Mealtimes used to be integral to family life; the entire day was planned around them. All family members knew they had to be home for a particular time so everyone could have their family dinner together gathered around the dinner table.

The family table where the family sits to eat their evening meal may be a different place to where the family eat their weekend meals so changing the venue as it were from one place to another can actually add the kind of variety that you may need to be able to enjoy that all-important family time we all crave.

We take time out of our busy schedules to prepare food for our family dinners and we put care and attention into all that is cooked, taking into account what is a better diet, which new food to introduce and how are children will benefit from our mealtimes but we do not seem to be enjoying the meals together as much.

A recent study from Mintel has discovered that only 68% of families still enjoy regular family mealtime together, which is a steady decrease from 78% of families in 2016. The question is, then, why don’t more families enjoy their home cooked meal together today? Let’s explore. 

Less Formality

Mealtimes used to be a formal affair, meaning that the entire family sat around the dinner table with no distractions to eat together and share their day. Nowadays, the distractions between phones, game consoles and television are harder to ignore. This has simply meant that mealtimes have become less formal and, in a way, less sacred.

Children are less likely to have good table manners if their eating behaviours are not the same as other family members and only by having regular family meals together can you improve not just their food choices but enhance the emotional benefits of interaction with you as the parents.

Families today don’t place the same emphasis on the family meal time as they once did, which is why even if families do eat at the same time, they aren’t necessarily eating together and enjoying the old levels of table talk; each family member could be scattered throughout the house instead of at the dining table. 

A formal dining room
Mealtimes do not have to be formal occasions as families habits change

Lasting Effects of the Pandemic

It was recently the third anniversary of the start of the pandemic. Three years on, it would seem like the world is essentially back to normal – and it is, in a lot of ways – however, there are still some lasting effects that can still be seen today. The pandemic dramatically impacted how people interact with each other, limiting opportunities to socialise and producing alternative working styles. These changes have meant that daily routines have also changed, which includes meals eaten together. 

Less Stress

Family meals can be incredibly stressful for parents, depending on the age of their children. Young children obviously need to eat earlier because they will have earlier bedtimes. The parents perhaps won’t be ready to eat at such an early time. In addition, feeding young children can be stressful, and if you try to eat simultaneously, you are likely to find that your dinner has gone cold.

Choosing to feed children separately might be more practical for some parents. It also allows the adults to spend some uninterrupted time together as a couple without having to be parents too. 

Fussy Eaters

Another reason why families don’t tend to eat together as much is because children today seem to be more fussy in terms of what they want to eat than they were in the past. This is likely due to the abundance of choice of new foods and perhaps even a shift in parenting styles.

Regardless of the cause, it has meant that many more parents have to cook multiple dinners because their children won’t eat the same meals as them. It is then very easy to see how this could snowball into different dinner time completely for the busy parents and the children because cooking more than one meal at once to be ready at the same time is quite the challenge. 

In the Future

It is hard to say where family mealtimes are likely to be headed next. In truth, the idea of more formal mealtimes might not be realistic for modern family life anymore. With two working parents and a number of other demands on the family’s time from clubs, activities, sports and hobbies both on behalf of the children and the parents have made family mealtimes more difficult, and this is not likely to change any time soon. 

Fruiy on o plate in a happy face design
Mealtimes are a fantastic way to spend time with your family

Realistically, what is perhaps more likely to happen is that families will prioritise meals together for special occasions like religious holidays or birthdays. Some families even choose to pick one night a week where they all have dinner together without distraction; this could be a random weeknight or a staple like Sunday Dinner.

Even if you only want to eat together every so often, you will need a dining table. You can browse dining tables from brands like furniture village until you find one that is going to work perfectly for your home in terms of size, space and design. Remember, even if you don’t eat at your dining table that often, it also has other uses, especially if you have children. 

The Bottom Line

In many ways, the idea of a traditional nuclear family doesn’t exist anymore for many reasons, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The nature of family has changed; parents tend to work, and single-parent families are increasing too.

The benefits of family time are essential for our emotional health as much as physical well-being. The enjoyment of eating meals together is not as prevalent in our society as it once was but being together as a family preparing meals or just simply communicating will enhance your bond as parents and children.

Sitting around the family dinner table having conversations with loved ones engaging in laughter and fun may not be the norm for many families but when we do find the time to eat meals together around the table, it is usually an enjoyable, fun and sometimes challenging place to be.

While spending time together as a family is definitely important, it doesn’t necessarily need to happen over mealtimes as it once did. Some families prefer to go for a day out every Saturday or indulge in a hobby together. There are more options for families wanting to spend more quality time together than simply eating.