The Food Marketing Institute Foundation’s 2017 Power of Family Meals report takes a deep dive on dinner and comes up with some hopeful trends and worrisome statistics. American families can eat together more frequently. The report, predicated on the proven fact that family meals are good for family health, documents the degree to which “practical barriers, cultural headwinds, and a food landscape” prevent parents–and particularly fathers–from sitting down together. The researchers behind the report, who collect data using surveys and literature reviews, found that American fathers ate dinner with their children less than American mothers and less than they desired.
The average American parent shares 5.7 meals with their children each week despite wanting to share 6.3 family meals each week. The average American mother has six dinners per week with her kids while the average American father only average 5.3 meals. The average dad’s desired amount of meals with their kids per week (6.1) fell only slightly short of the average mom’s (6.3), which is indicate of barriers preventing many men from making it home.
Why do dads fail to keep up with moms when it comes to shared family meals? The report points to modern work schedules, which “do not recognize a culturally shared expectation for a narrow, fixed dinner time.” The unpredictability built into the work schedule broadens the dinner time window, making it far less likely for a family to share a meal together. In other words, the death of the nine-to-five, heralded as a good thing for parents in search of flexibility, has made it even more difficult for fathers to leave the office/factory/truck/site.
Still, there is a silver lining. The numbers suggest that younger dads are doing a better job sharing meals with their families. While Gen X dads (5.1) have one less family meal a week than their spouses (6.1), Millennial dads (5.7) have closed the gap with their partners (6.2). Considering the impact family dinners have been proven to have on a child’s development, along with their relationship with their parents, it’s an encouraging to see younger dads prioritize family meals as an essential part of raising their kid.