Are Americans Still Serving Up Family Dinners?


With America’s most visible family meal – Thanksgiving – just around the corner, the tradition of the family dinner appears alive and well – though some report their household isn’t making time for it as often as they recall from their childhood.

Among Americans who live with at least one family member (including a spouse or a partner), the vast majority (86%) say they sit down to a “family dinner,” with most or all of their household sitting down to dinner together, at least once a week. Furthermore, nearly six in ten (58%) report sitting down to such meals at least four times per week. However, there is nonetheless a sentiment that such family meals are in decline, with 59% saying their family today has fewer family dinners than when they were growing up.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,368 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 16 and 21, 2013 byHarris Interactive. (Full findings, including data tables, can be found here)

Looking at the number of family dinners per week those Americans living with family sit down to, differences can be seen by both generation and household composition:

    • Matures (81%) are more likely to report having four or more family dinners per week than Baby Boomers (62%), who are in turn more likely to do so than either Gen Xers (50%) or Echo Boomers (52%). The same progression is evident when honing in specifically on likelihood to have family dinners every night (61% Matures, 37% Baby Boomers, 24% Gen Xers, 23% Echo Boomers).

  • While the image of the family dinner might bring to mind parents and children gathering around the table to rehash their days, today’s kids lead busy lives – which may be contributing to the fact that those in households without children are more likely to report sitting down to family dinners every night (36% without, 26% with).

If family dinners are experiencing a downslide, it doesn’t seem to be attributable toward any negative feelings toward them – past or present. Over nine in ten (92%) family “diners” – those whose households sit down to one or more family dinners per week – describe them as something they look forward to, and eight in ten Americans (80%) have fond memories of their family dinners when they were growing up.

Along similar lines, only 15% of “diners” say that family dinners stress them out, and fewer than two in ten Americans (19%) say they tried to get out of family dinners whenever they could when they were growing up.

    • Getting out of family dinners appears, to some degree, to be a generational phenomenon, with older generations showing progressively lower levels of likelihood to have done so (30% Echo Boomers, 20% Gen Xers, 14% Baby Boomers, 8% Matures).

Family (meal) planning

When looking at how the family dinner is shoehorned into Americans schedules, some patterns begin to emerge.  Over half (54%) of “diners” say their family dinners are evenly split between weekdays and weekends, while roughly one-fourth (24%) say they do so more on weekdays. Thirteen percent say they do so more on weekends, while one in ten (10%) indicate doing so whenever they can make time, with no set time of the week.

  • Those in households with children are roughly twice as likely as those without to specify weekdays (35% with, 18% without), while those in households without children are more likely to report an even balance of weekdays and weekends (59% without, 43% with) or fitting family dinners in whenever they can make time (12% and 6%, respectively).

As to how they actually set aside time for those meals, half (51%) of family “diners” make time when they can but don’t have a set schedule, while over two in ten (22%) set aside specific days for family dinners and over one-fourth (27%) report a mix of these approaches.

  • There are some indications that pre-scheduling may help fit in more family together time, as those who have four or more family dinners per week are twice as likely as those who have 1-3 weekly to report having specific days set aside for family dinners (26% and 13%, respectively).

Family members can be both a help and a hindrance, and both sides are on display when it comes to family dinners. On the one hand, nearly two-thirds (65%) of “diners” say family dinners are usually a communal effort, with most members of the family pitching in somehow. But of course, the youngest family members can be another thing entirely, and over four in ten “diners” (43%) say that when kids are at the table for family dinners, it can be tough to get them to stay there.

What’s for dinner?

“Diners” appear conflicted on the importance of the menu. Nine in ten (90%) say that the family eating together is more important than where the food comes from, yet seven in ten (69%) say that for family dinners, it’s important that it be a home cooked meal.

Varying tastes can complicate things further still, with over a third of “diners” (36%) – and half of those in households with children (49%) – saying it’s tough to find something to serve at family dinners that everyone will eat.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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