Delving into family meal time perceptions

When families sit down together for a meal, 82 percent of parents feel closer to their kids and 72 percent of kids feel closer to their parents, according to an online survey commissioned by Barilla, Bannockburn, Ill. and Family Circle magazine, conducted by Decipher Inc. between August 5 and August 12, 2010.


There is a payoff, in the form of exceptional emotional and social benefits for both parents and kids. Parents and children who share high quality meals together, regardless of how often they share those meals in some instances, are more likely to be happier and feel they possess specific positive emotional and social attributes. The NPD Group studies show the typical dinner cycle with preparation, cooking, eating and clean-up to be less than an hour, and this research shows the incredible benefits to be reaped from that relatively small time commitment. As a build to the 2009 Barilla Share the Table study that explored the benefits of regular family dinners from parents' perspectives, these results further support that research by showing the importance of the quality of meals - not just the frequency and composition of the meal experience.

Parents and kids agree that the key ingredients for a high-quality meal include laughter, relaxation, conversation and being together eating something everyone likes. Other key findings include: Family time is a top priority for both parents (88 percent) and kids (79 percent); three-quarters of parents and 60 percent of kids wish they had more time to spend together; 71 percent of parents say they feel more appreciated by their children when they take time to have dinner together and 70 percent of kids, in turn, actually appreciate their parent(s) more when they take time to share a meal together; nearly two-thirds of kids notice that their parents are less stressed and more fun to be around when they have dinner together; eating dinner together at home ranked higher in importance than vacation did with 89 percent of parents and kids citing family time as extremely important; 52 percent of parents and kids agree that it is easier to talk about their feelings over the dinner table than in other situations; 62 percent of kids selected family dinners at home together over sports/team lessons, music/arts/dance and scouts/clubs as the best activity to help them with feelings of safety and security; and kids report wanting to help with meal preparation (40 percent of kids and 53 percent of 'tweens) and wish their parents would let them help cook dinner more often.

Parents and kids defined a quality meal as one in which there was laughter, everyone in the family was present and part of the conversation, participants were relaxed and unhurried, and everyone liked the food. When survey results were broken down by quality, it was clear that parents and kids who had high-quality meals experienced greater benefits in other areas of their lives compared with families who shared lower-quality meals. For example, parents who said they have high-quality dinners were significantly more likely than those who have low-quality dinners to report feelings of happiness (65% vs. 42%) and enjoyment (56% vs. 39%) in their everyday lives. This finding held true regardless of meal frequency. When asked which activities would best help them feel more empowered and learn to cope with stress, kids overwhelmingly chose family dinners over other activities such as sports, music/arts/dance lessons, and scouts or other clubs.

For nearly half (47 percent), busy schedules are the culprit for not getting that mealtime connection. But even when families do get together for a meal, there are barriers that can threaten a meal's quality. Technology, particularly TV, can be a major distraction, with one-third of parents (32 percent) and kids (33 percent) admitting to watching TV always or often during dinner. Although seemingly high, these figures represent an improvement over last year's findings. Additional barriers to a high-quality meal include tiredness, arguing, feeling rushed, not having everyone in the family there, not everyone liking the food, and leaving before everyone was finished.