4 Tips For Overcoming Barriers to Family Meals

By Dr. Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 9 min

Every day, families have so much to worry about. School dropoffs and pickups, practices, work deadlines, and who knows what else fill our calendars, leaving little time for anything else. That means finding time for family meals can often seem like an impossible task. Yet, the act and feeling of sharing a meal together is unmatched. It provides nourishment for the body and the soul, strengthens bonds and fosters open communication among family members.

Family meals are about more than just eating together. They're an opportunity for family members to build connections, and allow parents and children to share their day's experiences, celebrate successes, and offer support through challenges. 

Despite the clear benefits of eating together, many families struggle to make these meals a regular part of their routine due to various barriers such as mismatched schedules, meal planning complexities, and the sheer effort of cooking.

We want to offer you some practical tips to help overcome these barriers, making sure that the joy of family meals becomes a cherished part of your household’s daily life. It is our hope that you and your family rediscover the delight and simplicity of gathering around the table by addressing these common challenges head-on. Let’s explore how even the busiest families can enjoy more frequent and meaningful family meals.

About Ahimsa

Founded by a pediatrician and mom of three

Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

We are guided by a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of environmental and medical experts, guiding us in creating the safest products, following the latest science and promoting policy to protect human health and our planet

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Tip 1: Plan Ahead to Pave the Way for Family Meals

One of the biggest hurdles to regular family meals is the "what's for dinner?" conundrum that hits as everyone walks through the door, tired and hungry. Taking the time to plan your meals for the week can turn this daily stressor into a smooth, manageable part of your routine.

Start by setting aside a specific time each week—perhaps Sunday afternoons—to map out your meals. This doesn't just help with grocery shopping. This simple task also allows every family member to know what to expect and when they might need to pitch in. 

You can even involve the kids in planning, letting them pick meals for certain days. Or maybe you can set an activity for each member of your family to research a new recipe to try each week or month. This eases your load and gets them excited about dinner time.

For those days when time is really tight, consider preparing meal components in advance. Chopping vegetables, marinating proteins, or making a batch of rice can be done ahead of time to make the evening meal assembly much quicker and easier.

Beyond the simple, time-saving aspect of meal planning, research has shown it to have many health benefits as well. Meal planning can lead to a higher diet quality, greater food variety, and better adherence to nutritional guidelines. 

To keep my family's weekly meals exciting yet manageable, I like to have themed dinner nights. Doing this adds a layer of fun, but also predictability, to our weekly meal planning. 

Taco Tuesday, Wok Wednesday, and Pizza Friday are staples the kids look forward to on the weekly menu. These themed dinner nights make meal prep easier since I know what types of meals I'll be serving. But also, they allow for variations and experimentation, so we're never stuck eating the same thing. Each week, we might try different taco fillings, experiment with new stir-fry ingredients (or use whatever vegetables and protein we have on hand), or play around with pizza toppings. 

And, a weekly leftovers night allows us to clean out our refrigerator and reduce the amount of waste we contribute—a win-win for our family and the planet! 

This structured flexibility in our meal planning not only eases the stress of deciding what's for dinner but also keeps our meals exciting and diverse.

By planning your meals, you ensure that your family sits down to eat together more often and that these meals are balanced and stress-free.

Mealtime Essentials

Tip 2: Keep It Simple to Savor the Moments

Embracing simple, nutritious meals is the key to making family meals easier to achieve. Remember, the goal of family meals is to connect with each other, not to impress with complicated recipes. A simple meal that takes 30 minutes to prepare can be just as satisfying as something like an all-day pig roast. And it’s much less stressful to prepare.

Focus on wholesome ingredients and easy-to-prepare dishes that don't require long hours in the kitchen. One-pot meals, stir-fries, and salads are great options that minimize cooking and cleaning time but maximize flavor and nutrition. 

By keeping meals simple, you reduce the pressure on yourself and make the process of cooking less of a chore and more of a joyous occasion to bring the family together. This approach not only makes regular family meals more achievable but also helps cultivate a relaxed atmosphere where conversations and laughter can flow freely.

Tip 3: Involve Everyone in Meal Preparation

Let’s not kid ourselves, when we ask for help in the kitchen, we normally do so hoping to get food on the table quicker. But there’s added benefits to bringing the whole family into the kitchen—like sharing skills, responsibilities, and laughs.

When children help with meal preparation, they're more likely to eat what they've made and to appreciate the effort that goes into cooking. This involvement can make family meals more enticing and educational for everyone.

Start with small tasks, like washing vegetables or stirring batter, which can give younger children a sense of accomplishment. Older children can handle more challenging tasks, like chopping vegetables or doing the actual cooking (while supervised, of course). By including them in these activities, you help them develop valuable life skills and boost their confidence.

Involving everyone also helps accommodate different tastes and dietary needs. Does your husband not like pickles? Maybe your teenage daughter has decided to go vegan? Encourage family members to suggest meal ideas or special dishes they'd like to try or have each of them find a new recipe. This practice not only diversifies the menu but also gives everyone a personal stake in the meal, making family dinners something to look forward to.

By turning meal preparation into a collaborative family activity, you're not just preparing food—you're nurturing relationships and building a foundation of healthy eating habits and cooperative family dynamics.

Tip 4: Create a Dedicated Mealtime Schedule

Establishing a consistent mealtime schedule is important for making family meals a regular and expected part of your day. A set schedule helps manage everyone's expectations and makes sure that family members can prioritize and protect this time from other competing activities.

To start, pick days and times that work best for most family members. Remember, family mealtime doesn’t just have to happen at dinner. There are two other meals a day! Your family meal could be a lunchtime hang or breakfast on weekends when the morning rush is less frantic. 

Once these times are set, treat them as non-negotiable appointments in your family's calendar. Communicate these plans clearly and regularly to ensure that everyone understands and respects the routine.

Flexibility is also important. Life can be unpredictable, and occasionally adjusting the schedule to accommodate special circumstances can prevent stress. However, the key is maintaining the regularity of family meals as much as possible, as this consistency helps cultivate a lasting family meal tradition.

A dedicated mealtime schedule not only simplifies planning but also reinforces the importance of these gatherings, making them a cornerstone of daily family life. By prioritizing this time, you send a strong message about the value of being together and sharing not just food but also the day's experiences and stories.

Cherishing Our Time Together Through Family Meals

Embracing family meals is about creating a nurturing environment where every member feels valued and connected. By following these practical tips, you can overcome common barriers to gathering around the table. Planning ahead, keeping meals simple, involving everyone in the process, and establishing a consistent mealtime schedule are all steps that foster a deeper sense of community within your family.

As you work to make these meals a regular feature of your family life, remember that each meal is an opportunity to strengthen bonds, share love, and create lasting memories. We encourage you to start small, be patient with the process, and celebrate the successes as your family comes together in these shared moments.

We'd love to hear how these tips have helped you and your family enjoy more frequent and meaningful meals together. Share your stories and any additional tips you've found helpful in your journey to more family meals. Together, let's continue to nourish our families not just with food, but with the care, conversation, and connection that are the true ingredients of memorable family meals.

Shop Ahimsa today for plates and more. 

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

More Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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