The death of the family meal? Less than a third of families sit down at the table together

Less than a third of families still eat dinner together [Photo: Getty]

Time-poor parents will appreciate spending time together as a family can be tricky, with dinner time often presenting one of the only opportunities.

But sitting together at the table has also slipped down the must-do list with new research revealing less than a third of families gather together for their evening meal.

The poll, of 2,000 adults by Travelodge, revealed a mere 28% of British families still get together round the table to eat.

In fact, according to the data, almost half (43%) of families opt for TV dinners “most evenings”.  

The research, which offers an indication into the busy lives of parents, also found as many as one in 10 (9%) of adults claim they are so tired, they often eat dinner in bed. 

Overall, 7% eat their evening meal in the office before leaving work, while a time-strapped one in 20 (5%) have eaten their evening meal in the car or on the commute home. 

It’s little wonder therefore that eight in 10 Brits believe TV dinners are a good option for their busy modern lives.

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Almost three quarters (73%) also believe children and parents eating separately can make life easier all round.

Despite the decline in family meal times, many still appreciate the positives of getting together at the table with 43% saying eating together is the best way to bond and feel close to their family.

Yet 23% admit that when they do gather round the table, the main topic of conversation is how tired everyone feels, with a further 15% claiming that how stressed they feel also dominates the talk.

It seems technology is having an impact on the table talk too with 7% of British families admitting they don’t actually chat while eating dinner together because everyone is glued to their phones.

Technology is disrupting family meal times [Photo: Getty]

The benefits of eating together

Previous research by Old El Paso echoed the latest findings with results revealing only 20% of UK families getting together to eat throughout the week and almost a third admitting they sit in silence at dinner time.

But with so many distractions disrupting family life, eating together can be critical to feeling more connected.

With that in mind Dr Linda Papadopoulos has put together some tips on getting the most out of family mealtimes:

Ask the right kinds of questions

If questions are too broad like ‘how was school?’ or ‘what did you do today?’ you are more likely to get vague answers like 'fine' or 'not much'.  And if they are closed ended like 'what time did you get in today?' you are only going to get a one word answer back.  So the key is to ask questions that are open ended but specific. That way you get longer responses back and this makes it easier for conversation to flow.

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Talk best and most challenging bits

A great way to focus the family on sharing is to go around the dinner table and ask about the best and most challenging things about their day. This serves two purposes. Firstly it focuses the mind on what is working and what they are happy about so they are more likely to feel good about sharing. Secondly, it allows you to share challenges in a safe non-judgemental environment and reinforces the idea that you are all their for each other with regard to any challenges you may be facing.

Share a memory

One of the best ways to instigate discussion and indeed closeness in families is to share a memory.  Telling a story that you all remember is a great way to get everyone talking and sharing.  

Make dinner a gadget-free zone

Get rid of phones, turn off the TV and focus on each other and being together.  There is something very powerful about being present for each other and getting rid of tech and other distractions. It sends the message that what matters most is being together and sharing not only a meal but time, thoughts and feelings. 

Keep it positive

As much as possible try and keep the conversation positive. While for parents it may seem like a good opportunity for a lecture or angry discussion, try and avoid this. The point of meal times should be to foster communication and connection but using them as a time for discipline can shut this down.