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?

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. And even if families do sit down to eat their separate meals at the same place and time, does the separateness of their experience undermine the value “family meals” are supposed to provide? In other words, is the “family meal” the act of consuming food in the same time and place, or is it a deeper and more complex shared experience? I can’t tell where the authors come down on that question (if they do). If the family meal is important — and I think it is — where does the value come from?

    Interesting stuff. Thanks for the link, Mark.

  2. Isn’t that the point? You don’t feel like cooking or dealing with the kids, so you go tell them to warm something up?

    Not prescribing, only describing. Seems like kind of a silly thing to research, other than to confirm what everyone already knows. I suppose it has the merit of forcing a little brutal honesty, though.

  3. They are important, because they presuppose the following things:

    1. You have a wife, as opposed to living alone.
    2. You have children, who need to be fed at specific times rather than you just rewarming things at nine o’clock PM.
    3. You actually work a sane schedule, so that you can eat dinner at six P.M. You are not working hours which prevent you from seeing your family easily, or shorten your life as some argue third shift work does. You also work a fixed schedule, and can plan meals at a specific time barring accident.
    4. Your wife probably doesn’t work full time, and can be there to make meals for you.
    5. You and your wife don’t hate each other, and can sit at a table without it devolving into a screaming argument.
    6. Your kids are willing to eat with you, instead of wolfing food down in their room in front of the Xbox.

    So, if you can fulfill the conditions to have a family dinner often, you probably possess all the other factors to make for a healthy life. It’s an important indicator of things that you need as the basis for any idea of localism to even exist.

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