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A Call for Family Meals

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When I was writing my book, Ask the Children, I asked the fifth through twelfth graders in my study what they thought they would remember most from this time period in their lives. I also asked their parents what they thought their children would remember most.

The parents tended to think that their children would remember the all-star extravaganza events--the birthday party with a clown, the trip to Disneyland, the splashy holiday celebration.

But that's not what children said. As was typical in that study, I found that what parents think that their children think and what the children actually think can be at odds.

Children talked about remembering everyday events, not special events. They especially talked about remembering family traditions--everyone making biscuits in funny shapes on Saturday mornings, telling stories every night before bed time about a cow, a pig and a chicken, where one child started the story and then every member of the family added to the plot. And they talked about family meals.

Family meals? Haven't they gone the way of history in our fast-paced world? The images of family meals today are more likely to be pulling things out of the refrigerator and eating standing up, or bringing in fast food, or watching TV while eating. We wondered how those images fit with reality so we asked employed parents in the Families and Work Institute's National Study of the Changing Workforce the following question: "On how many days a week does your entire family usually eat a meal together?"

Our findings show that family meals are not totally an endangered species--but they certainly don't happen everyday for nearly six in ten employed parents. Among parents with children under 13, 41% report eating together 6-7 times a week, 31% 4-5 times a week, and 38% 0-3 times a week. Not surprisingly, other factors come into play--parents with older children, parents who work longer hours, and parents who work non-daytime shifts eat fewer meals with the entire family.

We all know that time has become the new currency and that parents are reporting a time famine. In fact, 75% of parents say they don't have enough time with their children.

So it is no wonder that Laurie David's new book, The Family Dinner: How To Connect with Your Kids One At A Time, is being welcomed in homes across America. Published on October 31st, it has already shot to the top of the charts because it shows how busy parents can find time to enjoy eating together. It also shows how family meals can help families become more cohesive and that they are energy refreshers for children and adults alike.

I go back to Ask the Children. When I asked children about time with their parents, they didn't like the concepts of quantity time versus quality time. It just didn't make sense to them. They told me they want "focused time"--where their parents can be there for them if they need them. And they want "hang-around time," where families can hang out in an unscheduled way and just BE together. Family meals can provide both focused time and hang-around time. So let's join Laurie David in her call for family meals.