By: Leslie G. Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute

Family Meals Best PracticesWe all have them, those lists of things we know we SHOULD do, but for some reason we just don’t, or at least not as often as we should. We’ve likely long been convinced these actions are good for us, but if they require extra effort, they slip into the “ought, but didn’t” pile when the motivation, inspiration or discipline is lacking. Yours may be different, but my list includes getting more exercise, eating more vegetables, and reading more educational literature. I know these things are good for me, but so many other options vie for my attention and frequently manage to squeeze these beneficial activities off my schedule. And because we know we should do them, but fall short, these constructive actions usually come with a heaping side order of guilt when we fail to execute as prescribed.

We are not alone

FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2018 research has some important findings regarding customer attitudes toward family meals, with some falling into that category of “I want to, I recognize the benefit, but I am not succeeding as often I’d like.”    

Almost nine out of 10 shoppers (87%) consider sharing family meals at home to be important, but have varying degrees of conviction regarding that positive practice: 24 percent consider them somewhat important, 35 percent think they are very important and 27 percent state that family meals are extremely important.    

Among those most deeply concerned about family meals – voting them to be very or extremely important -- women outscored men 63 percent to 59 percent. Millennials lead the generation charge, with 67 percent reporting meals at home with family to be very or extremely important. Boomers were the bottom of the age-bracket barrel for valuing family meals, with only 57 percent finding them very or extremely important. 

In addition to asking about their conviction regarding family meals, we also inquired of those who consider family meals to be very or extremely important about the obstacles they encounter. Almost half (49%) cited “differing schedules,” making that response the top vote getter by far. It should come as no surprise that the difficulty of juggling numerous agendas, coordinating calendars and getting all parties convinced that this is a common goal worthy of everyone compromising so that it can happen, proves to be the most difficult impediment to overcome. Those of us who have long fought the battle of dueling agendas, having to negotiate among differing pressures, and who bear the responsibility of keeping everyone on the same page – or in this case at the same table -- know the biggest challenge is keeping our energy up and our resolve strong.  It is taxing, trying and tough, requiring firm leadership and having our resolve renewed so we have the energy to continue struggling for the good things. 

I would also argue that the other top obstacles to family meals -- not enough energy (21%), lack of time (19%) and too many distractions (18%) – also fall within the category of being addressed if family meals were made a priority.

September is National Family Meals Month ™ – a time when we ask the food retail industry to join together to urge all their customers to commit to having more meals together at home. As we prepare our promotions for this important endeavor, it is important that we seek solutions to all the obstacles named. That means providing meal solutions that are easy and quick for the energy-drained, time-restrained parent to make. But perhaps the most important help we can offer is to provide our customers with the inspiration to do what they already know they should and they want to do -- to encourage them so their resolve remains strong, to reward them so their leadership is strengthened, and to motivate them so they keep their eyes on the prize. After all, it is what they want too. We just have to keep reminding and inspiring them.