The Power of Family Dinners

Bite-sized portions and just 10 more minutes at the dinner table with family can improve some kids’ diets and eating habits.

Children’s Food Consumption by Condition (i.e., regular or longer meal duration) and Food or Beverage Category (i.e., fruits and vegetables; bread, cold cuts, and dessert; and water and sugar-sweetened beverages)

Read Time: 2 minutes


When I was a kid, my family had dinner together every night. Sitting down to eat with my parents was ingrained in my daily schedule, but until recently, I didn’t understand the importance of our ritual.

Mattea Dallacker and colleagues conducted a trial to observe how the length of a family meal affected children’s fruit and vegetable intake. Each family in the study was observed eating two meals. Their first observed meal was the typical length of each family’s regular meal. During their other observed meal, the family’s mealtime was lengthened by 50%, giving them, on average, an extra 10 minutes.

The families were fed a meal of bread, cheese, meat, fruits, and vegetables. All fruits and vegetables were pre-cut into bite-sized pieces. They were offered a dessert at the end of the meal.

Children ate seven more pieces of fruit and vegetables during the longer mealtime, on average, which is roughly equal to one portion of fruits and vegetables. However, children did not eat significantly more bread, meat, or dessert during the longer meal.

The researchers suggest that extra time alone didn’t entirely account for the difference. The convenience of the fruits and vegetables, which were cut into bite-sized pieces, contributed as well. Kids didn’t eat more of the other meal components perhaps because they weren’t portioned in a way that made them easy to eat.

Most U.S. kids do not get enough daily fruits and vegetables. Nearly half of kids between 1- and 5-years-old are not eating a single daily vegetable and one-third are not eating a single daily fruit. Without enough fruits and veggies, children are at higher risk for diabetes and heart disease later in life; an additional daily portion of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiometabolic disease by 6%.

Kids can be picky, and parents know how hard it can be to have their children eat a balanced diet. Just 10 more minutes at the dinner table plus bite-sized portions can be a simple way to improve some kids’ diets and eating behaviors.

Databyte via Mattea Dallacker, Vanessa Knobl, Ralph Hertwig, and Jutta Mata. Effect of Longer Family Meals on Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Intake: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 2023.