Keeping it in the family? Traditional mealtimes are a thing of the past

(Photo: Timo Laaksonen)

A new survey reveals that over half of us have fewer family dinners now than when we were young.

According to this new research, although the vast majority of modern families sit down to eat together at least once a week, the tradition is in decline.

Almost 60% of 2,300 US adults polled admitted that their families take the time to eat together less than when they themselves were children.

Despite this, 92% said that they look forward to family mealtimes when they do take place, with eight in ten recalling fond memories of such events in the past.

What is it, then, that has caused this move away from mealtime traditions?

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The modern family is simply always on the move, the report says. In today's society, faced-paced living, busy schedules and an obsession with work mean that it can be difficult to get all family members in one place at one time, let alone multiple times a week.

The rise in consumer choice is also named as a contributing factor to the decline in the report compiled by Harrison Interactive, as over a third - rising to almost half of those with children - said they find it difficult to serve a dinner that everyone at the table will eat.

The effect of this change in tradition is argued by many to be significant. Studies show that children learn vital social skills through sharing sit-down meals, and a failure to make time for these regularly is resulting in impeded development.

Richard Harman, chairman of the Boarding schools association, has claimed that "the route to human happiness, success and fulfilment is through developing social skills", and has advocated the implementation of traditional dining in boarding schools across the country in order to model the 'ideal' family structure.

According to the Child Study Centre at NYU, shared mealtimes are "invaluable" in terms of building emotional support and ensuring good communication between family members. A report issued by CASA (National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) found that teenagers who have two or fewer family dinners per week are twice as likely to smoke daily and to get drunk regularly compared to those who have family mealtimes five times per week.

Most experts agree that the benefits of sharing a meal as a family are multifold, and it could be as simple as turning the TV off and having a conversation instead. Home and Away is always on repeat, after all.

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