Q: I know that having family meals is beneficial, but what if my family can't always eat dinner together?
A: These days, it's rare for any family to be able to eat every meal together. In reality, it's not the number of meals that matters so much as making a point to do it on some sort of a regular basis—even if it's just a few times a week—and ensuring that those you do have are an enjoyable, shared experience.
If your child gets hungry before the rest of the family can gather for dinner, try feeding her half of her meal and saving the rest for when everyone else can sit down. That way, she won't go hungry and will still benefit from the sense of a common meal. Remember, during family meals, your child is learning about everything from table manners and good nutrition to communication and social interaction.
Also, the meal you enjoy together doesn't have to be dinner. Some families find it more convenient to make breakfast the time when everyone comes together. The key is that the meal be an unhurried, sit-down affair with plenty of conversation. It's not the same if Dad is focused on his smartphone and Mom is munching a granola bar while frantically packing lunches.
Gary C. Morchower, MD, pediatrician and author of The 1001 Healthy Baby Answers: Pediatricians' Answers to All the Questions You Didn't Know to Ask