Are Family Meals a Thing of the Past?

September 24th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

Growing up we always tried to eat dinner as a family. It didn’t happen all the time as Dad would usually work late hours, but Mom, Josh and I would always eat together. No television on in the background, no cell phones at the table (which no one in the family even had ‘back in my day!’) and always a home cooked meal. We weren’t very rich so eating out virtually never happened. We went to Taco Bell after church on Sunday’s and that was about the extent of our fancy dining out.

Familiy dinner


{Not my family but one of the greatest family dinners in history. Source}

As a kid I never thought about what it meant to eat dinner as a family. Now, I realize how important they were to developing a good relationship with my family. It was our time to talk, usually make fun of each other, and eat a fairly nutritious meal (poor Mom had to deal with two picky eaters so she was pretty limited with what she could serve us!) The family dinner project cited numerous other benefits of family dinners;

Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents hope for: Lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.

{Remember: correlation does not imply causation! These families may have lower negative behavior rates for MANY other reasons aside from the fact that they eat dinner together.}

In our present society most mothers work outside the home and even though Dad’s have been pitching in more with housework and chores, compared to generations past, the burden of cooking still typically falls on Mom. Many women suffer from the idea that they have to be able to be ‘SuperMom’ – work full-time, attend all soccer practices or ballet recitals, participate in the PTA, keep the house clean, serve 3 home cooked meals a day, and have a banging relationship with their husband. Yeah. That doesn’t happen for anyone I know. Now, the media keeps bombarding women with the message that they need to be focused on feeding their kids healthy, nutritious meals but who has the time or money? Whenever I ask my students what the #1 issue is preventing them from eating healthier foods they always respond with “money.” As much as I fight it (since I know I can feed myself extremely well on $50 a week with a bit of planning and food prep) I know it’s not realistic for many families. What are they to do?


If I imagine my life as a married mom with kids I try to think how I’d be able to work, run a house hold, and have dinner ready each night. I know I harp on this to no end on my blog but food prepping has revolutionized how I eat. I only cook once or twice a week now and I have delicious healthy meals ready to go. If you have older kids you could probably badger them into helping out somehow, and if it’s done on the weekend you should definitely make sure Dad is pitching in! I’m also a big fan of ‘healthing up’ frozen/pre-packaged meals. While a store bough veggie pizza bakes in the oven whip up a quick side salad. Make a box of mac-n-cheese and steam up some frozen broccoli in the microwave to go on the side.

I empathize with parents out there who struggle to do what’s best for the health of their families. I know it’s hard to just take good care of myself (and Salem!) sometimes. I hope that parents won’t get discouraged, and start to think outside the box for creative, affordable, ways to feed their families.

Did you grow up eating family dinners?
If you have a family, how do you find time/money to feed them healthy meals?


Farewell, family meal? Stress of cooking may outweigh benefits

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Juggling Act? Why are Women Still Trying to do it All?

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28 Responses

  • Michele says:

    I think in the end prioritize win most of the time. If something is important to you you’ll find a way to do it. As a society the last thing we spend our money on is food.

    • Erica House says:

      I love how cheap most people are with food. The same students who will complain eating healthy is too expensive are the one’s I see with cokes and candy from the vending machines outside!

  • I agree with Michelle – it all depends on what you prioritise and choose to spend your money on. And at the end of the day if there is anything you should prioritise, it’s your health.

    • Erica House says:

      I haven’t had health insurance for 11 out of 12 years I’ve been an adult and I always say eating right and exercising is my form of health insurance!

  • SuzLyfe says:

    I grew up with family dinners, and my husband didn’t. I’ve already told him that it is something that means a lot to me, and that, as much as we are able to, I really want to incorporate into our family long term. Something that I thought was cool (albeit commercialized) was that the driving concept of the River Roast restaurant that I went to with my family when they visited is to bring back the Sunday dinner. And the meal really was evocative of that experience.

    • Erica House says:

      I love the idea of the River Roast restaurant! I want to make family dinners a priority with Travis and future kids, but we’ve never sat down to eat without a TV on. Looks like we need to start working on that!

  • CARLA says:

    I ALWAYS had family dinners growing up.
    my dad was a professor and home every night by 6.
    not here.
    when the husband is in town we have family breakfasts.
    in other news: the husband is never in town :)

  • misszippy1 says:

    We always had family dinners and it was definitely a good thing. With my own family now, soccer practices, etc. mean that we only have a few each week. BUT–I covet them and make sure they happen. I am fortunate, too, b/c I work from home, so I do have the time to put together nutritious meals that we all eat, even if not necessarily together.

  • JesJes says:

    Great topic Erica! I find that it comes down to priorities. The better understanding people have about the direct connection between what they eat and how they feel, their health, kids’ academic performance and behavior, etc., the more we can keep food and nutritious meals at the top of our list. Your advice is good because as a working mom who also has a lot of help from her husband AND a kiddo who I have taught (and who loves) to help me in the kitchen, it all starts by how you set the tone (and dinner table) from a very early stage. For us that also began well before we became parents. And family dinners are the best way to show your kids that it’s a priority.

    • Erica House says:

      Travis and I need to start treating our dinners like the family dinners I want in out future (instead of just watching TV while we eat!) How old was your kid when they were able to start helping out in the kitchen?

      • Jes says:

        That’s a great idea! We started pretty young. My approach was that if we could encourage him to love cooking and spend that time with us (instead of putting him off to the side with a book or tv show so we could “get things done”), he would enjoy learning the skills as he grew capable of doing them. And it’s worked! Anytime I was in the kitchen, he would be with me, even if it was only to watch me from his baby seat and I would talk out loud about the things I was baking, let him play with measuring cups, then as he started crawling he would go into the cupboard and pull out pots and pans to bang. Then I would ask him to show me, which was bigger, which was heavier, etc. When he was walking well on his own was about the time he started to set the table, “chop” food (we would give him a baby utensil and the scraps of something so he felt like he was helping), and retrieving things for me, putting items in the recycling bin. We made it all a fun game and now at age 3, he is actually excited to help me with anything in the kitchen, then it helps him try new foods too (you cooked the brussel sprouts like this, let’s try it together!). I have this super cute video of him “chopping onions”: I think with your psych background and expertise in health, you’ve got this — just start very young, involve them in what you’re doing while also giving them their own space to explore and get messy sometimes, then shape the behaviors you want to encourage. This approach is so much easier than trying to get them started when they are 3 or 5 :) Kids are so capable and they feel tremendous pride helping their parents when it’s fun for them. Just my personal experience though!

  • Jodi says:

    We eat as a family basically every night. On the nights my husband works late or I go out with friends, the other one of us usually does something fun with the kids (they like ordering pizza and having a living room picnic with a movie) but that’s not very often. I meal plan and shop for the week, and we are usually able to have leftovers a few nights a week. When we have extracurriculars (soccer right now), I try to plan a crock pot meal for one of the practice days and leftovers for the other. Family dinners are very important to my husband. We do try to have our own “date night” dinner after the kids go to bed once a week or so, but we still sit at the table with them when they are eating their dinner.

  • I agree with Michele- it’s a priority for me so I make it happen. There are definitely nights where dinner is a thrown together sandwich or eggs, but most of the time we manage to cook something and we make a point to sit at the table together. I’ve seen that research, too- that’s a powerful motivator to keep it up!

    • Erica House says:

      As much as I’d like to feed my family meals as healthy as possible, I’m almost more concerned with just spending quality time together. Sandwiches and all!

  • My wife & I have seen all the studies, and family dinners are how we were raised. Still, in talking with other families, we seem to be a minority, and in a way I get it. With small children, they have no patience to wait until we can get all the food on the table and get seated, so between that, regulating their behaviour, cajoling them into eating the WHOLE meal, not just their favourite parts, there isn’t much room for conversation or even finishing our own food. Top it off with picky eaters and we end up with a fair bit of repetition in our menu… but we have managed to find some ‘greatest hits’ that are at least semi-heatlhy like Fish (baked salmon, not the deep fried stuff) and french fries (not as healthy, and everyone seems resistant to sweet potato fries), and soups (tomato and butternut squash).

    The temptation would be to feed the kids something quick and easy, then have a proper adult meal after they’re in bed or something, but we stick with it in the hopes of laying the groundwork for not only family bonding quality time, but good manners and nutrition for the rest of all our lives.

    • Erica House says:

      Oh poor Mom could only make like 5 meals the entire time we lived at home because we couldn’t agree on anything else. I hear such horror stories about ‘food fights’ parents have with their kids. I wonder if there’s anything that can be done from an extremely young age to make that less likely to be an issue as they grow up?

  • slimsanity says:

    We tried to have family dinners…growing up things were always crazy though. My dad worked out of town a lot and mom was out kinda doing her own thing a lot of the time. Family dinners are something I would definitely want to do (the right way) with my children.

    • Erica House says:

      I empathize with families now who are just too busy to coordinate a time to all eat together, but I think it you want it badly enough you will make it happen!

  • My dad, sister, and I had family dinners almost every night around the table. I loved the time together. The meals were not healthy though. They were all fast food. Yay for quality time but not for nutrition. I really want to find a way to do both when I have a family someday!

  • Kim says:

    We always had family dinners growing up and even now we eat together almost every night. Some evenings we have to move our dinner up or later to make it fit with everyone’s schedules but I think it is important. And, we still have the no TV and no phone rule – it is a time for conversation and sharing about our days – one of the best parts of my days!!

  • When I was growing up we all helped out with dinner – whether is was my brother or I helping to set the table or helping to actually make the meal, it was never just one person in the kitchen. I think that helped us have more meals together as it wasn’t just one person’s responsibility to get it on the table.

    I know it’s not your fault, but memes with spelling mistakes drive me absolutely crazy! You’d think if you were going to make something you wanted all over the internet you’d make sure you spelled it right.

  • ChristineB says:

    I grew up with family dinners, as much as possible for a busy family with kids in sports (my brothers, not me) as did my husband. Now that we are parents (3 boys aged 9 to 14) we do the same. They aren’t always fancy, but as parents we prioritize family time. We always want home to be somewhere our boys feel safe, loved and accepted. One way we do this is family dinners. Health and financial benefits are side benefits to that.