How to make the most out of family mealtime

Family Meals: 8 ways to make the most out of family mealtime and why it matters.

GenPsych HEAL-Healthy Eating & Living December 2017

Family mealtime and healthy eating.

Teens are 35% less likely to develop an eating disorder if there is a shared family meal at least five times a week. Family meals have been shown to reduce stress, increase children’s food choices, decrease use of drugs, alcohol and other substance use in adolescents and improve grades. Meals at home can be better for your budget and promotes healthier food choices overall. The following valuable tips can create a nurturing environment for all involved in the recovery process.Healthy eating

1. SET THE TABLE: Take a few minutes to set the table. Some nice placemats and decorations can help make the meal a pleasant experience. Try to have everything on the table so there won’t be too many interruptions. Everyone should be seated, including parents. Set an example that meals deserve your time. 

2. NEUTRAL ZONE: Never discuss important topics during a meal. For example; grades, homework, food choices, weight, discipline, criticism. Attempt to keep the meals neutral and enjoyable, set another time for serious discussions. 

3. PLAY A GAME: Games are neutral and fun. Word games, riddles, etc. If you don’t have a game, you can use topic sticks (Popsicle sticks with questions) asking general questions, like what is your favorite movie, etc.  Check out:

4. BE ON TIME: Again, setting an example for the family or commit to yourself to a set meal time, which may change a little from day to day. Meals are a priority during recovery, not an afterthought. 

5. SHARE THE WORK: Ask or assign a helper nightly. Sharing the responsibility of meal preparation, setting or clearing the table is more time together and the chance for an individual to contribute. Even though there may be some grumbling, selfless acts feel good.  

6. PREP WORK: Specifically cooking together can be helpful in recovery from an eating disorder. Seeing how things are prepared, learning portions may help decrease distortions around food. A guardian may want to check with the treatment team on an individual’s preparedness to participate. 

7. COLLABORATION: Discuss meal ahead of time, preplan dinner five days to a week at a time. Lunches should be packed at night; even breakfast can be set up, depending on schedules. Everyone has different needs when it comes to organization. Generally, as a rule, more is better in early recovery or following a setback or relapse. The structure can be tapered back after good habits have taken hold. Preplanning also helps an individual review the plan with their nutritionist, if needed. 

8. INVOLVE EVERYONE: When possible, meals should not just focus on the person in recovery, this puts a spotlight on them and may increase paranoia and fear. Ask everyone to be part of the family meals. Ask for everyone’s input; maybe each person picks a meal one night of the week. Slight adjustments can be made for preferences, though try not to over accommodate the eating disorder. 


GenPsych’s Healthy Eating And Living (HEAL) Program will help you break free from the debilitating rules and obsessions of disordered eating and thinking so that you can have a more peaceful relationship with food, your body, and your life.

Further Reading:

Family mealtime and healthy eating

Eating Disorder Programs

Emotional & Compulsive Eating skills and strategies


Michelle Dougherty RD

Eating Disorders Nutritionist

Most individuals I counsel engage in emotional eating. Emotional and compulsive/binge eating is primarily fueled by our thoughts and feelings; however, there are skills that are nutritionally based that will help. The following is a list of 10 nutritional skills for combating emotional eating.

Eating Disorders logo an Apple


1. EAT BASED ON YOUR CURRENT HUNGER AND NEEDS. Avoid the temptation to over analyze your food. Avoid making choices based on what you previously ate or how you plan to eat. Make reasonable choices to be satisfied in the moment, often overeating is a consequence of under eating, attempts at “perfect” that result in judging ourselves and our food. “Fixing” the last meal or binge doesn’t work, forgive, forget, move on…

2. EAT WHAT YOU WANT IN FRONT OF OTHERS. Hiding foods or eating certain foods only when alone occurs when we feel ashamed or embarrassed about our food. No one should be judging your food, least of all you. This produces behaviors of eating that include hoarding, isolation, bingeing along with feelings of shame and guilt. Portion control and eating honestly in full view of others will deflate these behaviors.

3. AVOID MAKING EXCUSES FOR YOUR FOOD OR YOUR WEIGHT. Stop promising “I’ll eat better tomorrow” or “I don’t usually eat this” Verbalizing diet mentality, reinforces the attitude that dieting is good and you are “good” if your diet, “bad” if you don’t.  Replace diet mentality with positive thoughts, such as…”I am a great gardener, lawyer or friend”.

4. STAY ON SCHEDULE. Be consistent with your meal times, no exceptions. A baby cries when it is hungry. You may not break down in tears, but eating is not optional. You may not be sensitive to hunger cues, therefore, a regular pattern of eating is your first line of defense against bingeing. Focus on the PROCESS of normal eating with consistent times.

5. WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE SATISFIED NOT JUST FULL. Eat what you want. If you fill up on carrots, you probably won’t be satisfied. Balance out your choices. Consider the food groups and portion control. Examples include; less carrots dipped in hummus, or an apple with peanut butter can prevent overeating later.

6. DESSERT WITH DINNER. Plan to have dessert, no rules, no bargains or limits, fit them into your meal plan. When your goal is to end binge/compulsive eating, elimination of desserts and favorite foods won’t work. Suggestions for not bingeing include; having dessert with dinner, don’t wait until you are really hungry later, you are more likely to binge/overeat. A nighttime snack might be more manageable if it is not a “trigger food”.

7. ORDER DESSERT WITH OTHERS. This is a great opportunity to enjoy a dessert with less opportunity to binge. Practice portion control with dinner and save room for dessert. You may also have dessert a little time later while still in the company of others, plan an activity after dessert for distraction, in the event negative thoughts and urges surface.

8. SELF ANALYSIS. When you journal, record urges or behaviors, recall what preceded the event and consider what can be changed. It might be simple; walking in the front door instead of the kitchen after work. Or involve more planning; packing lunches at night. Awareness is part of the process, regret and remorse focus on the problem. Become active in the process.

9. BE MINDFUL OF MINDLESS EATING.  Meals are meals, no question. When it comes to snack times or non-scheduled eating times, quickly scan your motives, emotions, and physical hunger. If you are not really hungry, ask why you want to eat. Is there something else you could do instead, do that.  Check back on hunger in 30 minutes. 

10. KEEP A LIST OF SKILLS; ALTERNATIVE S TO MINDLESS EATING. Write in your journal, see if you can identify the feelings; anger, resentment, loneliness, or anxiety. Create a list that matches feelings with alternate actions; anxiety= bubble bath, painting your nails, coloring. Loneliness = call a friend, meet for coffee, online support group, tired = go to bed!  Resentment = go for a walk, journal,  yoga or meditation tape/class. Additional suggestions; organize a junk drawer, scrapbook, knit or read. 

Further Reading

Eating Disorder Treatment NJ

Eating Disorder Treatment NJ | GenPsych, PC — Brick & Bridgewater NJ

Appointments: (855) 436-7792 | Request Form

Learn more about eating disorder treatment NJ here. All major private insurances accepted.

Millions of Americans struggle with eating disorders, but very few receive the professional help they need to overcome these debilitating and potentially fatal disorders.

Did you know?

  • More than nine percent of Americans struggle with an eating disorder.
  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect .9 and 1.5% of women, respectively.
  • Binge eating disorder affects nearly three percent of all adults in the US.
  • Eating disorders are more fatal than any other psychiatric illness. Without treatment, as many as one in five individuals with an eating disorder will die.
  • Only one in 10 people with an eating disorder receive treatment.

Statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Read more statistics here.

Eating Disorder Treatment NJ — The HEAL Program

GenPsych’s Healthy Eating And Living (HEAL) Program offers premier Partial Care (PC) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) for eating disorders in Bridgewater, Brick, and Lawrenceville, NJ.

Who is the program for?

GenPsych treats both adolescents (13+) and adults* who are struggling with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders NOS (not otherwise specified). Our clients may be stepping down from an inpatient level of care, or taking the first steps in their recovery.

*Our Lawrenceville program is for adults only.

Who is involved in treatment?

Our clients meet with licensed psychiatrists, licensed professional counselors, social workers, dietitians, and other related professionals during treatment. Other mental health and substance abuse professionals are available for those coping with co-occurring disorders.

We work closely with other supportive services, such as primary care physicians, behavioral healthcare providers, employers, schools, and family members as needed to ensure a continuity of care.

What can clients expect from treatment?

Clients in our Partial Care Program will attend program five days per week (Monday through Friday) for 6.5 hours each day. During their day, they will have two group monitored meals.

Clients in our Intensive Outpatient Program will attend program three days per week (morning and evening times available depending upon day and location– read more here) for 3.5 hours each day. During their day, they will have one group monitored meal.

We offer:

  • Initial comprehensive psychiatric evaluation
  • Daily meal planning and supervision
  • Daily vitals and weight monitoring with a registered dietitian
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Multi-family groups*
  • Medication management
  • Aftercare planning and psychiatric referrals
  • Transportation accommodations available as needed

*Our Multi-Family Group is available to family members and caregivers. We provide them with the opportunity to participate in a session with the client and learn the skills necessary to help them with their recovery at home.

How can I schedule an appointment?

If you’re ready to schedule an appointment, you can call our admissions line at (855) 436-7792 or fill out an appointment request form here.

Our admissions specialists are able to run your insurance* to ensure coverage, and will schedule you for an initial evaluation with a psychiatrist, who will determine the best course of action for treatment.

*We accept all major private insurances.

Learn more about our eating disorder treatment NJ here.