A recent study suggests that individualized and pre-packaged food changes the way families think about mealtime.
Could there be a link between the kind of meal eaten for dinner and the extent to which family members ate apart or together? The short answer is yes. To address this question, we matched the contents of dinner meals with each family member’s time and location at dinnertime. In 68 percent of the weekday dinners that were eaten at different times or in different rooms, family members ate meals made entirely or mostly of convenience foods or dishes brought home from a restaurant or take-out. In contrast, in 76 percent of weekday dinners eaten all together, family members ate meals prepared mainly with fresh ingredients.
Although heavy reliance on convenience foods does not predict a scattering of family members at dinnertime, their individual packaging and low-skill (but not significantly less time-consuming) preparation may encourage family members to eat at different times and places, even when the whole family is at home. The expectation that individual-sized convenience foods can be heated up and eaten apart by a family member whenever or wherever was apparent late on a Sunday afternoon in the Marsden household. Thirteen-year-old Darrin asked his mom to heat up his convenience meal right away for him to eat. When his mother, Susan, countered that she wanted him to eat his “special dinner” together with the family, Darrin was bewildered.
All this, of course, simply begs another question: are family meals important? Well, are they?