Healthy Behavioral Development Starts at the Dinner Table


Strengthening family bonds through shared meals can increase children’s sense of connectedness and protect them from various risk factors, such as substance abuse and depression. A Kentucky project is taking a unique approach to promote connectedness at the dinner table and bring family members together.

A family of four people sits around a kitchen table

December 18, 2019

Rising rates of certain health risk behaviors and mental health concerns in young people have prompted many communities to respond in innovative ways. Studies demonstrate that a child’s sense of being cared for and supported by family, or connectedness, is a powerful and protective factor. Connectedness can promote healthy development during a child’s crucial formative years while reducing the likelihood of negative health outcomes related to alcohol and substance use, sexual risk, violence, and mental health problems.

Armed with this knowledge, The Commonwealth of Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services promotes a simple and effective approach that enables families to harness the protective power of connectedness—family dinner.

The aptly named Dinner Table Project was created in 2015 to encourage families to have a regular sit-down dinner to eat, converse, and strengthen their bond on a consistent basis. The program provides resources such as a monthly newsletter for parents that includes conversation starters, healthy recipes, education tools, and fun dinner table games that can bring the family together. This quality time and communication at dinner can foster positive emotion in children and build their self-esteem. The sense of connectedness that is formed increases protective factors that safeguard young people from engaging in harmful behaviors while lowering such risks as depression, teen pregnancy, and eating disorders.

The Dinner Table Project has been implemented in the Four Rivers region of Kentucky. Fourteen Regional Prevention Centers have adopted the project. Its success and great support have prompted health officials to aim to expand the program statewide[PDF – 187KB] for greater impact. Statewide expansion is being rolled out from the Regional Prevention Centers in collaboration with schools, family resource/youth service centers, parent-teacher associations, churches, and other family and youth organizations.

For more information:

  • Samantha Powell, Prevention Specialist, Four Rivers Regional Prevention Center

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Disclaimer: Field Notes is designed to spotlight success and innovation in state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) health agencies. It is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) effort to highlight what is happening on the front lines of public health. The information in Field Notes is provided by STLT agencies external to CDC. Provision of this information is for informational purposes and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement, recommendation, and/or represent the views of CDC.