is a family affair.
  2. Unplug. Go screenless at the table. No television, tablets or phones. Just two main ingredients: food and family.
  3. Make conversation. Try a “gratitude circle” and ask everyone to share something positive from their day or assign a “questioner” for the meal whose job is to come up with new questions when conversation stops. You can also search online or make up your own conversation starters.
  4. Eat somewhere new. Toss a blanket on the living room floor, plan a picnic on the back porch or pack up lunch and head to the park. A change of scenery might be fun, especially for kids!

Maximize Nutrition and Model Behaviors

Some studies show a positive association between the frequency of shared meals and healthier eating habits.1,2,3 From encouraging more fruits and vegetables to reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, family meals may help maximize nutrient quality in children and adolescents.2 As parents we have a unique ability to not only model a healthy relationship with food but also to teach important life skills.

To maximize your modeling skills, try these tips:

  1. Use MyPlate to plan meals and help make every bite count. MyPlate teaches meal planning by using foods from every food group. Tap into your five senses and have family members take turns describing their favorite color, feel, or flavor of dinner favorites and take turns picking out (or vote on) a new food or recipe to try.
  2. Serve meals family style. This allows everyone to choose what and how much they want on their plates (think mindful eating) and is a great way to work on motor skills and manners (passing dishes, saying please and thanks and taking turns.)
  3. Use mealtimes to work on listening skills and table manners. When my daughter was in elementary school, I implemented “Manners Monday” where we set the table, used fancy napkins, and worked on basic table manners every Monday. She even turned it into a game to see who would be the first to mess up!
  4. Assign chores. From mini sous-chef to dishwasher (or dishwasher loader), there are plenty of age-appropriate chores to help kids get more confident in the kitchen. These are life skills that will stay with them forever.

Family meals offer a variety of ways to connect, model behaviors and influence food choices. If weeknights are too hectic for your family, try a weekend meal instead. The most important thing is to find what works for you. In a world where we are more connected than ever, take this opportunity to connect with those right in front of you. These moments have the potential to stay with you and your loved ones far beyond the table.


  1. Family Meals Movement. Accessed March 6, 2024.
  2. Robson, S. M., PhD, MPH, RD, McCullough, M. B., PhD, Rex, S., MS, Munafo, M. R., PhD, & Taylor, G., PhD (2020). Family Meal Frequency, Diet, and Family Functioning: A Systematic Review With Meta-analyses. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 52(5), 553-564.  
  3. The Benefits of the Family Table.  Accessed March 6, 2024.
Sr. Food Scientist, Nutrition Team at

Monica Stewart, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian employed by Tyson Foods, Inc. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Springdale Coordinated School Health Committee, a member of the Kids Eat Right campaign and was awarded a mini-grant from the Kids Eat Right program to help raise awareness around hunger in her community.

Monica completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Arkansas. Her master’s research focused on food insecure children in Haiti and she has worked closely with, an organization that helps provide animal protein to impoverished children around the world.