Americans have rediscovered the value of the family meal during the coronavirus crisis and plan to eat together more post-pandemic, according to a new study by the FMI Foundation.
Of more than 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed in mid-August, 94% reported that they’re cooking the same amount or more than before the COVID-19 outbreak, FMI said yesterday in releasing the research results. Three-quarters of respondents said they’re having the same amount or more family meals, both in-person and virtually.
Seventy-one percent of those eating more in-person meals — and 70% having more virtual meals — agreed that “I feel more connected to my family since the pandemic has started.” What’s more, people eating with others are realizing emotional benefits: 78% of respondents reported positive sentiments about family meals, such as “they are a high point of my day,” “they help to make me feel calm” or “they are an important part of my household’s regular routine.”
The findings come with the start of National Family Meals Month in September, an event launched in 2015 by the FMI Foundation to encourage families to eat together more often using items purchased at the grocery store.
FMI’s study noted that the definition of “family” keeps changing. Seventy-seven percent of those polled said they cohabitate, meaning that they share meals with significant others, children, other adult family members, friends and roommates.
“We have long known that family meals have a tremendously positive impact,” David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation, said in a statement. “In fact, just as our nation was being impacted by the pandemic early this year, the most comprehensive study to date — published in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB) – demonstrated the undeniable value of family meals. It showed that more frequent family meals were associated with better dietary and family functioning outcomes.”
Indeed, FMI’s survey revealed that Americans grasp the nutritional benefits of family meals. More than a third said they eat better with others, and 40% indicated that the food they eat is more balanced or healthier than when eating alone.
“This new survey echoes the findings in The Journal of Nutrition and Behavior study, which revealed that family meals increase fruit and vegetable consumption,” noted Krystal Register, director of health and well-being at FMI-The Food Industry Association. “In light of this, it is no coincidence that September is also when we celebrate National Fruits & Veggies Month."
Looking ahead, 85% of people surveyed said they aim to eat family meals more often or the same amount as they did before the pandemic when things return to a “new normal.”
“Whatever our new normal will be, we need to stay physically and emotionally fit, and family meals help with both,” Fikes added. “Clearly, family meals are the foundation for a healthy nation.”
Among retailers participating in National Family Meals Month, Midwestern grocer Hy-Vee said it will give families tools to have at least one more meal together each week.
The tools include daily recipes, weekly meal ideas and grab-and-go dinner options spotlighted on social media; a digital Family Cooking Guide with themed recipes for various dietary needs and lifestyles at hy-vee.com/familymeals; live cooking demonstrations with Hy-Vee dietitians each Sunday, including a Q&A session; and free virtual health and wellness classes led by Hy-Vee dietitians, for both adults and children.
Also, in selected markets, West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee said it will hold a sweepstakes in which families can win a 90-second grocery shopping spree plus an additional $1,000. Contactless drive-thru giveaways, too, will offer free Hy-Vee Mealtime dinners, with about 500 meal kits (each serving four to six people) being distributed at each event. And every day in September, kids can eat free with each purchase of an adult entrée at all Hy-Vee foodservice departments, as well as Wahlburgers at Hy-Vee and Hy-Vee Market Grille restaurants.
This year, Northeastern grocer ShopRite has themed its annual Family Meals Month campaign as “Just Add Family” to highlight the togetherness that the daily ritual brings. The Keasbey, N.J.-based retailer said it will support the campaign via social media, broadcast television commercials, weekly circular promotions, digital ads, dedicated online pages and outdoor billboards.
“We get it. Making every meal at home can be a challenge when you’re also trying to balance a busy life,” according Natalie Menza-Crowe, director of health and wellness at ShopRite. “That’s why this year’s campaign is all about providing inspiration for quick and easy meals with recipes, advice and classes that can be accessed either online or in-store, and enjoyed by all.”
New to this year’s Family Meals Month campaign, ShopRite dietitians will go live on the chain’s Instagram and Facebook feeds weekly to demonstrate how to make popular recipes — such as salmon burgers, blue cheese apple walnut grilled pizza, and Jamaican jerk chicken — at home. The recipes will be available online at ShopRite’s recipe portal, The Recipe Shop. Shoppers also can interact directly with dietitians by chatting with them using the supermarket’s “RD Virtual Chat” button on Shoprite.com.
“Providing our shoppers with healthy, affordable and time-saving resources has always been a priority at ShopRite,” added Menza-Crowe. “We’re especially proud to kick off this year’s Family Meals Month with a fresh, new campaign that combines the best of our dietitians’ expertise, both in real-time and online, to share the message that the most important ingredient to any meal is togetherness.”