Research from FMI and others suggests that household members’ conflicting schedules is the main obstacle to families enjoying more meals together, said Susan Borra, chief health and wellness officer at FMI. A shortage of time or energy to prepare family meals is also a barrier, as is the difficulty of settling on a recipe that everyone can get behind.
“Families are searching for solutions,” Borra said. “Retailers can help increase the frequency of family meals by promoting strategies that align eaters, appetites and food.”
Grocers long ago adopted the role of “meal solutions” provider, Borra said, and a campaign to foster an environment for dining together at home is a natural extension of this function.
Americans, who are increasingly eating alone, are well aware of the benefits of eating home-prepared meals and eating together, especially with family, according to the report, titled “Desires, Barriers and Directions for Shared Meals at Home.” It was released in September to coincide with National Family Meals Month.
Most Americans believe that food prepared at home is healthier than restaurant food. In addition, preparing one’s own food is seen as an enjoyable activity, and one that saves money, says the report. It cites numerous studies suggesting that eating with others leads to healthier dietary outcomes for children and adults, and that shared meals contribute to family bonding and the development of ethical children.
Parents who eat dinner alone find the meals less satisfying. Parents estimate that they enjoy dinner with their children only half the time, or 3.5 times per week, according to the report.
Part of the problem is that household living arrangements have changed faster than Americans’ ability to rebuild comfortable eating routines around them, FMI says.
“In short, while ‘family meals’ may once have revolved around married life and children, today’s eaters live in new situations with dramatically different household structures and habits. An alternative to lamenting the ‘lost families’ of yesteryear would be to extend the focus of family meals and embrace the full breadth of living arrangements today.”
To help families achieve the goal of eating one additional meal at home each week, the FMI Foundation set up a website [NationalFamilyMealsMonth.org] to host consumer tips and links to websites of retailers and brands working on strategies to align eaters, appetites and food. FMI also summarized “best practices” by retailers, suppliers and others in developing programs around National Family Meals Month celebrations. Among the retailers it called out is Hy-Vee Inc., a regional supermarket chain that developed and distributed educational materials and print and video content via television, social media, its print magazine Seasons and its website encouraging customers to eat one additional meal as a family each week. Hy-Vee offered cooking classes taught by its dietitians and offered pickup and delivery meal options, in which children ate for free during September.
Hy-Vee also reached out to more than 40 of its manufacturing vendors, including Unilever PLC, Coca-Cola Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp., as well as to each of the gubernatorial and congressional offices in its eight-state region and the 50 largest school districts to ask for promotional help in spreading the National Family Meals message.