Why family meals in front of the TV may not be so bad after all

Busy lives may make it hard for families to sit down and eat dinner together, but there are other ways to carve out quality time.

In the movies, mealtimes create the perfect image of family togetherness: parents and kids sit down at the dining table to enjoy a meal and some conversation.

But in 2020, those moments of togetherness have become a little hit and miss.

Longer working hours, after-school activities and busy social lives mean parents and children have shifting schedules that make family meal times a logistical challenge.

Modern family meals

As a result, meals have become a less formal and regular arrangement, according to new research from Monash University.

The study says families are increasingly eating meals at the kitchen bench or in front of the TV while balancing busy lifestyles.

And the researchers point out that there’s nothing wrong with this – it’s simply a matter of families finding what works best for their busy routines.

“Reinforcing nostalgic versions of family life is just not realistic,” Monash University professor of sociology Jo Lindsay says in the study.

“We don’t want parents feeling like a moral failure or that they are compromising their child’s health because they are eating separately or in front of the television, it’s just not the case.”

Flexible eating for functional families

Prof Lindsay says “flexible” eating away from the dinner table is more a reality these days.

So, if having a late dinner in front of the TV after basketball or soccer works for your family, that’s fine.

Or if having breakfast at a local café before Saturday morning gymnastics fits your schedule, that’s OK, too.

It’s not so much about where and when you eat together but finding some time to share a sandwich or sushi, share news and listen to each other that’s important, says Raising Children Network executive director Julie Green.

“Connecting as a family can be done in many ways and places if it is difficult to have family dinners,” Julie says.

“Instead of dinnertime, work out how you can have breakfast and lunch together on a Saturday or Sunday when it might be a little easier.

“And you can also look at connecting outside of mealtimes – perhaps think about everyone in the family taking turns to nominate a monthly activity that you can do together.”

Top tips for family mealtimes

  • Change up mealtimes by having a barbeque on an evening or at the weekend when family can join in as they finish work, school, university or sport. Barbeques are more flexible than a sit-down meal at a set time.
  • Make the most of summer weather by eating al fresco. Setting up a meal outside for whoever is home, and away from the TV, can spark conversation.
  • Use the slow cooker and let people serve themselves as they arrive home. The chances are that at least a few people will eat at the same time and be able to chat.
  • At the start of the week, work out when your family will be home and lock in a couple of dinners at the table when schedules permit.

Written by Sarah Marinos.