How to make family mealtime a quality time

Tips from parenting experts and savvy families:

If family dinner is missed, find other times when the family can connect. Weekend breakfasts and/or lunches, especially on Sundays, often work well.

Most families have occasional scheduling conflicts at dinnertime. Don't feel guilty if you can't eat together every night. But do aim for three or four nights a week if possible.

Try to establish a ritual of eating together when your children are young. Then they will be less likely to balk about this time when they get older.

A child's values are 85 percent formed by age 8, experts say. Make the most of family dinnertime to instill important values in them before this age.

Try the European approach: Serve dinner in courses. This takes some of the burden off the cook to prepare everything at once and stretches out mealtime.

Get everyone involved in meal preparation. Even a 3-year-old can tear lettuce leaves. Assign tasks (cooking, table setting, cleanup) to teams, which promotes parent-child interaction.

Don't arrive at the table with an agenda. Instead, keep conversation loose. Topics could include personal news of the day, current events, school assignments, friendships at work or school, or family plans. Be alert to teachable moments, such as a lesson on sportsmanship drawn from an athlete in the news.

It's OK for parents to have conversations between them, but they should choose topics that allow kids to join in.

Give everyone a chance to talk, ask questions, and listen to one another.

Avoid questions like "How was your day?" which might get a one-word response. Instead, ask open-ended questions such as, "What happened that was funny today?"

Turn the TV off, and don't answer the phone. They distract from the main purpose of sitting down together - to connect with and support one another, and engage in quality conversation.

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