My daughter was playing at our neighbor’s house in the afternoon, and I popped in to see how things were going. My neighbor invited me in to drink some tea and then went back to her preparations for dinner. It was around 5 o’clock, and she was preparing a soup. It seemed like she was putting in every vegetable that she had in the fridge: squash, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, celery and more. Once she put the pot up to boil, she started making a salad. Wow, I never prepare so much variety for dinner, I thought. Maybe tonight I’ll try to make an extra dish. Once the salad was dressed and tossed, sheI found myself inspired to make a nice dinner started putting cheeses on the table and taking out bread. I was getting hungry just watching the variety of food she was putting out.

When we got home, I found myself suddenly inspired to make a nice dinner as well. Even though my husband would be getting home late and not eating with us, I put in extra effort. I chopped and dressed a salad, warmed up a soup I had in the fridge, made an omelet, put some hummus on the table, and took out some bread. My daughter and I enjoyed all the variety on the table, and we had a very pleasant meal together.

Usually, just before teeth-brushing, my daughter starts to whine, “I’m still hungry ... can I have two biscuits?” But this night, she did not make a peep. She willingly brushed her teeth and got into bed. It was the breakthrough I was waiting for! She was finally satisfied by our meal together.

Here are some tips for planning a meal that your entire family will enjoy:

  • Include all of the basic food groups—protein and/or dairy, grain/cereal, vegetable/fruit
  • Always include bread (most people can eat bread if all else fails)
  • Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods
  • Round out your meals with spreads, sauces and dessert
  • Let everyone choose from what is placed on the table

I know these tips sound basic, but surveys show that today, structured meals and snacks are becoming less and less common. A significant portion of a person’s daily calories are now attributed to grazing—frequently eating small amounts of food at irregular or unstructured times, often in association with other activities.1

Why are family meals so important? Research shows that, for adults, meals support healthy eating, maintaining a desirable body weight and other positive health indicators. Additionally, children and adolescents who participate in regular family meals do better in all areas—nutritionally, academically, socially andWhy are family meals so important? emotionally. They are less likely to be overweight, to have eating disorders, or to engage in drug abuse and other destructive behaviors.2

Family meals are of central importance in Judaism as well. There are many laws pertaining to our conduct during a meal, such as that the table should be clean and properly covered, words of Torah should be shared at the table, and blessings should be recited over food before and after we eat.3 The table a person eats at is given special importance, even likened to the altar in the Holy Temple. According to Chassidism, “A person’s table merits him to a portion in the World to Come, to livelihood, to a good name in heaven, and to additional strength and courage when he needs it.”4

Why are all these merits associated with a person’s dining table? Why are so many positive outcomes associated with family meals? Family meals provide us with so much more than just nutritional sustenance. They represent a time to meet and share our lives with family and friends, to give and receive emotional support, and to inspire and be inspired. Not only are we able to better take care of our family’s nutritional needs when we prepare well-rounded meals, it enables us to make time for the things that really matter. With a little bit of planning and effort, all families can reap the rewards of shared, complete meals.