fbpx Print Friendly Logo

Want to share this page with your friends?

Newsletter: October 2022

When Different Generations Come to the Table

Many years ago, I brought my two young sons to visit my grandparents. Lunch was served, and my husband and I did our best to stay positive and encouraging while our busy 2-year-old did what we considered to be normal 2-year-old things during the meal. He knelt on the chair, pushed his fingers into his food, refused to eat, and got down from the table multiple times.

My grandparents, however, were less than charmed by the disruptions. They tsked disapprovingly, asked “Why won’t he eat what he’s served?” and constantly corrected his sitting posture (“Sit down on your backside! We do not sit on our knees!”). Each time he climbed down from the chair, my grandfather tried to order him back to the table. At last, Grandpa looked my little one straight in the eyes and said gruffly, “Sporty, if you was mine, I’d put you back where you came from.”

I thought they were being extreme. They thought I was being wildly permissive. Welcome to the intergenerational meal: An occasion where decades of different social norms, manners, expectations, and family dynamics collide over Grandma’s special chicken recipe. It can be a wonderful blend of people and preferences, or a tense one, or somewhere in between – but there are almost certainly going to be different ideas about proper behavior and eating habits.

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, many of us are gearing up for more dinners with extended family from all different age groups and backgrounds. But the occasional get-together isn’t the only time multiple generations gather for family meals. Multi-generational households in the U.S. are steadily rising, with an estimated 18% of the population living in homes with 3 or more generations present. In addition, about 8 million children are currently being raised by grandparents or other non-parent family adults. That’s a lot of family dinners impacted by generation gaps.

Here are some of the common challenges – and unique benefits – families experience when different generations gather at the table:

  • Ideas about food and eating may differ. Older family members may have been raised with a “clean plate club” mentality, or with practices like insisting that kids sit at the table until all their vegetables are eaten. Their ideas may clash with current parenting practices that allow kids more autonomy at mealtimes and prioritize a positive relationship with food over eating everything that’s served.
  • Manners may be up for debate. Today’s busy households might not emphasize some of the finer points of dinner etiquette, like napkins on laps and elbows off the table, that were expected in decades past. Dinnertime rules and how to enforce them can be a hot-button issue for families trying to blend generations.
  • Technology at the table might cause conflict. While we’ve always said devices shouldn’t be used as a distraction from dinner, there are plenty of engaging ways to allow family members to bring out a phone at the table – and sometimes, there are good reasons to do so. For example, a child on the autism spectrum might benefit from having access to a tablet for self-regulation purposes, or an often-surly teen might be more willing to interact positively with the family if phones aren’t completely forbidden. But family members who grew up, and parented, before the digital age may be uncomfortable with tech at the table.
  • But there’s more opportunity to share family history. Having multiple generations present means more memories to share! Grandparents and other older family adults can tell stories the kids may not have heard – and maybe even tell tales about when Mom or Dad was young.
  • Grandparents and other older relatives may have more time and patience to help kids build life skills. Older adults may be able to offer an extra set of hands for the family meal, taking some pressure off harried parents. Beyond that, they may enjoy teaching kids to help as well, sharing life skills and favorite recipes that they want to pass down to future generations.
  • Eating with others can improve physical and mental health for older family members. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the effects of loneliness and poor nutrition when they eat most of their meals alone. Sharing meals with the family has been shown to improve nutrition and keep aging adults physically and mentally healthier than dining solo. (Not to mention all the benefits shared meals have to offer family members of all ages!)

Whether you’re living in a multi-generational household, or plan to share more meals with extended family during the upcoming season, there are a lot of great reasons to cherish those moments at the table together. Yes, there can be some tricky dynamics to navigate, but we hope you’ll find that the upsides outweigh the challenges.


A hearty beef stew is a comforting family meal for all ages! Try this easy slow cooker recipe from pediatrician and family meals advocate Dr. Kristin Saxena.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew


Have fun with your family history by playing a round of “Which One?”

Which One?


Help get the conversation flowing between generations with these anytime, anywhere Interview questions!

Printable Interview Placemats