Balancing Act

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Balancing Act


Busy schedules and extracurricular activities take a toll on family dinners.

Part four of a six-part series exploring Tyson Foods’ consumer research findings on the emotional significance of family dinners.

What ever happened to sitting down to dinner as a family? Once a universal ritual that weaved structure and closeness into the fabric of family life, sit-down meals have surrendered to calendars top heavy with scheduling conflicts and kids’ extracurricular activities.

Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods’ consumer research report, “The Emotional Experience of Family Dinners,” found that families eat together at the dinner table almost every night when children are young. As they grow into adolescence and increase their participation in extracurricular activities, however, it becomes more and more difficult for families to share a meal.

“Before kids turn 12, 13 or 14, families are having dinner around the table almost every night,” said Christopher Brace, founder and CEO of Syntegrate Consulting, a New York City-based strategic consulting firm. “But once kids start to go to volleyball practice, cheerleading practice and all the other commitments they have at night, all of a sudden dinnertime goes from seven nights a week to maybe three or four.”

Tyson Foods and Syntegrate Consulting recently partnered to apply a unique research methodology that uses “storytelling” to evoke parents’ and children’s non-conscious emotional truths concerning family dinner. The facilitated storytelling process, which required participants with close connections to share stories with each other about past family dinner experiences, confirmed that families are spending fewer nights around the dinner table due to extracurricular demands.

Despite this decline in family dinner frequency, Tyson Foods’ research also noted that families can achieve the benefits of family dinners by engaging with children in other day-to-day situations. “While parents have less time around the dinner table with their kids, they may be spending more one-on-one time with them in the car, for example,” said Brace. “This helps make up for lost time around the dinner table.”

Tyson Foods’ research identified three main family types: Micro-Intentionals, Macro-Intentionals and Present but Passives. Micro-Intentional parents have a clear idea about how they want to raise their children and are proactive in terms of bringing their plans to life. Macro-Intentionals’ parenting style is also very purposeful, however parents are more removed, preferring to let their children experience life for themselves with some guidance. Present but Passive parents do not have clear intentions and are passive about raising their children.

Depending on the family type, parental responses to extra-curricular conflicts that interrupt the family dinner hour vary widely. Micro-Intentionals often adjust their routines to ensure that family dinners fit into their schedules, for instance. Present but Passives, on the other hand, do not believe that eating together around the table is a priority and argue that quality time will happen on its own, without planning.

“Micro-Intentionals are very purposeful about having dinner together, so sometimes they will have dinner at 6 o’clock and other times it might be at 8 or 8:30,” said Brace. “They move dinner to accommodate everybody sitting around the table. As kids increase their extracurricular activities, the parents become more intentional about having dinner together.”

Tyson Foods’ research noted that when parents are encouraged to reflect on family dinner experiences, they become more inclined to make family dinners a priority.

“A light bulb went off in their heads, and they realized that yes, they are spending less time around the dinner table as their kids get older,” said Brace. “It dawned on them that they have to be more intentional and purposeful about making family dinners happen.

“Retailers, being a source of information for family dinner time, could help disseminate that information — to help parents recognize that as kids get older and get more involved with extracurricular activities, they will lose time to sit around the dinner table. They can remind them to be more purposeful about scheduling.”



  • Sign kids up to many different activities that will promote and lead to success
  • Schedule dinner around kids’ activities


  • Sign kids up to many different activities that will promote and lead to success
  • Kids’ activities dictate dinner plans
  • Not eating as much as a family as we used to
  • Give our kids the tools and support to experience life freely

Present but Passives

• Do not push kids to be involved in many things, or anything for that matter; kids have freedom to decide



  • Extracurricular activities are important, but so is family
  • Will not sacrifice time with the family


  • Giving kids opportunities is worth the family meal trade-off
  • Activities will give them a head start on life (or on college entry)

Present but Passives

• Real-life-experiences, such as getting a summer job, are just as important as after-school activities

Based on consumers’ emotional experiences related to family dinners, next month’s Prepared Foods Insights installment will highlight the biggest opportunities to increase business in the deli and prepared foods departments.