The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation, Arlington, Va., released “The Power of Family Meals,” an in-depth white paper on the evolving and complex topic of family meals in the United States. 

The paper includes a review of numerous consumer research reports along with an examination of independent studies published over the past decade, and provides potential solutions for cultivating a greater cultural environment for dining together at home.

"For years, we have witnessed a constant trickle of studies that have shown the changing dynamics of family mealtime behavior and the barriers that exist to sharing meals at home," says Sue Borra, executive director of the FMI Foundation. "We thought it was time to look at the comprehensive body of consumer and scientific research to assess the societal challenges of family meals. More importantly, we sought to provide strategies to elevate family meals; the Power of Family Meals report does both."

The 10-page assessment, produced by The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., addresses the following themes:

  • Family meals are beneficial. Numerous studies have found that eating with others, particularly family, is associated with healthier dietary outcomes for children and adults. 
  • Family meals usually fail to happen. Daily behaviors suggest that parents eat home-cooked dinners with their child or spouse only half the time (3.5 times out of 7 possible dinners each week).
  • Barriers to family meals. The primary obstacle for missed family meals is differing schedules reported by 55% of adults living with children and 47% of adults living together without children.
  • America's changing families. Today's eaters live in dramatically different household structures and habits from the traditional family that once revolved around married life and children.

The report concludes with solutions to elevate family meals, most notably, a recommended strategy to align eaters, appetites and food. This includes many potential tactics such as:

  • Honoring the dinner hour to preserve the sanctity of dinnertime among Americans with intractable schedules, even if it means reserving options for narrower windows of time.
  • Shifting dayparts to modify the timing of social eating to breakfast considering that it might be easier for busy families to connect before the day starts when busy evening schedules persist.
  • Making a family of friends to encourage young adults living alone to connect with each other for home-cooked dinners.