E-News Exclusive

COVID-19 Has Fundamentally Changed Family Meals

September is National Family Meals Month, established by the FMI Foundation in 2015 to encourage families to eat more meals at home together and bring awareness to the potential benefits of doing so. This is valuable, as frequently sharing meals as a family is correlated with better family functioning and greater intake of fruits and vegetables among children and teens.

This Family Meals Month, it’s worth reflecting on how the global pandemic fundamentally has changed many aspects of our lives—from work, to school, to shopping—and now even the way we eat, particularly family meals. The FMI Foundation has documented this shift with the “Staying Strong With Family Meals” Barometer, a research tracking tool.

This barometer is a recurring quantitative study with a nationally representative sample of consumers. The effort began in August 2020 and is being updated frequently with tracking data.

The barometer shows us how the global pandemic transformed the family meals landscape; in fact, some of the changes have been for the better.

For example, the latest data, including the following, reveal that Americans are cooking more with their families and having more family meals:

  • 87% say they’re cooking with their families the same amount or more than before the pandemic.
  • 86% report they’re having the same amount or more in-person family meals.
  • 75% say they’re having the same amount or more virtual family meals.

Perhaps more significantly, the barometer also shows that when Americans no longer have to worry about the pandemic, they envision a different family meals routine. More than 45% plan to prepare and eat more meals with others at home.

“We have always intuitively sensed that family meals are good for us,” says David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation. “But when COVID-19 turned our worlds upside down, we tangibly discovered the benefits of family meals. When we were six months into the crisis, our barometer revealed that Americans were using family meals to stay strong—physically and emotionally—during the global pandemic. It’s encouraging to see, now a year and a half later, that Americans plan to continue this positive practice when the world establishes a new normal.”

This barometer also provides data that show us how people are benefitting from family meals and why all should continue this healthful habit. For instance, 9 out of 10 Americans express positive sentiments about the family meals experience, including the following:

  • Family meals are a good way to spend time with people.
  • They make them feel more connected.
  • They’re an important part of their household’s regular routine.
  • They’re a high point of their day.

Beyond these positive sentiments, consumers are experiencing noticeable value. Of those having in-person family meals or cooking together, 70% feel more connected.

These “connection” data have meaningful implications. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Foundation to advance a common interest in promoting family meals. This interest focuses on the relationship between family meals and the mind-heart-body connection, including benefits to both mental health and diet quality. The AHA highlights this connection in a recent scientific statement, “Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection.” According to the statement, psychological health—both positive and negative—plays a clear role in preventing and managing CVD. There’s good-quality evidence that mental health interventions can benefit heart health, and the AHA recommends practitioners screen patients to assess their psychological health.

The FMI Foundation has created a library of infographics to help showcase the important outcomes of this ongoing research. They can be found here: Staying Strong With Family Meals Barometer Infographics.

— Source: American Diabetes Association