Rousing Research on Family Meals
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
It was only a few short years ago, that the FMI Foundation identified family meals as a key opportunity for the retail food industry to work together to address this significant societal issue. A study conducted by FMI and Rodale in 2016 showed that 71% of parents said they would like to eat dinner with their child every night. Unfortunately, the frequency of family meals is low (FMI U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, 2018). Conflicting schedules, a dislike of the food served, and the varied schedules of a busy family are often the key excused cited, however, positive momentum is being seen.
Since starting the Family Meals Month™ campaign, FMI has worked with Nielsen to evaluate the impact the program is having. In 2017 their survey found that 15 million households, representing 35 million adults saw the National Family Meals Month™ initiative. Of those who saw the campaign, 84 percent took actions such as: cooking more meals at home; eating together more; making healthier choices; and buying more fruits and vegetables. These results indicate that when we remind consumers about the value of family meals, they actually listen and take action. The number of consumers who agree that the family meals campaign is a good concept to inspire more time together as a family is also growing - 58% in 2017 vs 35% in 2016, (the numbers are still not in for 2018). Households with children reported the following changes in their behavior after engaging in the campaign:
- Eating together more often (49%)
- Purchasing more fruits and vegetables (44%)
- Cooking more meals at home (42%)
- Starting to plan meals (40%)
- Purchasing meal solutions (32%)
This past year, an FMI Foundation grant was provided to Shannon Robson, PhD, MPH, RD from the University of Delaware for research toward identifying the mechanism underlying the relation between family meals and health outcomes with the hopes of creating a definitive message, almost like a health claim, – on how exposure to family meals improves nutrition, health, family functioning and society. Her research included a systematic review with two independent searches regarding the importance of family meals. The first related to family functioning as an outcome and the second looking at dietary outcomes. Extensive article reviews came up with two key findings:
- Nearly all the studies demonstrated a significant positive relationship between family meal frequency and measures of family functioning such as family cohesion, parent-child relationship, parent-child communication, or family connectedness.
- The overwhelming majority of studies show a significant positive relationship between family meal frequency and fruit, vegetable or fruit and vegetable intake.
Family Meals Month occurs in September but with the many benefits demonstrated to both consumers and the retailers that serve them, perhaps a year long communication plan is truly needed. How are you making it easy for your customers to enjoy meals together at home? How can you make mealtime more exciting and drive engagement? What other ways can you use family meal promotions to drive sales of other items you sell such as small appliances and cooking equipment? Consider seasonal solutions, ethnic/global recipes, and a variety of prepared, semi-prepared and quick assembly options that meet shopper needs, increase loyalty and drive business success.