News

Hitting on All Cylinders with Family Meals

Sep 15, 2015

In a brief, but thought provoking scene in Nina George’s novel The Little Paris Bookshop, two writers challenge themselves to invent a new language, using existing words to describe overly familiar things in a new way. Their vocabulary game results in a number of clever offerings, including such phrases as star salt – as a more colorful way of describing a star’s reflection in a river - and sun cradle - as a more apt portrayal of the sea at dusk.  But by far, my personal favorite of their attempts to concoct words that more fully capture a familiar item’s true essence is family anchor - the writers' new way of talking about the dinner table.

Most of us would acknowledge that more happens at the family dinner table than the mere consumption of food.  While eating is important, the physical sharing of food is only part of the action, providing the necessary impetus for the gathering.  The meal shared with family around the dinner table transcends the body’s need for sustenance; it also feeds our hearts, heads and spirits.   More than the resting place for the food placed there, it is the conversation, the face time and the sharing around it that gives the dinner table its deepest meaning.  The dinner table provides the unique space in the midst of the active bustle, where we can reflect, share and hear the opinions of others about the actions of our day.  And it is there that we are sometimes challenged to examine not just what we did today, but why we did it.  Over time, the accumulative welding effect of thousands of words exchanged between bites shared together forges stable relationships, making the dinner table the family anchor.

FMI Foundation's National Family Meals Month campaign has focused on September as the optimal time to bring attention and reinforcement to the benefits of families sharing food and lives together at the dinner table.  September is the month during which the reality sets in that summer is over, school is back in session and—whether you have kids or not – society is settling back into the rigors of the academic year that forces families into new schedule negotiations.  As such, it seems appropriate that we commit to eat one more meal together each week on the family agenda for consideration.  Retailers and our supplier partners have been tremendously supportive of this effort to encourage families to make this commitment.  Regardless of how their customers define "family," and regardless of the specific meal occasion customers choose to share with their families, retailers have provided resources, ingredients, supportive materials and encouragement to make an additional family meal together each week a real possibility.  Check out some of the stories and family meal resources shared at www.NationalFamilyMealsMonth.org.   If you have a family meal tale to tell, please share it with us at using this online form.  

Information supporting family meals is found throughout the 2015 edition of FMI’s report U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends.  In  the wealth of data the report provides, we explore the common desire for more family meals together and we examine the many obstacles that can result in our failing to eat together (skip the meal, eat out, or eat alone at home).  Somewhat to our surprise, the data point that has garnered much media attention is the statistic that 46 percent of all adult eating occasions take place alone.  Of the meals eaten at home with food from home, almost half (48 percent) are eaten alone, with breakfast being the primary culprit. Obviously, a successful meal at home together requires that decisions and commitment be made at a number of levels and by all the participants.  It starts with the decision that the meal will be eaten, not skipped; then comes the decision to eat at home, followed by the determination to eat at home with food from home; and finally, there is the important choice for the family to eat together.  That last point is striking because without it, many of the benefits of the family meal are missed and the family meal loses power because it does not hit on all its potential cylinders.  

A family eating at home with food from home may realize the economic and health advantages of the meal-at-home, but if all or some of the family members are eating separately or in isolation, they are failing to capitalize on the social, emotional and psychological fringe benefits of the family meal.  

For the dinner table to truly be the family anchor, providing family members with stability and preventing drift, it must be the site where the family meets, eats and connects.  And that requires hitting on all four cylinders; eating the meal … at home … with food from home … together.